As much as CNN likes to tell the public and advertisers that it’s squarely in the sensible center between the partisan attacks of MSNBC and Fox News, the reality says otherwise. Even if CNN has no Screaming Schultzes or Crazy Larry O’Donnell types, it’s still firmly in the Democratic sphere of influence.
On his show, “In The Arena,” on May 12, CNN host Eliot Spitzer recounted how a story in The New York Times “brought a smile to my face. It said the president of the United States calls you for wisdom and advice about issues around the world. So first, when he calls you, what does he say? Hi, Barack calling for Fareed? What does he do?”
His guest Fareed Zakaria replied, “Mostly it’s been face-to-face meetings. You know, usually organized by Tom Donilon, the national security adviser,” and it’s been a “very thoughtful conversation.” (That certainly compliments both sides of the chat.)
Spitzer then added, “I’m not going to ask you what you have said to the president, but it makes my heart warm that the president is calling you for wisdom and advice.”
Zakaria is the host of “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” a Sunday CNN news offering. He was happily — proudly — acknowledging that he counsels the president. Neither CNN nor Zakaria found this admission compromised its self-image of neutrality for an instant. There were no urgent denials, as Katie Couric tried to smother Whoopi Goldberg’s on-air claim in 1997 that they marched at abortion rallies together. Zakaria openly proclaimed his presidential access.
The folks at CNN certainly failed to remember how their network reacted on Nov. 18, 2002, after Bob Woodward broke the “scoop” that Fox News president Roger Ailes had sent a memo on the War on Terror to Karl Rove, who then shared it with President Bush. CNN anchor Paula Zahn (a former Fox employee) asked commentator Jack Cafferty, “Does that shed new light on ‘we report, you decide’ Jack?” Cafferty joked, “‘Fair and balanced.’ (Laughter.) We better leave that alone.”
On that day, the Ailes “controversy” was in heavy rotation. CNN’s “Talkback Live” also devoted a segment to the subject, as did “Crossfire” and “Wolf Blitzer Reports.”
So how many segments has CNN devoted to its own compromised position? None, unless you count Howard Kurtz brushing over it all by himself (no outsiders, please) on “Reliable Sources” on Sunday. Zakaria never touched it on his own Sunday show, and when he showed up on Monday’s “Situation Room” to discuss rape allegations against the head of the International Monetary Fund, Blitzer wouldn’t breathe a word of it.
If Ailes sending a memo to Rove compromised Fox’s independence, then what about Zakaria’s ongoing face-to-face strategy sessions with Obama? As controversy grew over the weekend, Zakaria tried to claim, “At no point did President Obama ask me for advice on a specific policy or speech or proposal, nor did I volunteer it. I know that he has had similar meetings with other columnists.”
This denial doesn’t pass the laugh test. What the hell did they talk about, then? If Obama is looking to formulate a policy and a speech (as The New York Times article asserted), then merely being in the room with him and moving your lips is advising him. As Zakaria himself said of meeting Obama in the Times, “He is searching for a way to pull back and weave a larger picture.”
But Zakaria isn’t just a “columnist,” as he’s been with Newsweek and now Time. He hosts a Sunday show on foreign policy for CNN. To now claim that Zakaria’s covert meetings do not conflict with his journalistic integrity is not only inaccurate, it’s hypocritical by CNN’s own standards. If they were really interested in the image of journalistic independence, Zakaria would recuse himself immediately from covering foreign policy that affects the United States.
What’s happened to our “news” media? They don’t see their role as simply providing the public with the best information. They would much rather apply all their wisdom gleaned from their Harvard and Yale educations to assist the government in running the country.
Incredibly, here’s how Zakaria actually ended his show on Sunday. He showed several Internet reworkings of the historic picture of Obama’s staff watching the bin Laden takedown, and announced: “This one may be my favorite. The superhero squad. President Obama is Captain America, Vice President Biden as Flash. Madame Secretary (Hillary Clinton) as Wonder Woman, and many more.”
Where are Jack Cafferty’s “fair and balanced” wisecracks now?