So as with everyone else I have been reading about the CNN situation on Russia. As a CNN commentator it is important to emphasize that I am just — and only — that: a commentator. Not an executive, not a reporter. Thus I have no inside information on the internals surrounding the headlines of the resignation of three CNN journalists over a retracted story on Russia and the alleged role of Trump adviser Anthony Scaramucci. The basic story on this has been reported here by my CNN colleague and media reporter Brian Stelter. And Mr. Scaramucci, as Brian reported, was quick to say the following: “CNN did the right thing. Classy move. Apology accepted. Everyone makes mistakes. Moving on.”
But in the swirl of stories that followed, I noticed this story — an opinion piece over at Mediaite by Mediaite’s Managing Editor Colby Hall. After going through the tale of what-happened-and-who-did-what, Hall concludes by saying this:
Maybe it’s also useful to look at the resignation of the three journalists behind the retraction of this single sourced story by comparing them to who still remains on CNN’s payroll.
Oh, hey look at that! There’s Jeffrey Lord and Jason Miller (aka, the Washington Generals of CNN) appearing almost nightly on CNN panels. Zucker has defended putting these guys on-air because he correctly believes that viewers are interested in the “narrative” of how these characters interact and develop. And watching these guys go at it day in day out is in fact entertaining. But it’s not news and often they say things that are factually indefensible.
Cable news is often more concerned with entertainment packaged as news than hard news itself. CNN still does important work, and the promotion of the Fake News criticism by President Trump is by turns “unconscionable and dangerous,” as Zucker has said. But because the Commander-in-Chief is actively undermining the reputation of a major media outlet and so many of his acolytes are buying it, means that more than ever, they need to be on their toes and at their best at all times.
Now, the CNN news desk has three less real professionals for making a single mistake, while Jeffrey Lord still gets a paycheck. That decision may be as necessary as it is depressing.
First of all, the obvious. To borrow from Harry Truman, if a commentator (or anyone else voluntarily in the public eye) can’t stand the heat — then get out of the kitchen. In my case a thick skin came with my DNA. Both my parents were in politics when I was a child, my father holding Calvin Coolidge’s old seat on the Northampton, Massachusetts City Council. He was also the GOP City Committee chairman, a candidate for the legislature. Mom was the chair of the Hampshire County Republican Women and was once asked to run for Congress (She sadly declined!) So at an early age I learned that criticism comes with the turf. And in the course of my own career have run for the legislature (at 24 — thankfully I lost!) and worked successively for a State Senator, Congressman, U.S. Senator, President and Cabinet Secretary. Not to mention by now cranked out hundreds of columns, TV, radio appearances and speeches. If you don’t like getting criticized for standing up and saying something in public, go be a monk. Aside from which, I am what I call a First Amendment Fundamentalist. The more debate and the more debaters the better, and healthier the democracy.
Yet this particular criticism from Colby Hall intrigued. Note the sentence where he says that my fellow-conservative commentator Jason Miller and I say things on CNN “that are factually indefensible.” I have no idea about what he hears from Jason that fits that category. Certainly I have heard nothing from Jason that meets that criteria. I suspect I know why Jason draws this reaction, more of which in a moment. But I was curious enough about this view of my CNN commentary — which is not restricted to Colby Hall — that I tweeted the following to him. “Example please of what I have said on CNN air that is ‘factually indefensible’? Not liberal dogma for sure. But not factual? Not.”
To his credit, Colby replied. His examples? That I said President Trump was the Dr. Martin Luther King of health care. That I said Jared Kushner was the Robert Kennedy of the Trump White House. And that in defending the Trump attack on the Mayor of London I compared it to criticism of Rudy Giuliani on 9/11, saying that Mayor Giuliani was open to criticism for the attack. Colby also pointed out that Twitter is not ideal for these kind of discussions. Agreed. So, I will reply here.
Let’s deal with the specifics first.
The Trump-MLK comparison. As I wrote here at CNN Opinion, I was comparing the strategies of the two men. Certainly — as I have said repeatedly in discussions comparing Presidents Trump and Reagan — no two human beings are the same. That, of course, is a given. But it is a fact that whether it was Dr. King’s strategy on Civil Rights or Trump’s strategy on health care their strategies were identical as was in the news at the moment of my CNN remarks. King explicitly advocated creating “such a crisis and foster a such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.” Trump had been in the Wall Street Journal at the time explicitly musing about cutting off subsidy payments to health insurance companies for Obamacare in order to create a crisis that would force resolution of the health care issue. In fact, only this week he was at it again, tweeting out that maybe it was better to let Obamacare “crash and burn” — thus forcing negotiation. King and Trump were and are employing the same strategy — and in fact the strategy long predates both. One of King’s heroes was the leader of India’s independence movement, Mohandas Gandhi. It was Gandhi who launched the policy of what he called “non-cooperation” of Indians with the ruling British colonialists. Time after time he led movements that boycotted British textiles in favor of homespun cloth or had Indians resigning from government posts thus crippling the government or refusing to pay a salt tax by making salt themselves. Each and every instance was about forcing crisis to get the desired negotiation. Which was King’s strategy — and also exactly what Trump was saying. In other words, yes indeed, in terms of his strategy as expressed at the time of my remarks the King-Trump strategies were identical.
Yet there is Colby Hall saying an example of my “factually indefensible” was this Trump-King comparison. To which I can only say — does Colby Hall read history?
Also cited by Hall as an example of my problem with facts was my comparison of Jared Kushner in the Trump White House to Robert Kennedy’s in the Kennedy White House. I have written about this particular thought in this space and Mediaite covered it here. Again, there seems to be an unfamiliarity with the historical facts, in this case about Robert Kennedy. It is fair to say that in the day I was a serious Robert Kennedy fan — and for that matter still am. I read all the books, memorized speeches, stood in line as a 17-year-old for six hours on a hot June day to touch the flag on RFK’s casket in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Safe to say, I was well aware when I made the comparison that both men were 36 years old when they reached their brother and father-in-law’s government. Kushner at the White House, RFK at the Justice Department as Attorney General. Both were severely criticized for their appointments. The New York Times of all places blasted RFK’s appointment as Attorney General, saying among other things: “It is simply not good enough to name a bright young political manager… to a major post in the government.” The family tie was seen in both cases as disqualifying, and in both cases the two became far more influential than their respective jobs would indicate. One can agree or disagree with either or both. But that there is a distinct similarity between the roles of Kushner and RFK as family members in a White House where they have evolved as powerful and influential is hardly a startling much less un-factual observation.
Last but not least, Hall cited my discussion of President Trump’s tweet about the Mayor of London in the aftermath of the London Bridge terrorist attack. My sin? As Mediaite wrote it up here, Hall took issue with my saying the same standards applied to New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani in the wake of 9/11. As a fan of the ex-NY Mayor, no offense was intended. My point, which I made, was simple. Any person in charge of an organization — a mayor, governor, president for example — is responsible for what happens on their watch. As Truman said, “the buck stops here.” There is one big difference — that I did not mention but which should be obvious — between New York in 2001 and London in 2017. In 2001 America attacks on the homeland not to mention around the world were anything but close to routine. I am sure that Mayor Giuliani and for that matter ex-Presidents Bush 43 and Clinton have had their moments where they looked back and regretted that they did not think to anticipate or do A, B, or C before 9/11. But in today’s world? No one, much less a Mayor of London, can be unaware that their cities or states and countries are the targets of would-be Islamic radical terrorists. Sometime after my comments Piers Morgan sat down with the London Mayor Khan and as recounted here in the Daily Caller had the chance in person to amplify the kind of point I was making. As the Mayor dithered about dealing with terrorists coming into his city, the Daily Caller reported the exchange this way:
Morgan interrupted one last time to remind Khan that the buck stopped with him.
“You’re the mayor! You’re the mayor of London,” Morgan said.
Well… exactly my point.
There is a larger point here in Colby Hall’s piece. He certainly isn’t alone in his criticism of me or my presence at CNN. But what never seems to be said is that his criticism and that of many others is rooted in the obvious: they can’t stand Donald Trump. That, at bottom, is all that governs here with these kind of critiques. That is exactly why Colby also targeted Jason Miller — Jason not coincidentally a former Trump spokesman. My friends Kayleigh McEnany and, while he and she were there, Corey Lewandowski and Scottie Nell Hughes, are and were all on the receiving end of the same kind of criticism. And what is it we all had in common? Yes, indeed, we are Trump supporters.
Where are the columns from these folks demanding CNN dump my colleagues — and yes, friends — Van Jones or Paul Begala or Kirsten Powers or Ana Navarro or Brian Fallon or Carl Bernstein? They aren’t written because these colleagues/friends of mine are themselves Trump critics, with some having worked for other Presidents with names like Obama or Clinton.
In other words? When you cut to the chase, what upsets Colby Hall and others in the media world when it comes to my commentary is my support of Donald Trump. That’s the beginning — and the end of it. (And it should also be said there’s more to political commentary than Donald Trump. Elections, public opinion, and a world of issues out there can be and are discussed without a Trump reference because in fact all of those things and more can and do exist without reference to whomever is in the White House at any given moment. My CNN colleague David Gergen served four Presidents now all long gone from the White House. But his knowledge gained from those experiences is still relevant and valuable on matters across the board.) The examples Hall provides of my supposedly “factually indefensible” commentary are themselves not only totally bereft of fact but show a decided unfamiliarity with history. And he and many other critics who write along these lines are not alone in exhibiting that problem.
With CNN taking some smacks lately it is, I think, incumbent here for me to stand up and say that not only have I always been treated very fairly by CNN, I have never been censored much less told what to say. My presence and that of other Trump supporters has been a deliberate attempt by CNN to have diversity in their commentary section. To make sure that all those millions out there who made it their business to elect Donald Trump the 45th president can see and hear someone or several someones who share their view on CNN air.
For that CNN — and CNN President Jeff Zucker specifically — deserve thanks.