This morning, Politico Playbook’s Mike Allen reported two somewhat uncomfortable developments right alongside each other:
OBAMA ALUMNI: “Stephanie Cutter has joined NBC News and MSNBC as a Political Analyst. She will contribute exclusively on a range of topics across all platforms including Meet the Press, TODAY, Nightly and MSNBC.” She’ll be on “Andrea Mitchell Reports” at noon today.
–NYT A17, “Obama Mobilizes Campaign Veterans to Push for Court Nominee,” by Michael D. Shear and Eric Lipton: “[Stephanie] Cutter … will oversee the efforts by the new group, to be called the Constitutional Responsibility Project. Anita Dunn, the former White House communications director, is handling the news media, along with Amy Brundage, a veteran Obama aide. Also involved are Julianna Smoot, the chief fund-raiser for Mr. Obama’s campaigns; Paul Tewes, Mr. Obama’s top field operative in 2008; and Katie Beirne Fallon, the president’s last legislative director.” http://nyti.ms/1R3hshn
That’s right: The person who was signing up to provide all manner of commentary on the airwaves of NBC News/MSNBC was also signing up with the Constitutional Responsibility Project, an effort by a group of former Obama White House aides to advocate on behalf of the president’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick B. Garland. The New York Times described the group as “essentially a miniature version of Obama for America, the formal name of Mr. Obama’s presidential campaign operations in 2008 and 2012, but with a new mission: to serve as an umbrella organization for the constellation of liberal groups that typically wage fights on behalf of Democratic court nominees.”
Any conflict here? Oh, no question about it — “Meet the Press,” “Hardball,” “The Rachel Maddow Show” and many, many others in the coming months will do stories on Garland’s nomination. That fight pits the White House and Cutter’s group — among others — against Republicans in the Senate who’ve voiced opposition to even considering an Obama nominee to replace conservative icon Antonin Scalia. Could Cutter, a paid analyst for the network, possibly comment on this issue? Could the network just issue a disclosure of some sort and then just let her rip away?
No chance. Today NBC News/MSNBC ended its just-barely-initiated agreement with Cutter, who is a co-founder of the Beltway consulting firm Precision Strategies. A statement from a network spokesperson reads: “We look forward to Stephanie’s insights on our air during this election year, but she will appear as a guest and not as an analyst due to her leadership role in the battle over the President’s Supreme Court nomination.”
With that, the Erik Wemple Blog is resolving to watch more and more MSNBC/NBC News. Outside of this blog and some graybeards-cum-media watchers, few would have cared if the network just saddled Cutter into her analyst role with some well-placed disclosures, and continued with business as usual. There’s a long history of such activity at cable outlets, and it includes Cutter herself. Back in 2013, when CNN was trying to revive the once-successful shouting program “Crossfire,” co-host Cutter and fellow co-host Newt Gingrich got slammed for having various financial and/or professional ties to organizations and causes that flashed before them on “Crossfire” broadcasts. For instance, Cutter was working with the Obama White House on messaging, as the New York Times and Fox News reported. Gingrich had financially supported at least one guest on the show. CNN was fine with it:
We are clarifying the policy and making it clear Newt Gingrich is not in violation. The policy: If a Crossfire co-host has made a financial contribution to a politician who appears on the program or is the focus of the program, disclosure is not required during the show since the co-host’s political support is obvious by his or her point of view expressed on the program.
Another statement from CNN indicated that “political support and activism are there for all to see” with the “Crossfire” hosts. “It’s obvious they support liberals or conservatives.”
More recently, the Intercept’s Lee Fang exposed how various networks — NBC, CBS, CNN and ABC News — were failing to disclose financial ties between pro-Clinton guests/commentators and the Clinton campaign. A Cutter appearance on “Meet the Press,” noted Fang, failed to disclose that her firm did work for the Clinton campaign.
By ending Cutter’s analyst deal before it started, NBC News/MSNBC has taken a stand in favor of its viewers, who deserve independent voices, if indeed there are any left out there.