CNN hires three conservative commentators

Thursday, January 19, 2006

American cable news network CNN has began to implement more personalities into its lineup, with the hirings of three prominent conservative commentators as contributors.

On January 5, the weblog TVNewser reported that Bill Bennett had been hired by the network as a political analyst. Bennett, a Republican activist, was appointed by Ronald Reagan as the Secretary of Education, and currently hosts a talk radio show, Morning in America. Bennet came under fire in late 2005 for controversial statements made following the landfall of Hurricane Katrina, in which he said on his radio program: "if you wanted to reduce crime, you could—if that were your sole purpose—you could abort every black baby in this country and your crime rate would go down."

On January 17, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that CNN Headline News was hiring radio host Glenn Beck to host a new primetime show, and just a day later, CNN announced that former Republican congressman J.C. Watts was joining the network as a political analyst. Beck is quoted by the group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting as saying that "Every night I get down on my knees and pray that Dennis Kucinich will burst into flames."

In an article in Variety, CNN executive vice president Ken Jautz touted Beck, saying "Glenn’s style is self-deprecating, cordial; he says he'd like to be able to disagree with guests and part as friends. It's conversational, not confrontational." In response, MSNBC host Keith Olbermann named Jautz the "Worst Person in the World" on his show, saying "That's cordial? Compared to who? Bill O'Reilly? Nancy Grace? Michael Savage?"

Liberal media watch group Media Matters sent out two emails to members, saying, "These three actions [hirings] raise serious questions about whether CNN has made a high-level decision to support and promote right-wing individuals, even those who have a history of promoting conservative misinformation and offensive rhetoric," commented Media Matters' David Grossman.

The media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting also criticized the move in an action alert, saying "The strategy of out-Foxing Fox by signing up incendiary right-wing talk show hosts is a dangerous one, as MSNBC found when it gave a show to hate-radio star Michael Savage and had to let him go when it turned out that his TV persona spouted the same vitriol featured on his radio show," referring to an incident during a live broadcast that led to Savage's dismissal.

CNN has been in a fierce ratings competition with the FOX News Channel, which has steadily begun gaining market share against the network, featuring several of the most-watched primetime shows.