What the media can learn from CNN’s Donna Brazile scandal

One of the biggest lessons we’re learning in this election that we’ll never forget — for all the wrong reasons — is how the media goes about its business.

As WikiLeaks has shown us, from one single email account, quote approval by sources does happen. Sharing stories in advance with presidential campaigns does happen. Collusion via sharing debate questions in advance does happen. Reporters advising and/or cheering on campaigns does happen.

But we don’t need WikiLeaks to teach us another notable lesson: Those being paid by campaigns or working at the top of major party committees don’t need to be used as political pundits on TV.

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The logic is simple. In the case of Donna Brazile, ABC and CNN should have never hired her in the first place, given her position as vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. Brazile is a lovely lady — I’m not being sarcastic, having met her at CNN — and she knows the political landscape as well as anyone. That’s understood. 

But there are plenty of good, articulate, in-the-know reporters out there who can fill the pundit void on the average cable news or Sunday political show quite easily. And Brazile serving both as party vice chairwoman and cable news pundit is a perfect brew of a situation begging to be compromised.

And that’s just what Brazile did when receiving questions in advance before at least two CNN town halls and debates. The network publicly severed all ties with Brazile on Monday after a second ethical violation was exposed — it should have been done after the first time, earlier in October, without hesitation — but the issue of who at the network leaked that information to Brazile as a willing conduit remains.

As noted in this space yesterday, until an internal investigation by an outside firm is conducted by CNN, the unanswered question around how Brazile got the questions for debates in advance “from time to time” will remain for the proud 36-year-old network.

In addition to an investigation in an effort to restore confidence both externally and internally, CNN, along with Fox News and MSNBC and every other cable news player out there, needs to publicly declare the following universal rule:

We’re never hiring anyone also employed by a party or campaign ever again.

The latter aspect applies to Corey Lewandowski, also of CNN. Full disclosure: I endorsed in a July column the network hiring Lewandowski and quickly learned I was decidedly in the minority in that opinion.

The argument was this: CNN employs Republican pundits like S.E. Cupp and Ana Navarro. Both are of the Never Trump variety, especially Navarro, who has been more outspoken against Trump in decidedly colorful ways than even most Democrats.

So from this perspective, CNN had a problem: If even its GOP-leaning pundits are anti-Trump, how does the network present a balanced offering? Usually other senior party members — say, Paul RyanPaul RyanPaul Ryan: ‘Beautiful day’ to catch up with Bono Healthcare spending: the elephant in the tax reform room Overnight Healthcare: Latest on Senate healthcare bill | Four conservatives say they'll oppose | Obama slams bill | Health groups offer scathing criticism MORE or Jeb Bush or Mitt Romney or John Kasich — would serve as unofficial or official surrogates in trying the help the nominee get his message out. But, like Cupp and Navarro, they too aren’t exactly fans — to be generous — of Trump either.

So with options very limited, CNN hired Trump’s former campaign manager almost immediately after he was fired from the campaign in June.

A nondisclosure agreement stated Lewandowski couldn’t criticize the candidate, but in CNN’s estimation — mine as well — how is that any different than having Paul Begala or Van Jones on to defend Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonHouse intel panel will interview John Podesta next week: report Overnight Cybersecurity: Trump tweetstorm on Russia probe | White House reportedly pushing to weaken sanctions bill | Podesta to testify before House Intel OPINION: Trump’s bluff: Perfectly legal MORE and the party no matter what? With Lewandowski, like you do with many pundits before they even open their mouths, you know what you’re about to get.

But then it was revealed a few weeks after the hiring in July that Lewandowski was still being paid severance by the Trump campaign — that’s where the relationship should have ended. The payments would continue through September.

To its credit, CNN did disclose Lewandowski was still being paid by the Trump campaign before each of his appearances. But the whole thing looked and sounded so conflicted, even with the disclosure. 

Even CNN “New Day” host Alisyn Camerota jokingly said to Lewandowski on air after the last payment was made, “I didn’t think those would ever run out.”

So mistakes have been made across all the cable news networks and some of its personnel throughout this unprecedented, insane campaign. It happens. 

To forgive is divine, but with that comes with a caveat: With apologies comes accountability. With mistakes comes the action of incorporating what was learned from them. 

Post-election cable news will see a purge in ratings like we’ve never seen, particularly if Clinton hangs on to win. All the networks will have some time to reflect on all that went right and wrong.

And at the top of that list should be never hiring those who are engaged in any dual-paid capacities ever again.

Concha is a media reporter for The Hill.


The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.