CNN's decision to hire Sarah Isgur and her negative reaction, explained



CNN editors say they are "delighted" that Sarah Isgur, a former Trump administration spokesman and long-time Republican official with no previous journalism experience, joins her staff before the 2020 presidential campaign season as as a political editor, despite a fierce public reaction the announcement of Tuesday.

A few hours after the announcement of the hiring of Isgur, CNN sent an email to Vox to try to minimize the extent to which it would influence the political coverage of the network.

Isgur, who has already called CNN "Clinton's news network" on Twitter, will help "coordinate TV and digital coverage," a spokesman wrote. She will ensure that "stories are featured in good shows and articles are posted at the right time", but it will simply be one of the many editors who will do so.

The Daily Beast reported that on Wednesday, CNN journalists wrote to political journalists saying that Isgur "brought to our team a wealth of experience in government, politics, communications and law."

But as CNN's staff tacitly notes, it's true that Isgur has no journalism experience. Her resume would make it very difficult for her to get a job in a newsroom at CNN or any other major media outlet.

She has worked for various right-wing organizations and campaigns, including nominations for the presidency of Carly Fiorina and Mitt Romney, Republican National Committee and Ted Cruz's US Senate campaign. More recently, she worked as a spokesperson for the Department of Justice with former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a job that would apparently require her to swear an oath of loyalty to the President that she will soon be responsible for cover.

The Isgur supporter Twitter feed would normally be a problem for a network. In her tweets, she repeated conservative speeches and false statements (including the fact that Donald Trump did not question Barack Obama's birthplace) and conspiracy theories (including family planning and family planning). Clinton).

Critics have emerged on Twitter soon after CNN's announcement Tuesday, including media academics, left-wing writers and average users, all of whom wondered if Isgur could do the job in a fair manner.

Backstage, CNN's journalists were also livid. CNN's Brian Stelter, in his Tuesday night newsletter, reported that an unnamed publisher had told him, "We hired a former Trump administration manager to help us" guide "the coverage of his reelection. Journalists arm themselves against that. "An anonymous reporter told Stelter that" it looked like a disaster. "

"I'm really very worried about this and the ethical implications of taking directions on the stories of one of the people I've covered when she was active in 2016 and who promised to build loyalty." 39, one of the candidates for the 2020 race, "said the reporter. added, according to Stelter. "It sounds different and much more problematic for me than your typical political media tenant."

Since the election of 2016, CNN has become one of the favorite targets of Trump abuse. Some see in the decision to hire a curator a leading role in the news as a way to alleviate criticism from the right that the network is anti-Trump reflex.

But it's also undeniable that in some ways Trump is good for CNN. My colleague Matthew Yglesias recently wrote about CNN and Trump's meeting with White House reporter Jim Acosta. It is true that this flap concerns, in part, the rights of the First Amendment and Trump's lack of respect for them. But more concretely, the episode recalls that the tension benefits both parties.

In an interview with Vanity Fair at the end of last year, CNN President Jeff Zucker called the last three years – a period commensurate with Trump's rise to power – to be "the 'one of the most successful in CNN's history'.

"People say all the time," Oh, I do not want to talk about Trump. I had too much trump, "Zucker said. "And yet, at the end of the day, all they want, is talk about Trump. … We have seen that every time you move away from Trump's story and cover other events from that era, the public goes away. So we know that, for the moment, Donald Trump dominates. "

Before running for president, Trump said that he was a big fan of Zucker, with whom he had worked for NBC for L & # 39; s apprentice days.

The big question is whether CNN's 2020 coverage will be a 2016 year, when the network found that broadcasting images of Trump rallies without interruption and repeating his uncritical false statements attracted huge notes. CNN hired pro-Trump talking heads who regularly informed their audience.

CNN, on the other hand, did not cover Hillary Clinton's policy proposals, concentrating instead on her e-mails. To quote one measure, a Harvard study found that the email scandal "accounted for one-sixth of Clinton's coverage of CNN programming. The situation room. "

Zucker has repeatedly apologized for the volume of coverage on his Trump rallies network in 2016. But the fact is Trump is good for business. Squeezing the pro-Trump Republican raises fair questions about what is the case if something higher from the network learned from the last time.

"A kind of false equity"

In addition to the negative reactions of staff members, the announcement of the hiring of Isgur has been criticized by leading personalities. media watchdogs and journalism academics.

In a column titled "The hiring of a GOP operator by CNN as a political editor is much worse than it seems," Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan said the recruitment of Isgur reflected CNN's desire for "a kind of false fairness":

This strongly suggests that the big thinkers of the network – including former President Jeff Zucker – are aiming for some kind of false fairness: a defensive political coverage and two equal sides that does not necessarily serve voters.

This approach is not guided by what is good for citizens, but by a ranking effort to position the network at the Fox News Channel center on the right and MSNBC on the left.

After all, if CNN's main concern was to ensure the quality of the network's political coverage during the 2020 cycle, it would engage real journalists as publishers. Instead, network officials prioritize the "proliferation of both sides" optics.

Bill Grueskin, a professor of journalism at Columbia University, said the lack of experience in Isgur journalism had left him wondering "if Jeff Zucker would have one day undergone brain surgery by a dentist". Another respected journalism professor, Jay Rosen of New York University, replied Isgur hiring by telling the Daily Beast: "There were no journalists available?"

But while the hiring of Isgur was widespread, CNN officials stood firmly behind the move.

"The more points of view represented in newsrooms, the better it is"

While the network was criticized for hiring Isgur, CNN's Stelter was at the crossroads between news coverage and his employer's defense.

Tuesday night, Stelter, referring to Isgur, tweeted, "The more points of view represented in newsrooms, the better."

Stelter's claim, however, is false. Misinformation is not entitled to a platform and Isgur's background raises questions about whether she is able to fairly cover the Democratic candidates, let alone the former boss of his boss.

Later on Tuesday, Stelter's media newsletter contained a section titled "This Is the Case for Employing Isgur" which presented the argument presented to Stelter by unnamed CNN executives. Here's what Stelter wrote:

I also spoke to CNN leaders who defended Isgur's appointment. They described it [as] an exceptional person whose political experience will enhance CNN's coverage.

The fact is that political insiders have been joining newsrooms for decades. Executives have pointed to past examples as George Stephanopoulos, which went from Clinton White House to the anchor chair of ABC News. (But Stephanopoulos went much more slowly from politics to journalism and was a political analyst on ABC for several years before becoming a moderator.)

"The idea that she is not qualified for this role is absurd," said a source Tuesday night. "There are many examples of people ranging from high-level political jobs to information networks. George Stephanopolous. Nicolle Wallace. Dana Perino. Tim Russert. And they are anchors with huge platforms on their networks. She is one of a dozen people who will help coordinate our political coverage. She is highly qualified to do it. "

But being an "exception person" is not usually a qualification to be a news editor. Secondly, as Stelter points out, there are important differences between the Stephanopoulos and Isgur situations. Stephanopoulos, who worked as director of communications at the White House before joining ABC, would never have promised to remain loyal to Bill Clinton, for example. Stephanopoulos also started at ABC as a commentator and not as an editor.

Although all quotes in the Stelter newsletter are anonymous, the Daily Beast said the note sent Wednesday to CNN staff and confirming the Isgur contract was signed by Washington bureau chief Sam Feist , vice-president of news gathering, Virginia Moseley, and political director, David Chalian.

All three joined CNN before the 2016 election cycle. Did they learn from mistakes made at the time? Although it is too early to answer this question definitively, the first returns are not promising.


The news goes fast. To stay up to date, follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter, and read more Political and political coverage of Vox.


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