On Friday, Page Six reported that CNN staffers were “pissed” and felt “betrayed” after the network’s president, Jeff Zucker, hired Donald Trump’s physically combative former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, as an exclusive contributor to CNN programming. Citing what appear to be at least three sources (including one “TV insider”), the column claimed that female and Latino staffers were particularly alarmed by Lewandowski’s new position:
“CNN is facing a near internal revolt over the Corey hiring,” said a TV insider, who described many in the newsroom as “livid.” “Female reporters and producers especially . . . They are organizing and considering publicly demanding” that Lewandowski be let go. ... A source further said that “Latinos and others in the newsroom feel betrayed by an homage to Trump,” so “they may do a public letter” objecting to the move.
Over the past three days, however, other CNN staffers have tried to play down Page Six’s report. One “prominent staffer” told Washington Post reporter Paul Farhi, “I get the argument that he was a bully. But I also get why we hired him.” The same staffer argued that Lewandowski’s knowledge of Trump’s campaign “could be very valuable to us over the next few months.” Another unnamed CNN reporter explained to Farhi, “It just seems emblematic of a larger revolving door that’s more and more like coaches becoming sports analysts ... So it seemed obvious to me [Lewandowski] would land somewhere.”
As far as we can tell, the only CNN staffer who has publicly addressed Page Six’s report is Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter, who claimed on Sunday that he was unable to corroborate the column’s claims:
One gossip columnist this weekend even said there’s a, quote, “revolt brewing” here in the newsroom at CNN. So I approached this story the same way I would if I worked at my former employer at The New York Times. I called and emailed more than a dozen sources all around CNN, and I found no signs of a revolt and no organized protest about Lewandowski’s hiring. But I did find some discomfort. There are some people that are uncomfortable with the hiring, and there might be some awkward moments in the makeup room. But everyone also said they understood the hiring, understood the logic of it.
An insurmountable issue with Stelter’s reporting method is the fact that, for a news organization of CNN’s size, an informal poll of “more than a dozen” staffers will never produce a reliable indication of the entire staff’s opinions, much less demonstrate “signs of revolt” or the lack thereof. CNN does not regularly disclose payroll numbers, but its global headcount has hovered somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 employees. Which means that Stelter spoke with no more than half of one percent of CNN’s staff—hardly better than the fifth of one percent who supposedly talked to Page Six.
As Paul Farhi’s colleague Erik Wemple pointed out today: “Summing up the mood of a crowd [as large as CNN] is tough work, especially considering that employees at television networks these days know they’re not supposed to speak to the media without first going through their control-freak media offices.”
Not that staff opinion would actually matter, though. During the same Reliable Sources segment, Stelter admitted to his panel of guests that, “As someone who looks for balance while watching TV, and while hosting this show, I think it makes sense to add another pro-Trump voice.” And, a little later on: “I think this is a television calculation, right? That if he didn’t go to CNN, he was going to go to another channel. To me, television-wise, producer-wise, this makes perfect sense. Journalistically, there are questions.”
In other words: The savvy thing for reporters to believe—or say they believe—is that the on-screen presence of Lewandowski, his non-disparagement agreement with Trump notwithstanding, will make for compelling television. Because everyone feels so gross about it. It’s going to be great, really.