The pushback from journalists was twofold. First, Lewandowski was recorded on video manhandling Breitbart journalist Michelle Fields (he was arrested for battery; the charges were ultimately dropped), one of several examples of his stormy relationship with the press. And secondly, he was hired despite having signed a nondisclosure agreement that might prevent him from saying anything too critical about the campaign.
So, given those caveats, should CNN have brought Lewandowski aboard? Below is a question-and-answer session between Managing Editor Benjamin Mullin and Kelly McBride, Poynter’s vice president of academic programs and its media ethicist, about his hire.
Given everything we’ve already mentioned, should CNN have hired Lewandowski?
That’s a really big question to answer. They’re not asking him to be a journalist. They’re asking him to be an apologist for Trump. And he’s certainly cut out to do that. The biggest question I’d ask is, what value does he bring? He’s basically going to be a commercial for Trump. He’s not going to be able to provide any insight, because he signed a non-disclosure agreement. So he’s not going to be able to reveal anything that’s going to be truly insightful or new. I just wonder what value he brings other than the theatrics of defending Trump.
I would think that there would be a better Republican to do that. A Republican who’s maybe also raised some questions about Trump but has thrown his support behind Trump who might be able to parse the political implications of his candidacy.
Isn’t there a conflict of interest in bringing aboard a top-level campaign staffer?
There’s a definite conflict of interest there. And with many conflicts of interest, you have to manage them. You do that by constantly disclosing them, constantly challenging the conflict and creating a process within your staff for managing it.
Live television doesn’t do any of this well. So it’s not that it’s impossible to manage the conflict of interest, but it’s whether CNN has the leadership and the journalism will to do it consistently over the next six months.
Some who defend the move say that bringing Lewandowski aboard will help bring diversity of opinion to a cable news ecosystem dominated by Trump haters. What’s your response to that?
If [Lewandowski] can bring a level of reason and logic and intellectual discussion to a Trump candidacy, that would be of value. But I didn’t see a lot of evidence from his time as a campaign manager that he could do that. So, as an analyst and a contributor to CNN, he’d have to demonstrate a different skillset than he did as a campaign manager. That would be very helpful — but I’m not certain it will actually happen.