From Ike to Trump, a club for political aides who turn to television.
Welcome to Corey Lewandowski, the newest member of television’s Snakes and Weasels Club.
What is the Snakes and Weasels Club? More — replete with history and membership list — in a moment.
Corey’s entry into Snakes and Weasels — in this case moving from the Trump campaign to S&W’s CNN division (where, full disclosure, I am also a commentator) — was greeted with this breathless headline in the New York Post:
CNN staff revolts over Corey Lewandowski hire
The story began this way:
Sources told Page Six on Friday that CNN’s “facing a near internal revolt” over Jeff Zucker’s hiring of Lewandowski as an exclusive commentator for the news network days after he was fired as Donald Trump’s campaign manager.
“CNN is facing a near internal revolt over the Corey hiring,” said a TV insider, who described many in the newsroom as “livid.” “Female reporters and producers especially… They are organizing and considering publicly demanding” that Lewandowski be let go.
Suffice to say, the Post’s story was, ah, a tad overboard. Over at CNN’s Reliable Sources, host Brian Stelter did absolutely the best thing: instead of ignoring the story about his own network (and yes, again full disclosure, my own) Brian put the spotlight on it. He personally contacted CNN staffers to investigate and as Mediaite reported:
Stelter acknowledged all the criticism and looked into a report that CNN staffers are fuming over this. He concluded that there is “discomfort” within CNN about the hire, but no “revolt” brewing.
On Monday, Corey appeared on CNN’s New Day to talk about the subject with Alisyn Camerota. Mediaite headlined the beginning of his first full week at CNN this way:
‘Not Everybody Is a Fan’: Alisyn Camerota Corners Lewandowski About CNN Hiring Controversy
The take-away quote from Alisyn and Corey was this:
“Corey, I wanted to quickly ask you,” began Camerota, “there’s been a lot of reaction to CNN hiring you as a contributor.”
“I don’t know if you’re heard about some of the reaction, turns out not everybody is a fan of the decision. And I think that the crux of that criticism is that I think you never seemed to be a big fan of the press or have much respect for the press. Why did you have such strange relations during your time there — with the Trump campaign — with the press do you think?”
“I had great relationships with the press!” countered Lewandowski. “I love everybody! I love you, right?”
And, full disclosure again, I appeared on Reliable Sources as a Stelter guest and defended CNN — (something I had also done earlier in the Washington Post with my number one S&W fan (?) Erik Wemple). My Reliable Sources appearance was no small task against the indomitable Baltimore Sun media critic David Zurawik who said, um, this, bold print supplied for emphasis:
He said that Lewandowski embraced McCarthyite tactics with lies and a “snarly vicious tone on the campaign trail.” Zurawik praised CNN for doing great work this election season, but was just dismayed by them wanting “to bring this snake into it.”
As reported over here at Raw Story Zurawik went on as follows:
“The other thing I do want to say about getting information about the process from Lewandowski,” Zurawik said. “Brian, if the folks at CNN, who I think have the best political reporters on television — if you guys need to pay him to tell you what’s going on inside the Trump campaign, give your money back, you’re not earning your paychecks.”
“Let’s find out the old fashioned way,” he added. “By reporting it, not paying weasels to tell you about it.”
Well now! Okay! That pretty much describes the lay of the land here! Television commentators/reporters/anchors who have crossed over from political land are “snakes and weasels.” Got it! (And for the record, David says he applied the same standards he’s applying to Trump’s Corey Lewandowski to Bill Clinton’s George Stephanopoulos and Bush 43’s Karl Rove, respectively at ABC and Fox News. My response was that indeed, the horse has long since left the barn on this business of political types going to television.)
So in the spirit of the horse having long since left the barn? Let’s take a look at what I will hereby christen (serious hat tip to David Zurawik) the Snakes and Weasels Club. Herewith a brief history and a membership list (doubtless partial) of Snakes and Weasels.
Hands? How many Americans recall James Hagerty? Buehler? Buehler? Anyone? Hagerty was the Josh Earnest of his day — which is to say he was the White House press secretary for President Dwight D. Eisenhower. In fact, handling the press for presidential candidates was a regular for Hagerty, having served as the press secretary for the defeated Thomas E. Dewey in 1944 and 1948. In fact, it was Hagerty who first brought television cameras in to the institution of the presidential press conference — in 1955. (Though on tape, not live.) When January of 1961 arrived and America’s favorite Old Soldier yielded the presidency to John F. Kennedy — Hagerty made his way to ABC News as the vice president of the ABC television network, where he would remain for fourteen years. Thereby becoming, it seems, the very first serious Snake and Weasel — a political aide to a president or other American political figure who makes the move from politics to television, whether behind the scenes or on camera. Hagerty would not be the last.
What Hagerty began was a long — very long -parade of ex-presidential aides and political figures morphing into network or cable television commentators, reporters and/or anchors. Which is to say becoming card-carrying members of the Snakes and Weasels Club. And rest assured, as with Corey Lewandowski today, many of these Snakes and Weasels arrived on television screens as fully formed controversial figures — partisans — in their own right. Herewith a list that is doubtless incomplete and not alphabetical of those who belong to the Snakes and Weasels Club or who have sadly passed on to the Great Snakes and Weasels Club in the Sky. The club is, please note, thoroughly bipartisan.
James Hagerty — Eisenhower White House press secretary becomes ABC Vice President.
Pierre Salinger — JFK/LBJ White House press secretary, briefly appointed Democratic U.S. Senator from California and campaign manager of Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 Democratic presidential campaign, becomes ABC reporter, Paris Bureau Chief.
Bill Moyers — LBJ White House press secretary becomes CBS commentator, PBS host of both documentaries and his own television show.
Tom Johnson — LBJ White House aide becomes president of CNN.
Pat Buchanan — Nixon White House speechwriter and Reagan White House communications director becomes a regular on TV’s The McLaughlin Group, CNN’s Crossfire, and an MSNBC host and commentator.
John McLaughlin — Nixon White House speechwriter becomes host of The McLaughlin Group, a syndicated television show.
Jody Powell — Carter White House press secretary becomes commentator on ABC’s This Week with David Brinkley.
David Gergen — senior White House aide to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton. Now a CNN contributor.
Laura Ingraham — former Reagan White House aide becomes a commentator or host for CBS, MSNBC, and currently Fox News in addition to hosting her own talk radio show.
Ed Rollins — the former Reagan White House political director has been a commentator for CNN, Fox News and Fox Business.
Oliver North — the former Reagan White House national security aide has co-hosted a show on MSNBC and currently hosts War Stories for Fox News.
Tim Russert — former senior aide to New York Governor Mario Cuomo and Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, both Democrats, becomes the host of NBC’s Meet the Press.
Chris Matthews — former Carter White House speechwriter and aide to Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill becomes the host of MSNBC’s Hardball.
George Stephanopoulos — Clinton White House senior adviser becomes commentator, host, and anchor on ABC News.
Paul Begala — former Clinton White House senior advisor, Paul has co-hosted a show on MSNBC and is now a CNN contributor.
James Carville — the former senior Clinton strategist has been a contributor for both CNN and Fox News, and along with wife, GOPer (until very recently) and fellow S&W member Mary Matalin, a Crossfire co-host.
Kirsten Powers — former Clinton administration aide as deputy assistant U.S. trade representative for public affairs and press secretary for the Andrew Cuomo for governor campaign is a Fox News contributor.
Dana Perino — the former Bush 43 White House press secretary is a co-host of the Fox News show The Five.
Karl Rove — the former Bush 43 Deputy White House Chief of Staff is a Fox News contributor.
Ana Navarro — a former Bush 43 Ambassador to the United Nation’s Human Rights Commission, she has served as National Co-Chair of John McCain’s Hispanic Advisory Council in 2008, National Hispanic Co-Chair for Gov. Jon Huntsman’s 2012 Campaign, and is a former aide to Florida Governor Jeb Bush.
Nicole Wallace — Bush 43 White House Communications Director became co-host of ABC’s The View and eventually after that a contributor to MSNBC’s Morning Joe and NBC’s Today Show.
Michael Smerconish — a former Regional Administrator at HUD for Jack Kemp in the Bush 41 administration, he is now a CNN host of his own show, Smerconish.
Maria Cardona — a senior adviser to the 2008 Hillary Clinton campaign and later a surrogate for the Obama campaign, Maria is now a CNN commentator.
Patty Solis Doyle — the campaign manager of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign, she is now a CNN contributor.
David Axelrod — the former Obama White House senior advisor is now a CNN commentator.
Van Jones — the former Obama White House aide is now a CNN commentator.
Amanda Carpenter — the former communications director for the GOP’s Senator Ted Cruz is now a CNN contributor.
Mike Rogers — former Michigan Republican Congressman, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, becomes a CNN commentator and host of CNN’s original series Declassified. He is also a syndicated talk radio host.
Mike Huckabee — former Governor of Arkansas, two-time GOP presidential candidate becomes Fox News host, is now a Fox News contributor.
Jennifer Granholm — former Democratic Governor of Michigan and current Hillary Clinton supporter @Correct the Record is a CNN commentator.
Joe Scarborough — former GOP Florida Congressman becomes host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe.
Chuck Todd — the ex-political aide in the presidential campaign of Democrat and Iowa Senator Tom Harkin is now the host of NBC’s Meet the Press.
Donna Brazile — last but certainly not least, the former campaign manager for Vice President Al Gore and current vice chair of the Democratic National Committee is a CNN commentator.
And, as mentioned, there’s me, an ex-Reagan White House political director turned CNN commentator.
Oh yes. In the style of the 21st century? Let’s not forget Mark Levin — the former Reagan White House aide and chief of staff to Reagan Attorney General Ed Meese who of course has his eponymous radio show and, in the style of the 21st century, has his own Internet Levin TV, to be found here.
Doubtless I have left somebody off this list of Snakes and Weasels… sorry! No offense intended! Snakes and Weasels has a strict non-discrimination clause. But suffice to say, with this as background the CNN hiring of Corey Lewandowski makes eminent good sense for CNN. Is he controversial? Yes. Has he made enemies? Clearly so. But to scan the list above is to recognize that if being controversial and having political enemies is the qualifier, just about nobody above would have been hired by any network for anything. Unless David Zurawik is secretly playing favorites, we’re all Snakes and Weasels.
To name but a few of the Snakes and Weasels controversies? Clinton’s George Stephanopoulos freely admits in his memoirs that he was part of the so-called “bimbo eruption” team that made it their business to destroy the reputations of the various women who came forward to say they had had a relationship with Bill Clinton. No snake and weasel controversy there, right? Sure.
Barry Goldwater himself accused LBJ’s Moyers of running a snake-and-weasel style White House “dirty tricks” operation in the 1964 presidential campaign. In his biography of Goldwater, Lee Edwards notes that not only did LBJ use the FBI to investigate his GOP opponent but that it was Moyers who sent a note to the FBI’s White House liaison thanking the Bureau for their “fine” work in violating Goldwater’s civil liberties. Edwards, who poured through old FBI files, says that Moyers had the FBI initiate “an illegal file check of fifteen people employed in Goldwater’s Senate office.” Nothing controversial there! Give that man a PBS show!
And, of course, on the GOP side of the ledger there is my ex-Reagan colleague Oliver North, a wonderfully fine man who alas was at the dead center of the Iran-Contra scandal and has become a terrific host of Fox’s War Stories.
Not to mention Bush 43’s Karl Rove. I like Megyn Kelly of Fox (no snake or weasel she!) and have been both supportive and critical of her. But I have to say her recent criticism of the CNN Lewandowski hire is a pluperfect example of a mind-boggling double-standard. As noted in Politico (and that’s not the only place) Kelly launched a loud attack on CNN for its move, huffing among other things that Corey “has threatened more than one journalist in the course of this campaign.” Hmm. Ms. Kelly? Meet Dallas Morning News reporter Wayne Slater, who is quoted as follows in University of North Texas Journalism Professor James E. Mueller’s book on Bush 43 titled Towel Snapping the Press: Bush’s Journey from Locker-Room Antics to Message Control:
Still, (Bush 43 aide Karen) Hughes’s tactics were mild compared to those attributed to longtime Bush political adviser Karl Rove. Slater is an expert on Rove and his relationship with Bush. He interviewed Rove extensively for the book Bush’s Brain, which he cowrote with Jim Moore. Slater described Rove as “tough” in his relationship with reporters. “He calls you; he threatens — I don’t mean physically threatens you. But even if there are no words there, the implication — reading between the lines- ‘My gosh, my access is shut off, I’m going to be in somewhat big trouble here.’ This guy Rove is a formidable character.”
…Other reporters have noted Rove’s use of power tactics. A trio of Texas journalists who profiled Rove in Boy Genius wrote that Rove told Anne Marie Kilday of the Dallas Morning News that she needed to be careful of her reputation because he was looking at the phone records of a state official who was a reputed lesbian, and she had called her a number of times at her home.
So let’s get this straight. Megyn Kelly is critical of CNN for hiring Corey Lewandowski because he has threatened reporters — but is silent as a lamb chop about Karl Rove threatening reporters, being “tough” with reporters, implying that he would cut off their access to Bush, was reported to have looked at a reporter’s private phone records and bullying that specific journalist by suggesting she’s involved with a lesbian? And yet not a peep from Megyn Kelly about having Karl Rove as a Fox News contributor? Double standards for us Snakes and Weasels don’t get much wider than that.
The point of all this Snakes and Weasels history? Not to mention opening up the club roster for public viewing of a list that is actually pretty public already?
One. If being “controversial” is the problem with CNN’s hiring of Corey Lewandowski, just about everybody on the Snakes and Weasels membership list above would never have been on television. In their day, many of these people had — and for all I know still have — enemies. Goldwater wrote this of Moyers in his 1998 autobiography Goldwater — decades after the 1964 campaign:
Over the years I’ve watched Moyers appear on “CBS News” and the Public Broadcasting Service. He has lectured us on truth, the public trust, a fairer and finer America. He portrays himself as an honorable, decent American. Every time I see him, I get sick to my stomach and want to throw up.
Barry Goldwater was not one to beat around the bush. In his eyes, Moyers was both a snake and a weasel and made Goldwater “want to throw up.”
Two. In the case of Corey Lewandowski, you can like him or hate him, but without doubt he played a major role in getting Donald Trump to where he is at this moment in time. The key thing to always remember in a campaign is that the campaign is about the candidate and the candidate’s vision for America. It is never about a staff member. There are now, and always will be considering that human personalities and egos clash, staff members that don’t get along with each other. Certainly in my own time in the Reagan White House it had its share (make that more than its share!) of competing, jostling personalities. Some of them detested others of them, and some of them became hugely controversial as public figures. But again, this is a staple of every single White House and for that matter every single presidential campaign, not to mention campaigns for lesser offices everywhere across the fruited plane. In the end, the candidate calls the shots. So in this case Donald Trump has parted ways with Corey Lewandowski — on good terms — which in turn has sent Corey into the Snakes and Weasels Club, CNN division.
The objective for television executives, it is clear, is to provide the best coverage out there of the events of the day, and in the case of the 2016 campaign that means a mix of great reporting combined with commentary from commentators who have been, as it were, “around the political block.” The results are in the viewers’ hands, as they always will be.
And based on CNN’s terrific ratings this year, clearly the network knows what it is they are doing.
So come on in Corey. Welcome to the CNN division of television’s Snakes and Weasels Club. Bring your controversies and unique perspectives with you. All the rest of us in Snakes and Weasels on every network have our own. While I know this may be hard for you to learn? Don’t be shy. There’s nothing worse than a shy Snake and Weasel.
And a note to David Zurawik? While you clearly have absolutely no qualifications to be a member of Snakes and Weasels — based on an absolutely appalling record of being a lifelong journalist — I will do what I can to see that Snakes and Weasels makes you an honorary member as a thanks for supplying our name.
Did I tell you Corey is the new membership chairman?