Two TV news organizations say they are temporarily cutting ties to Donna Brazile now that she has been named interim chair of the Democratic National Committee.
Only they aren’t cutting them entirely. And that could lead to some rather awkward exchanges.
On the eve of the Democratic National Convention, CNN and ABC News said they had temporarily suspended contracts with Brazile to serve as a political commentator for the networks. Brazile, who served as Democrat Al Gore’s campaign manager in 2000, has been a fixture on both networks for years.
She was named to the DNC post on Sunday and will begin work after the convention concludes on Thursday. She will continue in the job until the election in November.
But neither ABC nor CNN is planning to keep Brazile off the air this week while she’s suspended from her network contracts.
Brazile will “appear on ABC as a newsmaker” during the convention, said ABC spokeswoman Heather Riley. A CNN source said Brazile “will keep all her on-air commitments to us this week.”
The difference, both networks said, is that she won’t be paid when she appears.
As a rule, news organizations tend to shy away from employing people who represent an interest the news organizations cover. The reason is that such conflicting roles may cause viewers or readers to suspect that the news organization’s coverage is biased in favor of that individual’s interests. Brazile’s ascension to interim chair of the DNC, replacing Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) after the convention ends, would seem to present a classic conflict of interest.
In recent years, however, TV news organizations have made an exception to the conflict rules by employing armies of party “strategists” to comment on political developments. CNN, for example, drew criticism last month by hiring Corey Lewandowski, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, as a commentator, despite a non-disparagement agreement between Lewandowski and the campaign.
CNN later acknowledged that Lewandowski was still receiving severance payments from the Trump campaign while he was appearing on the air.
Neither CNN nor ABC has been concerned about Brazile’s loyalties before. Both networks, after all, employed her while she served in her current job, vice chair of the DNC.
So how is Brazile’s new job different?
Riley said the distinction is between paid and unpaid roles. As vice chair, Brazile was a volunteer, she said; as interim chair, she will be compensated by the party.
“Much different,” Riley said.
CNN did not say how it intends to describe Brazile’s status to viewers.
On ABC’s ‘Good Morning America’ on Monday, host George Stephanopoulos introduced Brazile by saying, “Of course all of you at home know her as one of our ABC analysts but today you stepped aside from there. You are here as the interim chair” of the DNC.
He made no mention of paid or unpaid roles.
She will be, in effect, a longtime paid commentator who is suspended from commenting but who is acting as an unpaid guest to comment on news events that she herself helped orchestrate.
Brazile has already become part of the news that propelled her to the DNC’s top job and apparently forced the networks to suspend their financial relationship with her as a commentator. (Neither network explicitly said why they took that step Sunday.)
An email written by Brazile is part of the cache of hacked DNC emails that were released by the Wikileaks organization just before the start of the convention. The emails from various DNC officials suggest that the party organization was favoring the candidacy of Hillary Clinton over that of her Democratic rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders.
In one exchange in May, Brazile was asked by a Washington Post reporter about negotiations over the composition of the party’s convention committees. Brazile forwarded the reporter’s email to other DNC officials, saying she would decline the interview because of her frustrations with Sanders: “I have no intentions of touching this. Why? Because I will cuss out the Sanders camp!”
Brazile said on ABC News’s “This Week” on Sunday that she has apologized to Sanders’s campaign.
“I think the allegations, the emails, the insensitivity, the stupidity needs to be addressed, and we are going to address it,” she said.