CNN’s elastic budget for covering politics strikes again: The network has hired Bob Beckel, the opinionated, liberal pundit who for years spiced up the political banter on Fox News. Beckel will join the likes of Trump supporter Jeffrey Lord, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and gun-rights champion S.E. Cupp on CNN’s daily coverage of the 2016 presidential election, as reported by the Daily Beast.
The move to secure the services of Beckel looks like a transparent attempt to crib some of Fox News’s very own programming magic. Beckel, after all, starred in the role of lone liberal on the excellent program “The Five,” a lively roundtable discussion show on which Beckel commonly and deftly fought off all his fellow panelists, including Greg Gutfeld, Dana Perino and Kimberly Guilfoyle. With his trademark suspenders, gruff demeanor and gravelly voice, Beckel played the role of grumpy lefty — and he brought a bio that featured cocaine addiction alongside an appointment in the Carter administration and a role in Walter Mondale’s 1984 presidential campaign. He delivered passionate defenses of President Obama and many of his initiatives and bashed Republican politics with stinging regularity.
But when Islamic terrorism struck, Beckel became a Fox News liberal. “I am an Islamophobe. That’s right — you can call me that all you want,” he said in January of this year, following the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris. Following the September 2013 Kenya mall attacks, Beckel said that Islam is “not the religion of peace.” Appealing to Muslims, he said, “You moderate Muslims out there…the time has come for you to stand up and say something….No Muslim students coming here with visas, no more mosques being built here until you stand up and denounce what’s happened in the name of your prophet.” The next day, Beckel acknowledged that such conditions couldn’t be attached to building licenses here in America. Earlier this year, Beckel provided this insight regarding President Obama: “He had friends who were Muslims. I think he doesn’t want to make himself believe they can be a nasty group,” said Beckel. At one point, Beckel even drew a comparison between acceptance of radical Islam to acceptance of multicultural dating. Gutfeld saved Beckel’s butt by telling him that he couldn’t possibly mean what he said. Beckel backed off the contention.
Fox News and Beckel split up under the most turgid and puerile of circumstances. After he’d gone missing on Fox News airwaves for several weeks, Fox News in April issued a statement indicating that he’d entered treatment for an addiction to pain medication that he’d taken in connection with major back surgery. Then, in June, the network updated events with this statement: “We tried to work with Bob for months, but we couldn’t hold The Five hostage to one man’s personal issues. He took tremendous advantage of our generosity, empathy and goodwill and we simply came to the end of the road with him.” Beckel tweeted that the statement “baffles” him.
The pundit’s migration from Fox News to CNN sets up a juicy cable-news anthropological moment. Will Beckel ever get the chance to participate in a panel assembled to address Islamic terrorism? We’d bet this blog against such a scenario. When asked about whether Beckel would be allowed in the same room as a terrorism discussion, a CNN spokesperson declined to comment on the record. A likely strategy would be to deploy him in discussing the safer themes of campaign tactics and optics and stuff. He’ll do well in that capacity, as he did in his time as a co-host of CNN’s famous program “Crossfire.”
Not as well, however, as the bulging stable of actual politics reporters that CNN has signed in recent times. The 40-strong CNN Digital Politics staff includes folks like MJ Lee, Manu Raju, Maeve Reston and many, many others who spend their day pounding phones, e-mails and texts for fresh information on politics — as do the network’s various straight-news TV correspondents. Now CNN has hired another washed-up opinion-monger to compete for airtime.