Op-Ed: Why CNN’s efforts to appease democracy’s enemies will backfire

Signage of the CNN logo outside CNN center
(Mike Stewart / Associated Press)

Since 2016, MAGA propagandists like Kayleigh McEnany, Jason Miller, Jeffrey Lord, Rick Santorum, Ben Ferguson, Steve Cortes, Corey Lewandowski have at one time or another been on the CNN payroll. On one hand, they aided and abetted a figure who amplified violence against CNN, labeled the free press the “enemy of the people,” and with the other, they cashed CNN’s checks.

And yet, the powers-that-be seem to cling to this ludicrous notion that an audience in search of the “most trusted name in news” would somehow benefit from the continued elevation of these professional gas-lighters.

A slew of reports have surfaced in recent weeks describing the desire of CNN’s new top brass to “dial down the prime-time partisanship.” This includes instruction to stop using the phrase “the Big Lie” when reporting on Donald Trump’s completely false claims that the 2020 election was somehow stolen. Apparently, calling something a “big lie” is now considered partisan.


Puck News recently revealed that CNN executives visited with Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy and John Thune to “convince highly skeptical Republican leaders” that “they would get a fair hearing on his network, and that they should come back on its airwaves.” And last week, the network canceled its media affairs show “Reliable Sources”; the host Brian Stelter was often a target for criticism by conservatives over his coverage of MAGA lies during the Trump era.

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It seems the “most trusted name in news” is eager to pander to a political party that’s completely detached from reality, whose elected officials have declared war on truth and fact and promoted lies about everything from a free and fair election to a deadly pandemic.

Setting all of that aside, I keep coming back to the question, why? What’s the prize for CNN?

Does the network really believe the MAGA cult will start liking Don Lemon or Jake Tapper if they have more Trumpers on their shows? Do they think the MAGA cult will stop attacking them and calling them “fake news” if Jim Jordan and Ted Cruz started appearing regularly on their broadcasts? Do they think those who worship Trump will change the channel from Fox “News” or Steve Bannon’s podcast to start watching CNN regularly?

I’d hate to burst CNN’s bubble, but there is no universe in which any of those things will happen. The network could have a MAGA Republican on every show and the MAGA crowd would still trash it. CNN could have the most ardent Trump defenders on every panel and they would still paint it as the enemy. The proof is there. Despite employing McEnany, Lewandowski, Miller and friends, the attacks against CNN led by Trump only intensified as the years went on.

The entire purpose of a news organization is to protect truth and fact, to keep its audience tethered to reality, and to expose what is wrong. Telling the truth is not partisan. Reporting on facts is not partisan. Holding those in public office accountable for lying to their constituents is not partisan. Calling people who knowingly lie to voters “liars” is not partisan.


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The greatest disservice you can do to is place the liars on the same playing field as those who are committed to the truth. The only thing both-siderism can do is speed the further decline of our democracy by telling the public that there is no distinction between facts and falsehoods.

Republicans and Democrats are no longer two sides of the same coin. One side believes in democracy. The other is trying to expel it. One side believes in the rule of law, the other is waging a war against it. One side believes in voting and the peaceful transition of power, the other accepts violence.

In a democracy, the core job of the media is to inform so that the people can make real and meaningful choices — and that is not a partisan mission.

Kurt Bardella is contributing writer to Opinion. He is Democratic strategist and a former senior advisor for Republicans on the House Oversight Committee. @KurtBardella