How do you solve a problem like Sean Duffy? The former Republican congressman, who was hired by CNN to blindly defend Donald Trump while the impeachment process unfolds, is creating problems for the network by constantly fabricating facts and spreading reckless and dangerous conspiracy theories. And yes, he’s only been on the CNN payroll for 10 days.
On Tuesday, Duffy questioned the patriotism of Purple Heart recipient and National Security Council official Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman, after it was reported Vindman was telling House investigators damaging information about Trump’s open collusion with Ukraine and his attempt to get a foreign power to dig up dirt on the Republican’s political opponents.
At least twice yesterday, CNN anchors went on the air and directly denounced Duffy’s comments as a “smear” and an ugly form of “bigotry.” This is odd, yes? CNN pays Duffy for his commentary, which after just one week with the network is so out of bounds and so offensive that his cable news colleagues have to basically apologize to viewers for it. What’s the plan here, CNN?
Here’s the vise that the network finds itself in, and I understand that for executives there the solution seems extremely painful. But it really isn’t—not if you’re committed to being in the business of journalism. The conundrum is that CNN wants to position itself as occupying the center of American politics, which means CNN has to have lots of conservative voices to match the number of liberal voices, all so they can stage Both Sides debates. For decades, that has worked for the network. What no longer works is CNN hiring Trump sycophants like Duffy, because Trump sycophants like Duffy say crazy stuff nonstop.
During his CNN debut last week, Duffy lied about the shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords. He lied about Joe Biden trying to fire a Ukraine prosecutor in order to protect his son. And Duffy helped spread the preposterous lie about the Democratic National Committee’s email servers from 2016 somehow ending up in a foreign country.
As I noted last week, It’s not up to CNN and other media players to hire bad actors like Duffy simply because the conservative movement is filled with so many bad actors. All news outlets ought to have easily identifiable standards, and if would-be paid contributors can’t meet those standards, they should not be hired.
The problem for CNN is that there are no longer any thoughtful or trustworthy Trump defenders.