CNN staffers are upset and confused about the network’s decision to hire a partisan political operative to oversee its 2020 campaign reporting.
On Tuesday, a CNN spokesperson confirmed to The Daily Beast that the network has hired Republican political adviser Sarah Isgur as the politics editor helming CNN’s 2020 coverage. The move was first reported by Politico.
Throughout her decade-long career in Republican politics, Isgur has served as an adviser to Ted Cruz and Mitt Romney, and was Carly Fiorina’s deputy campaign manager for the 2016 Republican primary. Until last year, Isgur was a top spokesperson for then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice.
A CNN spokesperson said Isgur will not be involved in the network’s DOJ coverage, but will guide TV and digital coverage of the 2020 election, occasionally offering on-screen analysis.
The hiring was met with a negative internal reaction, especially because many CNN staffers have been largely left in the dark on the controversial decision. While other marquee hires are often announced internally, as of Tuesday afternoon the company has not circulated any guidance to staff about Isgur’s new role, leading employees to wonder how much of a role she will have in day-to-day political reporting.
“It’s extremely demoralizing for everyone here,” one network editorial staffer told The Daily Beast.
“People are generally confused,” another editorial employee said, adding that the decision to hire a partisan operative for an editorial position comes off as “very bizarre.”
CNN’s Reliable Sources anchor Brian Stelter reported on the network’s perspective, tweeting, “love it or hate it, political insiders have been joining newsrooms for decades. The more viewpoints represented in newsrooms, the better. As for the critiques, @CNNPR declined to comment.”
Indeed, it is not unusual for cable-news networks like CNN to hire political operatives as on-air commentators or opinion writers. But it is almost unheard of for a high-profile operative with zero journalistic experience to land a top editorial role at a major news organization. (Even though CBS News political director Caitlin Conant is a former prominent Republican staffer, she served as an executive in the network’s communications shop for several years before moving into an editorial role.)
As such, Isgur’s hiring was also met with criticism by media reporters and media-ethics experts. “There weren’t any journalists available?” NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen said to The Daily Beast. “This person is not a journalist,” wrote Parker Molloy, a reporter for left-leaning media watchdog Media Matters.
While CNN discourages its reporters from publicly taking sides in partisan issues, Isgur’s political views are public. Her Twitter includes fact-free invectives against liberals and repeatedly rails against the “abortion industry.”
More interestingly, her feed has often targeted the mainstream media, including the massive cable-news network that now employs her.
“Seriously? More balanced reporting today from CNN: chiron reads ‘anti-gay, anti-abortion group hosts value voters summit,’” she tweeted in 2013, taking issue with CNN’s accurate assessment of Family Research Council, the anti-gay organization that hosts an annual conservative confab.
During her time managing Fiorina’s campaign, Isgur often complained about CNN’s coverage of the election.
At a Harvard University post-election panel, CNN chief Jeff Zucker said the network didn’t give Trump preferential treatment, and that other campaigns were offered the same interview opportunities as the then-Republican presidential candidate. “I don’t remember getting invited to call in, though!” Isgur heckled him, referring to Trump’s telephone interviews with cable networks.
And in the Trump era, she has suggested that media coverage of the president’s more controversial decisions has been tantamount to “outrage” bait.
“Once again Dems & media sounding their outrage gong at every single thing this President does to try to clean up mess of the last 8yrs,” she tweeted in Jan. 2017, defending Trump’s ban on travel from eight Muslim-majority countries.