According to the hacked Podesta emails, Brazile had tipped the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign about questions that would be asked in the primary debates, giving one of her incriminating emails the subject head, “From time to time I get the questions in advance.” In another email, she gave a sneak peak of a question that would be asked by a Flint “woman with a rash,” and would inquire of Clinton what she would do for Flint as president.
What Brazile did was wrong. Although CNN hired her to advance and defend the Democratic Party’s case in the endless hours of news talk the cable networks air, nothing can justify directly screwing one of the interests she collects pay from—CNN—in the process. She didn’t reduce the primary debates to a shambles, but she did violate an implied oath that the partisanship that got her the gig in the first place would not include such open-and-shut chicanery. Shame on Brazile. May she never suit up for paid verbal combat in the green room again.
Her deceit reveals an ugly aspect of news talk that will probably go unremedied as Brazile is tarred and feathered by the ethics cops: That is, the whole show-business concept that places paid partisan yakkers on television is corrupt and venal and deserves burial in a shallow grave. The yakkers populate the news shows not because they add much in the way of substance to our political knowledge, but because they’re a cheap form of on-air talent for television’s 24/7 programming needs, and television has been over-relying on them for a long time. A partial list of notable politicians or political operators who’ve worked their way into TV includes Tim Russert, Bill Bradley, George Stephanopoulos, Joe Scarborough, Van Jones, William Safire, James Carville, Jeffrey Lord, Kayleigh McEnany, Pat Buchanan, Rick Santorum, Paul Begala, David Gergen, Chris Matthews, Peggy Noonan, Sarah Palin, Jennifer Granholm, David Axelrod, Tony Blankley, Mary Matalin, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Mike Huckabee, John Bolton, Newt Gingrich, Eliot Spitzer and Corey Lewandowski.
TV hires these people and their ilk not for their spellbinding political insights but because they’re known quantities who will provide safe and predictable idle talk. By dividing their partisan contributors between Republicans and Democrats, TV creates the illusion of impartiality and inclusion. The contributors take the job because it’s easy—anybody can fill the air with platitudes and generalization, and all that face-time makes them more marketable on the lecture circuit. Working as a paid pundit is such a good deal, the contributors tend to conform to the expectations of the producers putting on the show. They hit their marks, fill the dead spaces with palaver, keep the commercials from bumping into one another, and sit at attention until called on—or interrupt should the show stall.
Not every TV contributor moment is a complete botch. Most of these people, with the exception of Lewandowski, know something about politics. Much more than you do. Much, much more than I do. But it’s not in, say, David Axelrod’s interests to share a damaging insight about Barack Obama, the horse he rode to prominence on. Almost to a one, the contributors pull punches and dilute the political conversation to the weakest of teas so the people in the bar and riding the elliptical trainers at the gym don’t have to strain to follow the Punch and Judy of it all.
What transpires during the paid contributor segments isn’t journalism. It isn’t politics. And it’s rarely even entertaining. I’d call it the worst sort of tasteless soy filler, only that would be an insult to soy, which is nutritious. There’s no reason outside of pragmatism that justifies their continued employment on the news shows.
Instead of deploying political hacks, the news shows would be smarter to hire journalists whose job it would be to extract meaningful information from the political hacks. Under my scheme, the Braziles and Carvilles and Palins could still be interviewed on TV, but they couldn’t draw pay—and they’d have to have something worthy to say or accept having the camera cut away from them.
Donna Brazile is probably sipping a cocktail tonight somewhere in Washington, wondering what hit her. CNN hired her to be a partisan, although not as much as her real employer, and what can be more partisan than leaking valuable political intelligence to help your side? Did CNN really think that the elementary concepts of journalistic fairness would govern her conduct?