Why does CNN continue to have Kellyanne Conway on?

There was an exchange on "Reliable Sources" today that stands as a reveal.

20 May 2018 6:21 pm 28 Comments

I want to capture for you a little moment today on the Sunday shows.

It came during Brian Stelter’s lengthy and of course contentious interview with Kellyanne Conway on CNN’s Reliable Sources. (I watch so you don’t have to…) Something happened during the struggle that I believe sheds light on a question that a great many people have about such interviews. Why do the networks keep doing it?

I tried to answer that in January of 2017. Everything I wrote then still appplies, including “they’re never going to stop with @KellyannePolls. Never! She’ll be on TV for as long as she works for Trump.”

Today Stelter had a starter question for Conway: If special counsel Robert Mueller has yet to make any report, how does President Trump know that Mueller has found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia? “Who’s telling him that?” Good question! A full 20 minutes later — with no commercial break — he had gotten no answer, despite coming back to the same question at least five times (I counted.)

Which is exactly why people continue to ask: why do you have Kellyanne Conway on? On Sunday morning, before his show aired, Stelter asked his followers on Twitter:

1,500 people answered. Typical replies:

So that happened. Here’s something that happened on the show. Read carefully, or you might miss it.

Conway makes an offhand reference to “people on your side of the aisle…” The implication: Stelter is a Democratic party operative.

Stelter: I am not on any side of the aisle.

Conway: Oh yeah? Who did you vote for?

Stelter: I didn’t vote for president. I left that line on the ballot blank. Anyway, it’s not appropriate for you to ask me that.

Conway: Oh, so it’s appropriate for you to ask me things?

Stelter: “We asked you to come on the program because you’re representative of the President… that’s the point of the interview!”

Conway. Well, the President thinks there’s no collusion. And even you guys seem to be losing faith in that narrative. You now have Michael Avenatti on all the time. The Democrats promised evidence of collusion. Where is it? “You confused America and you wasted time talking about that,” instead of trade deals, national security, a prosperous economy. These things matter to people. 

Stelter: They do matter.

Conway: “Look, if you think your job is to get the president and not get the story, you ought to just own it. Just say it. Because I know your viewers expect that now. Look at their comments all the time, ‘Don’t have Trump people on.’ They expect you to be reflexively, invectively anti-Trump, and that’s problematic.”

Stelter: “I’m glad you’re here! The goal is not to get the president, the goal is to get the truth. There’s a lot of people lying…”

There! Did you catch it? Kellyanne Conway knows that a whole lot of Stelter’s viewers don’t understand why he and the rest of CNN (Jake Tapper, Dana Bash, Chris Cuomo) continue to fence with her when the informational results are so thin. She brings up their complaints, but inflates and distorts them to make the critics sound as unreasonable as possible. (“Don’t have Trump people on.”)

Instead of siding with his puzzled viewers (“Well, Kellyanne, maybe they’re just frustrated, like I am, that I cannot get an answer to my original question, after six tries…”) Stelter places puzzled viewers in opposition to his own approach. That’s the moment I wanted to freeze for you. Some people may think there’s no point in listening to you, Kellyanne, but I’m not like that. I’m glad you’re here! (Go to 6:00 in this clip to see it yourself.)

Why does CNN continue to have Kellyanne Conway on its shows? Stephen Colbert asked Tapper that directly

Colbert asked. “Kellyanne Conway — why have her on TV? She is a collection of deceptions with a blonde wig stapled on top.” Tapper didn’t disagree, exactly, but he said he thinks “sometimes it’s worth it to have people on so you can challenge the very notion of the facts that are being disregarded and the lies that are being told.”

So that’s one answer: We may know with a high degree of probability that facts will be disregarded and lies will be told, but the interview is a chance for us to challenge that. From Reliable Sources today came a different answer. Interviewing Kellyanne Conway places us in opposition to our core audience— which is exactly why we do it, Kellyanne. To prove to the world how open we are to your voice, even when “they” are not. And we’re thrilled to have you here.

“I’m happy to be here!” she exclaimed, smiling.


Fernando Pizarro says:

It honestly never occurred to me that CNN, etc., is so terrified of the “bias” criticism that it would actively undermine one of the civic institutions that helps maintain our democracy to prove it’s “balanced,” but there you go.
Having this person on air serves no purpose other than attempting to shield CNN from accusations that it is anti-Republican or anti-Trump.
It’s pathetic.

What “world” is he proving it to? To the world of his viewers, it’s an abdication of journalism. And the reason “we” are not open to her voice is, she’s a relentless liar. She’s forfeited the right to have us take her seriously and be open to her voice. Who is Stelter trying to appease with this?

I thought journalism’s first obigation was to unearth the truth–not “look at what a liar Kellyanne Conway is” (howevermuch that is true), but the truth about the things worth asking about. Every minute she’s on is a slap in the face to that obligation.

It honestly never occurred to me to watch KAC or 90% of what’s on CNN.

Tflaherty says:

When Lester Holt interviewed Trump, I thought, why even have him on he’s just going to lie. Then Trump went ahead and pretty much admitted obstruction during the interview. So my answer is that we need to have them on to document their lies and deceptions. We must also inform the viewing public of exactly what we’re doing.

I think this is such an incredibly important point. Media loyalty is so often to the political class (of which they are part) than to the audience. Kellyanne and the approval of her cohort is more important to them than the views of their audience. The audience are merely there to be ‘informed’ — to take what is offered. The Kellyannes of the world are to be coddled, even when journalists know — they know! — they are not going to get any useful information from them. The professional obligation, then, is not to their audience (who, weirdly, journalists see as biased, lost in a Twitter echo chamber etc) but to the people whose job it is to lie to them. It as perverse as it is taken for granted: to point it out is to be dismissed as some naif who ‘just doesn’t get it’.

This goes beyond a broken model of journalism. To call it that is to suggest that it is a matter of craft that can be corrected, and I don’t think it can. Instead, it speaks to fundamental structural problem that can only be changed by having the audience inside the sausage factory, contributing to the how the sausage is made. Until audiences are part of the production process, I don’t see how this changes.

The point I was trying to make — which is reflected in your comments, Tim — is that in this moment that I “froze” for analysis, solidarity was expressed not with the viewer and her informational needs, but with the political operative and her demands.

Aaron Barlow says:

Again, Jay, you are making my teaching easier.

mikeinbama says:

CNN is in the entertainment business, plain and simple. They don’t care about uncovering the truth. They don’t care about holding people in power to any set of standards. By writing this piece, CNN, Reliable Sources and Brian Stelter are jerking off to the attention that has been given to them. CNN continues to be the leader of “Political Hot Takes” as an entertainment network. On a daily bases, CNN provides a platform for these useful idiots to appear balanced in their coverage of the Trump Administration. If CNN doesn’t bring these people on their airwaves, they lose access to the White House. Trump surrogates know they can go onto CNN and talk in circles without answering any questions truthfully. This administration leaks, holds a press conference about leaks, tweets about leaks, send surrogates to talk about leaks on CNN and the press corps reports about the leaks that were fed to them from the start. What concerns me about CNN and the Brian Stelter’s of the world is that they think the public don’t recognize blatant lying by this administration. CNN will continue to justify having these people on as part of the conversation, even though they deliberately lie on their airwaves. Trump and his administration have achieved their goal of farting in the elevator and telling everyone they didn’t do it. CNN can smell the rotting fart but are too scared to tell the public how rancid it stinks. CNN would rather debate the issue than be viewed as unbiased.

Nate Morris says:

I thought Brian Stelter did a decent job handling all the smoke grenades KAC pelted him with. Conway has a job to do – lying for a brazen, emboldened con artist/grafter who hides behind the legal trappings of the presidency to avoid exposure on a litany of criminal counts. To some its laughable entertainment – to the most serious and world-aware of us its profoundly disturbing!

Lois McDade says:

Despite the passionate opinions, there’s still that interview with Lester Holt. While I agree that MSM is more focused on doing what they perceive to be their thing than what actually is their thing, such interviews do have their importance. You never know what people will blurt out. It IS important to document their lies & bad behavior, if only to use it to educate future generations about this aberration in time.

Anne Ward says:

I can’t believe there are no Republican operatives who do not lie. Obviously they do not work in Trump’s cabinet.

It’s destructive when news media outlets continue to hand powerful megaphones to liars.

Michael Benard says:

Fact: As data shows, Americans have turned their backs on the press. 68% of Americans now say they have little or no trust in the press, according to Gallup, which has tracked response to this question annually since 1997.

And we’re not missing the fact that the press treats polls as hard news, but it will not touch its own sinking poll numbers – which have been declining for 20 years (long before President Trump’s election). Gallup calls that “a stunning development for an institution designed to inform the public.” Americans’ Trust in Mass Media Sinks to New Low: http://www.gallup.com/poll/195542/americans-trust-mass-media-sinks-new-low.aspx

By the way, why hasn’t the press updated viewers/readers on Mueller’s track record? Revisit Mueller’s behavior and statements to the press during his EIGHT year investigation of the Anthrax scare (5 deaths). Results: No indictments, one suicide (of Dr. Bruce Edward Ivins, a “suspect” never charged, who was harassed by Mueller in what the FBI jokingly called “bumper locking”). In addition, Mueller destroyed another man’s life (Dr. Steven Hatfill), who was investigated for SIX years, never charged, then dropped.

According to the Los Angeles Times (LAT) in 2008, “FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III told reporters: ‘I do not apologize for any aspect of the investigation that was undertaken over the years.’ Mueller said it would be ‘erroneous to say there were mistakes.’” Definition of hubris. Could we see some righteous indignation from the press over the person they claim is a model of integrity? Nowadays, “speaking truth to power” depends on who is in power. Refer to The Atlantic magazine’s 2010 article, titled “The Wrong Man.” https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/05/the-wrong-man/308019/

Xela Nosnibor says:

Great point, Jay.

On a related note, it boggles my mind that political reporters are still using Roger Stone as a source. Why would any journalist think there was any value in information provided by a man who routinely boasts and brags about how much he lies to reporters?

A commenter at my Facebook page, Dave Logan, put it so well: “I’m not sure Conway ‘speaks for the President’ as much as she speaks against CNN for the President.” That’s it exactly. I’m chagrined that I didn’t think of framing it that way myself.

I honestly had to stop watching it.

I kept waiting for the Jake Tapper moment where stelter would say: “okay this is absolutely pointless, you’re just here to keep spouting whatever Trump has sent you out to spray down the viewers with, so good bye”.

It’s like CNN has decided to become Trump in that whatever is being said good or bad is fine as long as it gets ratings.

“Why does CNN continue to have Kellyanne Conway on?”

Mr. Rosen,

For the same reason that both Jake Tapper and Chuck Todd on their respective Sunday shows referred to those who allegedly met with Donald Trump, Jr. in August 2016, as per The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, as merely “representatives of Gulf State countries” and NOT by their more accurate descriptions of:

Joel Zamel, an Israeli specialist in social media manipulation; founding director and CEO of geopolitical analysis and business consultancy group Wikistrat; and representative of the PSY-Group, which, per The Times, “employed several Israeli former intelligence officers” and “specialized in collecting information and shaping opinion through social media”;

Lebanese-American businessman George Nader, a longtime close adviser to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince and de facto ruler Mohammad bin Salman, and Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi; and,

Erik Prince, the billionaire founder of the private security firm Blackwater (later Xe, later Academi, and now Constellis Holdings) and brother to current U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, also a billionaire in her own right.

Another example, Jay, of TV Pundit-Hosts like Jake Tapper, Chuck Todd, and Brian Stelter placing their own puzzled viewers in opposition to their own approaches.

Besides, obfuscation and a little hasbara never hurt the bottom line – or ratings.

Oh wait, Tapper dumped Stephen Miller, but he’s ugly and weird looking.

What if CNN has been psychically poisoned by Fox News and won’t ever under any circumstances nix an attractive blond woman?
It can’t be that simple?

I choose to believe it can’t be that simple.

I see both sides of the coin … their refusal to answer coherently to questions asked must be recorded for posterity. At the same time, it’s becoming tiresome to listen to the same ilk over and over again. We rail at the interviewer for pressing hard enough. Short of grabbing the interviewee by the throat and demanding an answer to the unanswered question, what are the interviewers to do? Refusing to have them on will not change their lying. They will only go onto the State sponsored network of FOX to spread their lies unchallenged at all. Yes, ratings and such all play a part in the media game, but I have wondered what I would do myself in the same situation. Would I, be like Tapper and just cut her off, or would I be stubborn and keep hammering the same question at the person. At some point, it would become fruitless. I also fear I might smack them! I honestly don’t know how the interviewer does it at times.

You will not find in my post a complaint that Stelter wasn’t “tough” enough. I don’t see the problem that way.

Having her appear on a show titled Reliable Sources is particularly absurd, and false advertising to boot.

William Ockham says:

I challenge Stelter’s assertions. She’s not a key W.H. aide. As Jay has pointed out, there is no White House in the conventional sense. No one speaks to Trump in the way Stelter means. He is asserting that the value Conway brings is insight into Trump’s position. But no one knows what he will tweet next. She doesn’t represent the views of Trump supporters. She is using CNN’s willingness to give her a platform to shape the views of Trump supporters.

Stelter thinks that he’s serving kale (i.e. good for us, even though we don’t like it), but he’s really serving up plastic pretend food. It has the outward appearance, but none of the nutritional value. It’s just a choking hazard.

LincolnX says:

KAC is entropic in her ability to act as an information sink that leaves all in its vicinity less informed.

Nonetheless, her basic forecastt for T-shirts remains.

Because ‘news’ media is filled top to bottom with company men. Fake people who have no self respect, outside the respect they feel, and get, for being company men. So it follows the people they follow are also company men. Other fake people, mouthing the company line.

Richard Aubrey says:

“”If special counsel Robert Mueller has yet to make any report, how does President Trump know that Mueller has found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia? “”

If Trump is certain he didn’t do it, then it would follow there’d be no evidence he did it.

Thornton Hall says:

You’ve created hoops that cannot be jumped through and demanded that Stelter and Tapper explain to you how they jump through the hoops.

Why can’t they just be a for-profit ad-platform? Is there some history of for-profit companies serving the ends of democracy on purpose? Why not let them make money and let democracy take care of itself? Pulitzer and Hearst both served themselves, but America got the Progressive Era and the New Deal.

Having this person on air serves no purpose other than attempting to shield CNN from accusations that it is anti-Republican or anti-Trump.
It’s pathetic.

You’ve created hoops that cannot be jumped through and demanded that Stelter and Tapper explain to you how they jump through the hoops.