Campaign collusion: Is CNBC’s John Harwood too close to the Clinton operation?

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The following question was asked on Sept. 21, 2015, via email, to the chairman of a major presidential campaign, John Podesta: “What should I ask Jeb?”

At the time, Jeb Bush was still a leading candidate to challenge Hillary Clinton for the White House — and had more money behind him.

{mosads}The question didn’t come from a campaign surrogate or an opinion host — it came from the chief Washington correspondent at CNBC, John Harwood. And just to make sure he hit Bush where the Clinton campaign — which still viewed the former Florida governor as its most likely opponent for 2016 — wanted him to most, Harwood went to Clinton’s campaign chief to do all the thinking for him.

It should be noted that the title “chief Washington correspondent” means Harwood is not an opinion host or a partisan pundit — he’s one who represents the network as objective and nonpartisan. It also means he cannot consult with opposition campaigns for advice — nor can he provide advice back to a campaign, which Harwood has on several occasions via recent WikiLeaks dumps.

The “chief Washington correspondent” also tends to be picked to moderate presidential debates in the primaries, as Harwood was in November of 2015.

On that night, when CNBC registered its highest audience ever, it’s not known if Harwood also got approval from the Clinton campaign to ask Donald Trump: “Is this a comic-book version of a presidential campaign?”

Harwood was criticized harshly after that debate — and rightly so. The Republican National Committee even went so far to punish NBC as a whole, stripping it of what would have been a highly rated primary debate later in the cycle. It was a black eye for CNBC by all accounts.

So did Harwood feel any contrition, any remorse that he represented his network so poorly and with such partisanship?


Instead, he bragged to what is apparently the only entity that really matters to him: the Clinton campaign. 

“I imagine that Obama feels some (sad) vindication at this demonstration of his years-long point about the opposition party veering off the rails,” Harwood wrote to Podesta afterward. “I certainly am feeling that way with respect to how I questioned Trump at our debate.”

Now, if I’m Mark Hoffman, president of CNBC, there’s a 100 percent chance I’m having a serious conversation with Harwood about his future. 

The optics of Harwood advising a presidential campaign while allowing the campaign to write questions for his network are not only horrible, but the hubris he displayed afterward is a huge turnoff to at least half CNBC’s audience, which now views Harwood as a comic-book version of a chief Washington correspondent.

But don’t expect Harwood or Hoffman to ever apologize. And don’t expect Harwood — unless he’s offered a dream job as economic adviser in a Clinton administration — to ever leave the network.

If Harwood does stay, a title change is in order.

Moving forward, Harwood should be referred to as a political analyst and contributor for CNBC, which is the same title Karl Rove holds for Fox News and Steve Schmidt holds for MSNBC. “Senior political commentator” would be fine as well, which is how David Axelrod is referred to on CNN.

In the meantime, John Harwood will be hosting election night coverage for CNBC on Tuesday night.

If John Podesta pops up for a friendly interview on the network that night, you’ll know exactly how that came to fruition.


Concha is a media reporter for The Hill. 

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

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