CNN drops Politico reporter as contributor after she's named editor of conservative news site

Golly, you would think CNN would be psyched to have Eliana Johnson under contract given the circumstances of her recent hire. As the incoming editor-in-chief of the Washington Free Beacon, she’s the first woman to oversee a prominent conservative news outlet. She’s a seasoned reporter after stints at National Review and Politico too, with plenty of sources by dint of her time on the White House beat. And she’s just 35. She’s going places.

Respected journalist + young female success story + ideological diversity for a network often slammed as too liberal = easy decision to keep her on as a contributor after she takes over at the Beacon, one would think.

Unless the “ideological diversity” part is a problem?

Eliana Johnson, a leading White House reporter for Politico, will not have her contract renewed for her CNN political analyst role after she accepted a new job running the neoconservative Washington Free Beacon.

CNN confirmed her existing contract is due to expire in November and that the network does not plan to renew it, saying the decision is being made because she will no longer be a White House reporter specifically

Other high-profile reporters have maintained contracts at the network as they’ve changed beats or news outlets — Ryan Lizza, a CNN political analyst, has been at the network since he was a Washington correspondent at the New Yorker, and then as he moved from being chief political correspondent at Esquire to chief Washington correspondent at Politico.

She won’t be reporting directly on the White House herself — but she’ll be overseeing people who do. Doubtless she’ll also leverage her own sources as necessary to supplement the Beacon’s reporting. That is, there’s no reason to think Johnson’s awareness of what’s going on in the administration will diminish in her new role. If anything, it might improve. And although the Beacon might not be as prestigious in Washington as Politico is, the role of editor carries a bit more prestige than the role of reporter does.

So it’s strange that CNN would pull the plug on Johnson at a moment when she’s grown in stature. And particularly strange given that her influence at the Beacon is likely to mean more hard-news reporting there, something that’s lacking in much of conservative media. It may well be that she’ll succeed in turning the Beacon’s White House beat into a must-read for the political class. If you’re CNN management, why wouldn’t you extend her now and see how she does, just in case she becomes a Washington player?

I was prepared to ignore this story in the belief that there are all sorts of obscure reasons that media companies don’t renew people’s contracts, but then I saw this tweet from Johnson herself last night. Clearly she also thinks CNN’s not telling the truth about why it’s cutting her loose:

Matt Dornic is CNN’s spokesman. She’s calling BS on their spin in full public view.

Is this as simple as it looks? Johnson had made herself “acceptable” to the network by leaving right-wing media for Politico, and now that she’s reverted to right-wingery she’s damaged goods? If that’s the case, we need to reckon with the fact that the network does still employ righties like Rich Lowry and Mary Katharine Ham as contributors. Maybe there’s a belief within CNN that it’s fine to have right-wingers on to offer opinions, but having someone on who oversees a right-wing site to deliver scoops breaks an unwritten rule that only liberals can be trusted to “fairly” report the news. You can rely on Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon to give you an, ahem, neutral account of the day’s events, but however could we trust Johnson to do so?