Isn't it unethical for CNN to employ John Kasich as a "commentator" right now?

Isn’t it unethical to employ John Kasich, period? I ask you.

I want to amplify this Matt Welch piece, which I think is entirely right. Kasich is seriously considering running for president and has been since, oh, the day after he dropped out of the 2016 race. He’s courted donors to help fund his potential run. His top strategist, John Weaver, has hinted occasionally about a challenge to Trump. No Republican has worked as hard to brand himself as a centrist quasi-independent in the age of MAGA, positioning him for either a primary challenge or a third-party run in 2020. For all the chatter about Nikki Haley and Jeff Flake, Kasich seems by far the Republican pol most likely to take Trump on next year. And “next year” is really right now. The Democratic presidential primary has already begun, after all.

So what is CNN doing handing him a platform at this particular moment and dressing it up as commentary? Welch:

It’s true that CNN ranks a frequently distant third in the cable news wars, but even audiences of 700,000 largely geriatric news junkies constitute real promotional opportunities, and not just for reverse mortgages and Chantix. In his initial eight-minute act of political umpiring, covering everything from the William Barr confirmation hearings to the government shutdown to censure of Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), Kasich managed to fit in more testimonials about himself than a typical cable news contributor might offer in a year.

“Nobody’s going to pressure me, nobody’s going talk me into anything,” he declared, just like normal political commentators do. “I have people that have walked up to me all the time, and they have looked at me as a straight shooter, and they’re of both political parties,” he reported. “I’ve always been an independent, remain an independent person—let’s look at the problem and let’s go fix it,” he said. “I don’t care who the president is, the president has to be big enough to say, ‘Let’s get this behind us.'” And my personal favorite: “When Mitt Romney wrote that op-ed piece, and everybody got worked up down there? I probably would have written three by now.”…

The first cable news network is also frequently the most sanctimonious defender of journalistic nobility, and loudest critic of the way President Donald Trump degrades the norms of America’s political and media culture. And yet here those same people are, paying a newsmaker for exclusivity, and creating a norm that was unthinkable even four years ago.

Four years ago, when Mike Huckabee was in the thinking-about-it phase of the 2016 presidential sweepstakes, he stepped back from his Fox News show to spare FNC from criticism that they were letting their news network serve as a platform for an as-yet-undeclared presidential candidacy. Now here’s CNN hiring Kasich on right as interest in his political future is peaking. And as Welch notes, Kasich used his very first appearance as a contributor to do a bunch of overt political branding (“straight shooter,” “independent”). Neither he nor CNN are making much of a pretense that this is about anything other than promoting a would-be challenger to Trump who might do real damage to his reelection chances, if only by siphoning off enough votes from the right to cost him a close election.

Devil’s advocate: Maybe CNN figures that, in the age of Trump, you never can tell which cable-news blowhard might turn around and become a credible contender for president, in which case why pass on Kasich? Trump became a political phenomenon in part because he appeared for years on Fox News, ingratiating himself to the audience and building a base. One day everyone woke up and he was president. If cable loudmouths are potential presidential candidates in America 2019, why shouldn’t potential presidential candidates be cable loudmouths? CNN didn’t erase the line that forced Huckabee out at Fox. Trump did.

Besides, although Welch is right that CNN is by far — by far — the most sanctimonious of the three cable news networks about their own alleged integrity as journalists, they’re also the most clearly oppositional of the three vis-a-vis Trump. Sure, MSNBC is oppositional too, but MSNBC’s ideological identity is left-wing. They’d lambaste any Republican president. CNN is ostensibly neutral but they’ve gone full Resistance with Trump. It’s personal.

So why wouldn’t they hand free airtime to one of his would-be challengers, and pay him to boot?

I think all of the devil’s-advocate arguments fail so long as CNN maintains its posture of neutrality, which they absolutely will no matter how many times Jim Acosta emotes for the camera. They’re the apple/banana network. That’s how they want you to view them. But if you’re going to do the apple/banana thing, you need to explain what you’re doing by promoting a lemon like Kasich.

I dunno. Maybe Jeff Zucker simply figures that, after handing Trump about a billion dollars’ worth of free airtime in 2015-16, the least they can do is hand Kasich eight bucks’ worth.