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Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Tuesday, June 22nd 2010, 4:00 AM
Should CNN cede its trademark as the Most Trusted Name in News to the Huffington Post?
Despite poor ratings, the cable news network that Ted Turner founded in 1980 has long prided itself on journalistic integrity. But media insiders say CNN's continued ties to lobbyists and special-interest consultants - whom it bills as political analysts - now threaten its sterling reputation. And one source says the network's parent company, Time Warner, is paying close attention to the matter.
Two names that repeatedly come up are Hilary Rosen, a former recording-industry lobbyist who was hired to be a D.C. navigator for public relations consulting firm The Brunswick Group, and Alex Castellanos, a founder of public-affairs PR firm Purple Strategies. As political blogger Greg Sargent reported in The Plumline Monday, BP has retained the services of Rosen, a Democrat, who has farmed out some of the work to her fellow CNN talking head Castellanos, a Republican.
At the beginning of the month, Huffington Post announced that Rosen would no longer be its Washington editor-at-large because of her new consulting role with BP. But CNN apparently doesn't see the need to go that far. A CNN insider points out the network hasn't used Rosen or Castellanos on the air recently because coverage has been dominated by the BP oil spill. But a statement to this column by CNN spokeswoman Edie Emery indicates that the two PR rainmakers are still affiliated with the network. "Both Alex and Hilary are political contributors used to comment on political issues," said Emery. "They are not being used to discuss the oil-disaster story."
One Washington CNN source says the statement's careful wording makes CNN "sound like a political campaign under fire, instead of a news organization," adding, "The fact that Huffington Post has a higher ethics standard than CNN is itself stunning."
The source also points out that special-interest consultants don't necessarily need to discuss client-related issues on-air to put CNN in ethical quicksand. "When Hilary Rosen," who gets a lot of face time as an expert on gay issues, "is on the air defending Obama for dragging his feet on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' the back story is that she's got a lot of business in front of the White House," the source says. "The question is: Is she saying what she's saying to curry favor?"
The Washington CNN source says "a lot of the network's producers are upset over this," and that CNN political director Sam Feist and Lucy Spiegel, executive director in charge of D.C.-based contributors and analysts, are under scrutiny and "pointing fingers at each other." Feist, Spiegel and Castellanos did not return calls. A colleague in Rosen's office returned our call to direct us to Emery's statement, calling the matter a "nonissue." Gatecrasher wonders if Ted Turner thinks it's a nonissue, too.