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CNN hired Corey Lewandowski in late June after Donald Trump relieved him of duties as campaign manager. What looked at first like an indefensible hire has mushroomed into perhaps the worst conflict-of-interest problem in the history of cable news. It’s time to send a message to Jeff Zucker and CNN: Cut ties with Corey Lewandowski at once.
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CNN has a Corey Lewandowski problem. Just this weekend, we learned that Republican nominee Donald Trump paid the firm of the CNN commentator and former Trump campaign manager $20,000 in July. Just 48 hours earlier, reports indicated that Lewandowski had orchestrated the forced resignation of Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. As one media critic put it, CNN is essentially paying its source within the Trump campaign.
CNN has occasionally disclosed that Lewandowski is still being paid by Trump. If only that were as deep as the problems run.
Lewandowski is still functioning as a campaign adviser. He’s bragged about still being able to advise Trump. At the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, he was pitching donors about a possible Trump Super PAC that he would run – when he was not acting as a delegate. On CNN itself, Lewandowski has acted more like a campaign spokesperson than an analyst. Don’t just take our word for it -- media ethicists and journalists have been saying the same thing for weeks. A particular lowlight was when Lewandowski made birther remarks on air.
Lewandowski also has a lengthy history of bullying journalists and members of the public. As Trump’s campaign manager, he was investigated after allegedly assaulting reporter Michelle Fields. He went into the crowd at a Trump rally and personally confronted a protester. He pushed a reporter. BuzzFeed even reported Lewandowski as making “unwanted advances” and “sexual comments about female journalists.” In fact, CNN staffers were reportedly furious about the hire. Fields noted that “CNN HR will be busy this year.”
Despite all this, there is a bigger problem: Lewandowski is likely barred from criticizing Trump. We know that other Trump employees had a non-disparagement clause in their contracts – with penalties upwards of $10 million for breaking it. There is every reason to believe that Lewandowski had one as well. And yet, to date, neither CNN nor Lewandowski has confirmed or denied whether he had such a clause in his contract with Trump.
CNN might have been able to work around one of these problems. But when you add it all up, Corey Lewandowski’s continuing employment means that CNN is abandoning any attempts to be a ethical news network. This is a journalism catastrophe.
CNN is better off without Corey Lewandowski. While it is understandable that you want your news channel to be inclusive of different points of view, in this instance you have a better choice: Cut ties with Corey Lewandowski. Now.
UPDATE (8/30): Subsequent to the publishing of this letter, Lewandowski himself bragged about traveling with the Trump campaign. On August 29, ABC News reported that Lewandowski was "back in the fold" at the Trump campaign, regularly speaking with and advising Trump.