CBS News was once the home of legends like Edward R Murrow and Walter Cronkite. Why is it now hiring Trump conspirators and enablers?
CBS News has hired Mick Mulvaney as an on-air contributor.
You may recall that Mulvaney served as acting chief of staff under Trump and led Trump’s Office of Management and Budget. But as I’ll get to in a moment, Mulvaney wasn’t just a high official in the Trump administration. He was an active enabler of Trump’s deceit and attempted coup.
An “on-air contributor” on a major network is different from a mere “guest”. I’ve been in both roles. Guests appear when a particular program’s producer invites them. “On-air contributors” appear regularly. They’re paid employees. And they’re introduced as contributors – which gives them the cachet and authority of being part of a network’s news division.
Mulvaney’s first appearance as a CBS News contributor occurred several days ago on a “MoneyWatch” segment in which he was asked to explain Biden’s plan for taxing the super-rich.
The anchor, Anne-Marie Green, introduced Mulvaney as “a former OMB director” and “the guy to ask about this”. But she said nothing about whose OMB he directed, suggesting that Mulvaney was simply a budget expert offering an expert analysis rather than a fierce Trump partisan.
Then she asked him whether a “regular working-class American” should care about Biden’s tax proposal.
Mulvaney’s answer: “It’s easy to look at it and say, ‘Don’t worry, you’re not going to pay this,’” but regular working Americans would have to “prove that they don’t have to pay it”, a burden that “could be troublesome: every single year proving that you’re not worth a hundred million dollars”.
This is as misleading as it gets in broadcast media (except for Fox News). Nothing in Biden’s proposal to tax the super-rich requires that people prove they’re not super-rich. Mulvaney’s claim was pure demagoguery.
But that’s what we should expect from Mulvaney. In 2019 Mulvaney threatened to withhold US aid to Ukraine to fight Russian aggression unless President Zelenskiy came up with dirt on Hunter Biden. (This was the call in which Zelenskiy’s plea “we need more Javelins” – anti-tank missiles that have proved crucial in Ukraine’s defense against Russia’s invasion – was met with Trump’s “I would like you to do us a favor though.”)
When the quid pro quo came to light, Mulvaney brushed it off: “I have news for everybody: get over it. There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy.” After Trump withheld the aid, Mulvaney asked White House budget officials for legal justification to withhold it until Zelenskiy announced an investigation of Biden.
There was also the time Mulvaney called Covid
a “media hoax” designed to bring down Trump. And the time he predicted that if Trump lost in 2020 he would “concede gracefully”.
When I was growing up, CBS News was the home of news legends like Edward R Murrow and Walter Cronkite – pioneers who set the standards for broadcast news. So why is CBS News now reaching into the cesspool of Trump conspirators and enablers to hire Mulvaney?
Neeraj Khemlani, co-head of CBS News, explained to the CBS News staff at a meeting last month that when it comes to contributor hires, “getting access to both sides of the aisle is a priority because we know the Republicans are going to take over, most likely, in the midterms.”
“Getting access” to what? To the big lie about the 2020 election? To lies about Covid
? To bonkers economics?
Since when does CBS News’s decisions about whom to hire depend on predictions about which party will “take over”, anyway? What if the party that’s predicted to win is so contemptuous of democracy that it continues to claim, without basis in fact or law, that the last presidential election was stolen?
Would the CBS News of the 1950s hire as an on-air contributor Senator Joseph McCarthy, who conducted a vicious anti-communist witch-hunt that wrecked the lives and careers of countless Americans, because the news division wanted access to “both sides”? (In fact, CBS News’s Edward R Murrow exposed McCarthy as a liar and demagogue.)
If there were ever any doubts that both sides of the political aisle are about the same, the events of the past two years should have laid them to rest. One of America’s two national political parties has embraced (and been embraced by) an anti-democratic extremist fringe.
CBS News, like every news outlet, has a cardinal responsibility to protect American democracy from this growing menace. To fulfill this responsibility, it must report accurately what is occurring.
It should not pander to the menace by hiring a person who has had a hand in it and will further obscure the truth.