CNN’s recent decision to hire Republican operative Sarah Isgur Flores as a political editor greatly diminishes the network’s credibility as an objective news source, and appears to be a terribly misguided attempt to appease conservative viewers.
The Atlanta-based news organization cannot reasonably expect impartial work from someone so deeply entrenched in party politics. Isgur previously worked in a variety of positions for prominent Republican politicians, including former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former presidential candidate and current U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), as well as the Republican National Committee. Now, after working within the Department of Justice for a president who has continually berated the press as “fake news” and the “enemy of the people,” Isgur will join the organization she labeled the “Clinton News Network” to direct political coverage during the 2020 election cycle. As outlined in the “Journalistic Integrity” section of the website of Warner Media Group, CNN’s parent company, the network seeks to avoid an “ideological or political slant” in their news coverage. Isgur’s previous experience with the GOP jeopardizes this guideline. Furthermore, Isgur has no journalistic experience or credentials, raising additional questions about why CNN hired her for the role.
Beyond her glaring conflicts of interest, some of Isgur’s public statements support bizarre, extremist conservative views and call into question her rationality. CNN’s political news coverage will now be influenced by someone who touts far-right conspiracy theories about the sale of body parts within Planned Parenthood and mocked CNN for their purportedly unfair coverage of the homophobic, fundamentalist Christian organization Family Research Council. She also chastised the “liberal media” at large for supposed bias against President Donald J. Trump. Americans are already observing the real-world consequences of these anti-media attacks. As Jon Schwarz of The Intercept argues in a piece on CNN hiring Isgur, this kind of anti-press rhetoric helped incite recent domestic terror attacks against journalists, including Cesar Sayoc’s alleged mailing of pipe bombs to CNN and notable Democratic politicians.
CNN’s decision is indicative of a larger issue in mainstream network news coverage: valuing neutrality over objectivity. A debate about global climate change may consist of a climate scientist and a congressperson, with each perspective presented as equally plausible, even if 97 percent of climate scientists support one side. The answer isn’t necessarily somewhere in the middle; it’s entirely possible that one person is right and the other person is wrong.
By structuring their coverage in a manner that implies that all issues are debatable, news networks sometimes exaggerate uncertainty around important political issues. The same goes for hiring decisions; though CNN hiring Isgur may make them appear more credible to conservatives, they are allowing their news coverage to be influenced by an unqualified individual with clear partisan interests. This will likely significantly worsen the network’s political coverage.
The decision to hire Isgur should incite outrage from the millions of Americans that trust CNN to present thoroughly-researched, nonpartisan journalism. In what appears to be an attempt to gain favor among right-wing viewers, CNN has compromised their journalistic integrity. Until CNN takes action toward a more objective approach to political news, I remain skeptical of the network’s content.
Zach Ball (21C) is from Griffin, Ga.
Wheel editor-in-chief Michelle Lou is an intern for CNN and recused herself from editing this piece.