CNN anchor Jake Tapper has pulled out of his scheduled duties moderating a panel on workforce investment at the upcoming Clinton Global Initiative America Meeting in Denver from June 8-10. In his stead, CNN’s Poppy Harlow will step in to handle the discussion, which will examine how “investing in job quality can expand profit margins and long-term sustainability for businesses,” according to the event’s program. Harlow has covered business at CNN.
Tapper’s withdrawal from the panel session doesn’t mean he won’t be on the event agenda at all. Au contraire, the host will keep his appointment interviewing former President Bill Clinton as part of the proceedings. As his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, moves into the second phase of her 2016 presidential campaign, Bill Clinton’s cachet as an interview subject bumps up a touch more. The Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) is essentially a subsidiary of the Clinton Foundation; it “convenes global leaders to create and implement innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges,” according to the foundation.
The switcheroo on the workforce panel caps a frenzy of negotiations between CNN and the Clinton Foundation. About a week ago, USA Today reported that the CGI site had listed Tapper as a “speaker” at the event, a characterization that CNN contested. Testiness over just how Tapper was being presented likely wouldn’t have arisen if not for context: The Clinton Foundation these days is the target of feisty journalistic investigations stemming from Hillary Clinton’s presidential run, and ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos sustained a media beating over revelations that he gave $75,000 to the foundation from 2012 through 2014.
As discussed last week in a widely unread Erik Wemple Blog post, CGI has a “template” for the participation of media outlets in its events. Participating media stars, indeed, get to interview Bill Clinton, but they also “get” to moderate a panel discussion — and air that discussion on their network. “There’s an understanding that the package has two elements because that’s how we’ve always done it,” Craig Minassian, the Clinton Foundation’s chief communications officer, told the Erik Wemple Blog last week. This interview-plus-panel arrangement dates to 2006.
Could a TV outlet propose doing only the interview with Bill Clinton and take a pass on the panel-moderation gig? “They could but we wouldn’t do it,” Minassian said.
Consider: The Clinton Foundation exercises suzerainty over the topics and guests on CGI’s program, though Minassian stresses that there’s a high degree of cooperation on these fronts with media outlets. So when CNN moderates a panel discussion at CGI and later airs the product — as other media outlets have done in recent years — it is surrendering at least some control over its editorial product to a third party. “Hopefully it works for everybody,” Minassian told us. “We like to think it’s a creative approach. Everybody has felt that it gives them access not only to an interview but also to other important voices.”
So it makes sense that CNN would struggle with its participation in the CGI event. How swapping Harlow for Tapper resolves any fundamental editorial questions, however, is unclear.
Here’s the screenshot of the discussion before the change:
Note the part where CNN is described as a “broadcast partner.”
Now the new look:
No more “broadcast partner.” When asked about that change, Minassian wrote via e-mail to the Erik Wemple Blog, “The program still has the same coverage parameters but they asked us to modify how we positioned them – honestly results and coverage of our work are really more important to us than the language and positioning. CNN’s been a very good partner for years.”