When former Senator Al Franken described CNN as “playing it down the middle, except we hate Trump” on this week’s new episode of his interview podcast, his guest was quick to correct him.
“No, they don’t,” Lawrence O’Donnell, who hosts The Last Word on MSNBC’s primetime lineup, replied. “One third of the people on their payroll love Trump. So you’re guaranteed on any hour of CNN to, minimum one third of the programming will be supportive of Trump—someone on their payroll saying, ‘Here’s why Trump’s right.’”
The “one third” suggestion may be somewhat of an exaggeration, but the MSNBC host isn’t wrong to point out his rival network has a habit of paying Trump-defending pundits who in some cases cannot even publicly criticize him without violating non-disclosure agreements.
“That’s one of the reasons why Trump kind of wants you to watch CNN instead of MSNBC,” O’Donnell added. “Because he knows on MSNBC there will be no one defending him. Because we don’t bring on liars. I don’t bring on a liar. I won’t do that.”
O’Donnell’s NBC colleagues appear to have varying opinions on the matter of bringing known “liars” onto their shows.
When The Daily Beast asked Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd early last year why he continues to book Trump surrogates like Kellyanne Conway, given her proven propensity to mislead, he said, “I don’t have a hard and fast rule about who I put on and who I don’t.” He added, “I don’t think you ban anybody. She works for the president of the United States. If she is relevant to a story we’re doing, I do think it’s important for the country to hear from a senior aide to the president.”
Asked a similar question this past September, primetime host Chris Hayes drew a line between “good faith” and “bad faith” arguments, telling The Daily Beast, “To me, the distinction between good faith and bad faith is an elemental one, and I just can’t deal with bad faith hackish spinning,” adding, “I hate running around in circles with people who are just gaslighting you, like Corey Lewandowski. Life’s too short to argue with Corey Lewandowski.”
There is also a difference, of course, between having someone on as a guest and hiring them as a paid contributor for the network, as CNN did with Lewandowski in 2016 shortly after he was fired as Donald Trump’s campaign manager. He resigned from the network two days after Trump won the presidential election but has continued to appear on its air periodically, including after he admitted lying to the media.
After O’Donnell laid out what he sees as the differences between CNN and MSNBC, Franken jokingly asked, “Are you saying that to defend Trump you have to lie?!”
“Yes, absolutely you do,” O’Donnell responded. “How else do you defend a liar—a pathological liar who lies about everything? You have to lie.”
“So CNN has people on the payroll who they pay to tell their lies to the CNN audience in the middle of a CNN hour for some number of minutes,” he continued, making Franken laugh sardonically. “And so Trump knows that if you watch CNN ‘at least you’ll hear someone lying in my favor.’”
For more, listen to the most recent episodes of The Last Laugh podcast.