Is Van Jones another conflict of interest headache for CNN?
CNN, which has just emerged from the backlash of former contributor Donna Brazile providing debate questions to the Hillary Clinton campaign, appears to have a new conflict of interest issue on its hands — this time, with the network’s hottest commodity, Van Jones.
Jones is “hot” in that he was just given a prime-time, post-election special to host “The Messy Truth” that did relatively well from a ratings perspective.
The special easily finished as CNN’s most-watched program of the evening in total viewers (1.226 million) and in the key demographic of 25- to 54-year-olds (449,000), the latter being good for second place at 9:00 p.m., behind a vacationing Megyn Kelly-less “The Kelly File.”
No matter: In CNN’s world, Jones’s special was the only program to even break 1 million in total viewers, thereby making him the tallest kid in the class.
And he truly is CNN’s “it” guy right now — he’s landing interviews everywhere, from “The Daily Show” to Rolling Stone.
His commentaries — such as his blaming Donald Trump’s stunning victory on a “whitelash” of voters — go viral more than those of most network personalities lately.
But it was revealed on Thursday via a Washington Free Beacon report that Jones is also running a PR firm called Megaphone Strategies that is openly courting Electoral College electors in states across the country to not cast their vote for Trump on Dec. 19.
One of those electors is Chris Suprun, a Republican elector from Texas. Suprun recently made his plans known to not vote for Trump — who won his state’s 38 electoral votes easily — in a New York Times opinion piece detailing the reasoning behind his defection.
Per the Free Beacon:
“Supron wrote in his Twitter bio to direct all media inquiries to an email address at Megaphone Strategies, a Washington, D.C.-based ‘social justice’ public relations firm.
“Van Jones, a left-wing CNN commentator and former adviser to President Obama who resigned after coming under fire for his affiliation to 9/11 conspiracy theorists and referring to Republicans as ‘assholes,’ founded Megaphone Strategies earlier this year.”
“’We are working with a number of electors on this issue, not just Chris [Suprun],’” Megaphone’s media director, Nina Smith, wrote said in a statement.
For his part, Jones recently spoke about a need to mobilize against the president-elect in large numbers.
“Tight around Trump is a little hate army — not every Trump voter — but tight around him is a little hate army of very cynical, nasty people who took over our government,” Jones told Rolling Stone in its most recent issue. “We have to build a massive Love Army that can take the country and the government back in a better direction.”
So is Jones now as compromised as Brazile was? And if so, what does CNN do about it?
An inquiry by The Hill has been sent to CNN. We will update this commentary accordingly upon hearing back.
Here’s a few ideas that won’t exactly shake the network to its core:
1) Place Jones on mandatory holiday until Dec. 19, when electors cast their votes. Everyone who worked tirelessly the last 540 days covering the Trump campaign and transition is exhausted. Jones — like almost everyone in this business — has earned some time off. And by taking Jones out of the equation until then, the conflict goes away.
2) If a vacation isn’t in the cards, every segment that Jones appears in demands a disclaimer from the anchor or host stating he is representing at least two electoral defectors to Trump via the PR firm he founded this year.
Result: The business and agenda end of Jones outside of CNN is now known to the viewer, and they can decide from there if his commentary is compromised for whatever reason.
These are fair solutions and ones that sorely need to be implemented if many in the media, including CNN, were being serious when talking about a need for soul searching and being more transparent with its audiences in an effort to rebuild trust for an otherwise broken Fourth Estate.
To drive home this point, just before the election there was a segment done by Fox’s Kelly, on Nov. 1, that explored the issue of having paid contributors at cable news networks also working outside their TV capacities in other areas that clearly present conflicts of interest.
The guest was Jon Klein, former president of CNN prior to the current one, Jeff Zucker. The impetus for the conversation was the Brazile debate question leak.
“I hope this can be the death knell for the surrogates that all the news networks employ because it’s predictable,” Klein argued. “As a viewer … it’s boring. We know what the Punch and Judy puppets are going to say every time.”
Klein couldn’t be any more correct: It is predictable. There is too much potential for conflicts of interest. And in the end, a contributor job where one is paid to opine on television may not be able to compete with what said contributor deems as a bigger, more important cause.
In Jones’s case, that’s a massive “love army” aided by his own boutique PR firm.
And that’s fine. It’s a free country.
But in an effort to avoid another Donna Brazile fiasco, CNN’s audience either needs to be informed of this potential conflict of interest or Jones needs to be shown the bench when it comes to any Trump segment — at least until Dec. 19.
UPDATE: Friday afternoon, Nina Smith, the Director of Media Relations for Megaphone Strategies, issued this statement to The Hill:
“Megaphone Strategies is a public relations firm — our work centers around securing media attention for causes. Van Jones has no say in the clients we choose, plays no active management role in the firm, nor does he have any financial stake in Megaphone. His role on the board is in an advisory capacity as it pertains to our big picture mission and vision. Further, Megaphone is in no way engaged in persuading electors. We will and do represent any electors who wish to stop an unfit candidate from becoming President of the United States. We do this in coordination with our work to support the so-called Hamilton Electors.”
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