Donna Brazile’s dirty tricks won’t influence the outcome of the vote, nor did they swing the Democratic primary race to Hillary Clinton. But the story about how the current Democratic National Committee chair used her perch as a paid talking head at CNN to pass vital info to the Clinton campaign ought to have an impact on the way television covers politics. It also reminds us that the liberal bias of the mainstream media isn’t a myth invented by Donald Trump; it’s an unavoidable truth.
Brazile became a familiar presence to television audiences in the last decade as part of the stable of partisan commentators who spin the news. She left CNN this summer to migrate back to active politics when Hillary Clinton tapped her to replace Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz as chair of the Democratic National Committee after a Wikileaks document revealed the DNC’s pro-Clinton bias. Yet Brazile has now learned that she who lives by Wikileaks can also die by it.
Wikileaks then told us that Brazile passed along a planned question to be asked at a town hall debate between Clinton and Bernie Sanders sponsored by her employer, CNN. Another email revealed her promise to pass along any other such goodies to the Clinton camp as they came into her possession.
Obviously, Brazile saw herself as more of a Clinton mole inside the CNN tent instead of a commentator. The network has since cut its ties with her. But as bad as that makes her and CNN look, what should generate the most outrage is the fact that some person(s) inside CNN’s news operation had the same idea. Brazile couldn’t have been an effective spy for Clinton inside CNN if CNN personnel hadn’t given her the goods the former first lady needed. That raises the question not so much about Brazile’s ethics as it does about the impartiality of the CNN newsroom. We already knew liberals largely staff the network and most of its competitors. But this story shows us that, despite frequent claims to the contrary, the personal politics of its employees does shape coverage. We should not accept the notion that what happened here is an exception. To the contrary; it’s reasonable to assume that things like this happen far more often than even paranoid conservatives might think.
The problem here goes beyond dirty tricks. If CNN and similar news organizations care about their reputations, they will understand that it’s time to start acting to counteract the way their staff’s political bias influences their work. There are programs and on-air personalities who bring talent and journalistic skill to their work that make them worth watching. But if the public doesn’t trust the media, it’s not because Trump and his supporters claim the system is rigged. It’s because of the bias that many in the industry rarely bother even to disguise, let alone properly label so that viewers can make informed judgments about what they are consuming.
Brazile’s unmasking also reminds us that the one element of cable news that is properly labeled is of no value to the audience. Explicitly partisan commentators who are regularly trotted out to fill time and space. The only qualification most of them have is a clear affiliation and a willingness to say virtually anything in defense of their side or to smear their opponents. The current presidential campaign has marked a new low point for TV news as the regular suspects from the left who can be counted on to spin for Clinton and the Democrats have been joined by a new group of pro-Trump voices. The latter are notable largely for their slavish obedience to the whims passed on from Trump Tower, such as the requirement always to say “Mr. Trump” when referring to their candidate.
As media critic Jack Shafer correctly points out in Politico, most of the Clintonistas and the Trumpkins never speak honestly about anything to the audience and also have virtually no original insights to share. The dirty secret about some is that they are paid by the people/parties they spin for rather than the networks. But even those more well-known personalities on retainer for individual news outlets, like former Obama campaign guru David Axelrod or former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, are never going to say anything that offends their former employers because of their political loyalties and the likelihood that they are still being paid by them (as we know is the case with Lewandowski).
Anyone who thinks the problem of liberal bias is limited to one bad actor doesn’t understand that viewers have long since seen through the media’s pose of objectivity.