As John Sexton reported yesterday, CNN has cut all ties with DNC interim chair Donna Brazile after leaked emails revealed another instance of her conspiring with media figures to give Hillary Clinton debate questions in advance. It’s refreshing to finally see someone in the media talking about this story because such coverage was almost completely absent when we originally found out about it. To his credit, Jake Tapper told our own Larry O’Connor at that time that he found the entire affair journalistically horrifying and there was a short piece about it on the news network’s website, but aside from that there was pretty much a news blackout.
It’s understandable how the press would be reluctant to talk about this story for the most part. After all the time they spent decrying Donald Trump for claiming that the election is rigged and accusing him of undermining our democracy it would be, at best, rather awkward to have to talk about actual election rigging happening at the hands of a star debate moderator and the interim chair of the Democratic National Committee.
Now, several weeks later, the cat is finally out of the bag and I’m seeing the question being raised in newspapers and on Fox, CNN and Morning Joe. Jack Shafer at Politico went even further, saying it’s high time that not only Brazile, but most of the activists posing as opinion journalists should be hitting the road. (Emphasis added)
What Brazile did was wrong. Although CNN hired her to advance and defend the Democratic Party’s case in the endless hours of news talk the cable networks air, nothing can justify directly screwing one of the interests she collects pay from—CNN—in the process. She didn’t reduce the primary debates to a shambles, but she did violate an implied oath that the partisanship that got her the gig in the first place would not include such open-and-shut chicanery. Shame on Brazile. May she never suit up for paid verbal combat in the green room again.
So one step of the process has been accomplished. The media is being forced to look in the mirror and take one of their own to task. But there’s a second part of their normal routine which seems to be missing in action. Where are the endless demands that Democrats up and down the ticket along with all of their surrogates condemn Brazile and disavow their connections with her? Where are the demands for these Democratic figures to either call for Donna Brazile to be removed from her position or come out and support her? God only knows that every awkward utterance by Donald Trump has produced such demands of every person associated with the campaign and all the Republican office holders on the roster.
We did see one brief exception when Politico noted that a reporter actually asked Josh Earnest if the President thought Brazile should step aside. He responded by saying that Barack Obama believes she has done a fine job and that, “she is a person of integrity and she is a person of high character.” As for Hillary Clinton herself, I can’t find a single instance where she’s commented on the debate rigging scheme nor even been asked the question. Have any Democrats condemned Brazile’s actions? If not, we are left to assume that all of their bluster about Trump’s comments were nonsense and they don’t really have a problem with election rigging after all.
And let’s make no mistake here. “Election rigging” is precisely what we’re talking about. Granted, fudging a debate may not be quite on the same rung of the criminal ladder as exposing national security secrets, but in terms of preserving the democracy one might argue that it’s worse. The Fourth Estate is charged with informing the public and guiding them through the election, in part through the conduct and coverage of debates in both the primary and the general election. Donna Brazile put her thumb on the scale, assisted by members of the media who fed her the questions “from time to time” without bothering to wonder if she would use that information to cheat.
If anything positive is to come of this, perhaps it will be a new approach in cable news when deciding who they put on the air. Returning to Jack Shafer’s editorial, he notes that the contributions offered by paid commentators from the political sphere such as Brazile aren’t worth whatever they are being paid and are likely doing more harm than good.
What transpires during the paid contributor segments isn’t journalism. It isn’t politics. And it’s rarely even entertaining. I’d call it the worst sort of tasteless soy filler, only that would be an insult to soy, which is nutritious. There’s no reason outside of pragmatism that justifies their continued employment on the news shows.
I won’t go as far as Shafer and say that once a person dips a toe in the political pool they should be forever barred from paid gigs on cable news. Sometimes the old hands from the campaign trail can offer a lot of insights. But having people who are still actively engaged in the process at any level is simply asking for problems. Even if we turn on our televisions expecting the surrogates to have a built in bias for their candidates they obviously go much further in attempting to bend and spin public opinion. And it only takes one of them with considerably more corrupt tendencies such as Donna Brazile to compound the damage right off the charts.