Partisan hackery is a feature, not a bug, of many cable programs, and networks’ stables of on-air analysts are filled with thoroughbreds. CNN contributor Corey Lewandowski is not unique in that regard. What makes Donald Trump’s former campaign manager different from his counterparts on the split-screen is threefold: He has a non-disparagement agreement with his former boss; he will continue receiving severance payments from the Trump campaign until after the election; and he reportedly still advises the GOP nominee on an unofficial basis.
CNN has been roundly criticized for paying a political commentator who’s simultaneously being paid by a subject of his commentary. The network has publicly looked the other way regarding this clear conflict of interest, though it did refute reports earlier this week that Lewandowski would be suspended after the latest stories on his severance package.
In the words of Mark Twain "the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated." Will be on @CNN today during the 3:00 PM hour. Tune in!
— Corey R. Lewandowski (@CLewandowski_) September 21, 2016
Network chief Jeff Zucker praised Lewandowski in a rare comment on the matter in August, explaining that CNN wanted to bring on a pro-Trump analyst because “it’s really important to have voices on CNN who are supportive of the Republican nominee.” This raises the obvious question of why CNN didn’t find a pro-Trump analyst who’s not on Trump’s payroll. A representative did not respond to CJR’s request for comment.
More importantly, what do CNN viewers get from this odd relationship? Does Lewandowski add value in a way other analysts could not? CJR scoured a week’s worth of CNN transcripts and clips to find out. From September 16 to September 22, Lewandowski made four appearances on the channel. Here’s what he said:
September 16: CNN Tonight
In wake of Trump’s stated disavowal of birtherism on Friday, Lewandowski followed the candidate’s lead and said the controversy actually started with Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign. Such projection isn’t particularly outlandish for a pro-Trump analyst, despite the claim having been widely debunked. The discussion did, however, overstep CNN’s own reporting, putting host Don Lemon in the awkward position of repeatedly fact-checking his own guest in-between arguments. The back-and-forths followed a familiar pattern, as sampled below:
LEWANDOWSKI: Donald Trump didn’t raise [the birther] issue. That’s the point. Donald Trump never raised this issue. This was raised by the Clinton…
LEMON: Corey, that is patently false. I mean, come on.
LEWANDOWSKI: It’s not false.
LEMON: Are you…yes, it is.
LEWANDOWSKI: It’s actually not false.
Lemon remained remarkably patient throughout these exchanges. But his and other guests’ exasperation showed when Lewandowski repeated the same assertions in the program’s second hour Friday night. Watch a clip of it below—don’t miss the facial expressions.
September 19: New Day
Lewandowski was brought on Monday morning to discuss the terrorist attack in New York with CNN hosts Alisyn Camerota and Chris Cuomo. The pair had to rein in their guest almost immediately after asking him to respond to Trump’s insinuation that immigration upped the chances of more attacks.
CAMEROTA: Corey, I mean, to suggest that there would be more and more terror attacks across the country–is that the right tone for a morning like this?
LEWANDOWSKI: Well, I think what it is, is it re-highlights the problems we have with our immigration system. What we know is that 40 percent of the people who are in the country illegally have overstayed their visas. And what we hear from the reports this morning is that this person is either potentially of Afghani descent or…
CAMEROTA: A naturalized citizen.
LEWANDOWSKI: Well, but did…
CAMEROTA: That’s not an overstaying his…
LEWANDOWSKI: Is that what the report is for this person who has committed, potentially, a terrorist attack?
CUOMO: That’s he’s a naturalized citizen.
LEWANDOWSKI: If that’s the case…
CUOMO: Not a refugee. He didn’t overstay a visa.
LEWANDOWSKI: Did he come into this country legally? Was the proper work done? Look, don’t forget, the San Bernardino killer came in on a K-1 visa.
CAMEROTA: Right, but this is different.
CAMEROTA: I mean, you’re making a connection that we don’t know yet.
The discussion on terrorism and policing continued. Lewandowski, a former cop, had a heated exchange with fellow CNN contributor Christine Quinn about commitment to the police. They also sparred at length about whether Trump was right to call the New York explosion a “bombing” before knowing all the facts. “Let’s leave this for the side,” Cuomo said in a failed attempt to push the conversation forward.
September 20: CNN Tonight
Returning alongside Lemon, Lewandowski responded to news that George H. W. Bush would vote for Clinton with a jab at “low-energy” Jeb Bush and typical platitudes about the Washington establishment. Lewandowski and Atlantic Contributing Editor Peter Beinart then argued about the dangers of terrorism vs. climate change, with the former landing a Trumpian zinger: “I’d rather take my chances of being underwater than being hit by a bomb from a terrorist.” Okay!
The conversations soon devolved after turning toward Trump’s supposed outreach to African Americans. Watch Beinart’s blood pressure rise in the clip below:
September 21: CNN Newsroom
Lewandowski returned on Wednesday for a panel discussion on police violence hosted by anchor Brooke Baldwin. He defended Trump’s outreach to the black community, later arguing with CNN contributor Angela Rye and civil rights attorney Charles Coleman Jr. on whether black suspects are killed more often by police than suspects of other races. That’s a fair discussion, though Lewandowski once again mangled the facts when alluding to the man charged for last weekend’s bombings in metropolitan New York, Ahmad Khan Rahami.
RYE: The point is that black people are killed when others are wounded, that’s the point.
LEWANDOWSKI: It’s egregious to think the potential terrorist in New Jersey was shot and wounded but not killed because he was white.
RYE: Nobody said that, Corey.
LEWANDOWSKI: We all agree he was white, the terrorist who set off a bomb.
RYE: I don’t think he was white.
COLEMAN: We don’t agree on that.
LEWANDOWSKI: The second point…is the police officer who stopped the individual, who was also African American, has no history perpetuating any types of crimes against African Americans. Nothing in his record says he has been a bad police officer whatsoever, so this narrative that [Rye] is perpetuating–where he has this built-in notion that he doesn’t agree just because he is of the same race–is egregious. There is nothing racist about this whatsoever. What the larger story is…they have an individual who is dead. That’s the larger story. Race has nothing to do with that.
RYE: Corey, it actually has everything to do with it. You don’t understand systemic oppression. You made that clear.
LEWANDOWSKI: I do understand it. What I know is that 93 percent of…
BALDWIN: Got to go….
None of the above exchanges are out-of-leftfield for cable segments, but Lewandowski’s contributions don’t add any particular nuance. If anything, he introduces “untruths” like his former boss, who still pays him, leaving other on-air talent to clean up afterward. Is Lewandowski’s supposed insight worth all the knocks CNN is taking for him? And to ask a more basic question of the news organization: Why reward a man whose campaign displayed not only utter disdain for journalism, but also utter disregard for the truth?David Uberti is a writer in New York. He was previously a media reporter for Gizmodo Media Group and a staff writer for CJR. Follow him on Twitter @DavidUberti.