Democracy Soup

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CNN fails a second time to disclose Alex Castellanos and won’t apologize, wins the Media Putz

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Originally published on on October 29, 2009


Not to kick a cable news channel when it’s down, but the news this week that CNN is running fourth in key demos in prime time is timely, given its recent lack of accountability in not disclosing a key conflict of interest in the health care reform battle. Sure there are many reasons why CNN is losing viewers that quickly, but it would be fun if there was a correlation between behavior and success.

Alex Castellanos is a regular CNN contributor, but one of Castellanos’ secret identities is being the media buyer for one of the ad campaigns bankrolled by America’s Health Insurance Plans, a major industry trade group fighting strenuously against health care reform. Castellanos was responsible for placing more than $1 million of AHIP advertising in five states.

CNN has said it would subsequently disclose Castellanos’ connection. Though mysteriously, the cable news channel didn’t apologize for not disclosing Castellanos’ conflict.

If the MSM, especially TV news, wonders why people trust the news less and less, having egregious conflicts of interest — especially on the hottest topic in the news — is one good place to start.

For those who would want to compare that to MSNBC and Richard Wolffe, there is some symmetry. But there were apologies for not having disclosed the conflict, and a short-term freezing out of Wolffe on MSNBC’s shows. And Castellanos’ conflict was more direct to a core issue, appearing on CNN on that specific topic (see video above).

MSNBC spokesperson Jeremy Gaines, “We should have disclosed Richard’s connection to Public Strategies. We will do so in the future.”

Keith Olbermann: “I am confident his commentary to this point has not been compromised – he has been an insightful analyst and a great friend to this show – but until we can clarify what else he is doing, he will not be appearing with us. I apologize for not being able to prevent this unhappy set of circumstances from developing.”

In short, there was accountability but no justification from MSNBC. And still no accountability or justification from CNN.

But having on guests without full disclosure is still wrong, no matter which news organization does so. This is the same reasoning for why we shame those news outlets who put on retired Army generals who were vetted by the Pentagon and had undisclosed ties to military contractors.

As Media Matters has reported, this isn’t even the first time CNN hasn’t disclosed a conflict of interest from Castellanos.

Last August (2008), we noted that Castellanos — best known as the creator of the racially charged “Hands” advertisement — was hired as a CNN contributor three days after the New York Times reported that he was part of John McCain’s “panel of outside advertising consultants.” CNN subsequently failed to disclose Castellanos’ connection to the McCain campaign while he was, for instance, applauding the McCain campaign’s ads. If they hope to live up to their “most trusted” brand, CNN must do a better job of handling Castellanos’ new conflict of interest.

If a cable news channel employed someone who could write a memo such as this one might be inclined to double-check whether this person had direct financial connections with an industry. But CNN clearly isn’t that interested in keeping track of such “pesky” information.

After all, a simple Google search would have produced this bio of his work at National Media, the company that bought the anti-health care reform ads.

CNN cares so little that Alex Castellanos was directly involved in running health care reform ads and its non-disclosure that the network doesn’t feel like it should apologize to its viewers. At least, the few viewers they still have.

Cable news channels whine about having to fill up 24 hours of news, so they feel like they have to throw in these partisan experts. But they turn a blind eye to conflicts of interest from their contributors. They should do a better job of vetting their contributors and disclose all their conflicts or choose not to have them on the air.

And if you get caught in a predicament where the vetting process fails, have some decency about it. Since this is the second time (at least) that the cable news channel didn’t fully disclose the status of Alex Castellanos — still without apology — CNN earns this week’s Media Putz award.

CNN also won the award on July 30, 2009.


Written by democracysoup

October 29, 2009 at 6:00 am

Posted in media criticism, MSM

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