A little over a week ago, CNN political analyst Corey Lewandowski sat down with his colleague Don Lemon to discuss the police shootings in Dallas that left five officers dead. Lewandowski was Donald Trump’s presidential campaign manager until he was fired in late June (reportedly after losing a power struggle with campaign chairman Paul Manafort) and CNN had quickly snapped him up as a paid contributor. Lemon wanted to know from Lewandowski whether Donald Trump, who’s been campaigning as an unconditionally pro-police “law and order” candidate, understood that minority populations in the U.S. often feel as though they’re being targeted by law enforcement.
Lewandowski dodged the question, so Lemon pressed him on it: “Does Donald Trump understand that there are police officers who do discriminate against people of color?” He dodged again, prompting Lemon to say “you're not answering my question.” Confronted by his own colleague on his evasiveness, Lewandowski shot back: “I can't tell you what Donald Trump thinks because I don't know what he thinks.”
Here’s the thing: CNN hired Lewandowski specifically because he does know what Donald Trump thinks. Up until a few weeks ago, he spent every day in close communication with the Republican presidential nominee, helping to figure out precisely what Trump would “think” as a candidate. But there he was, on CNN, claiming that he was completely ignorant of his former boss’ thought processes.
The real reason Lewandowski didn’t answer that question is because he didn’t want to. As someone who knows Trump’s thinking, he couldn’t acknowledge the racially motivated abuses committed by police officers without inserting unwelcome nuance into Trump’s “law and order” narrative that casts the police as “the most mistreated people in America.” Lewandowski was playing dumb to protect his former employer’s campaign strategy, and he was being paid by CNN to do so.
This has been a running feature of Lewandowski’s short tenure at the network: he was hired to provide viewers with insight into the Trump campaign’s inner workings and decision making, but his “analysis” has consisted primarily of vacant pro-Trump talking points and running interference on behalf of the candidate. His uselessness as an analyst is exacerbated by the fact that he’s a walking conflict of interest – he’s still being paid severance by the Trump campaign, he’s serving as a pro-Trump convention delegate from New Hampshire, and there are reports that Lewandowski is still informally advising the Trump campaign and carrying on his rivalry with Manafort.
That brings us to CNN’s coverage of Republican convention and the deeply strange story surrounding Melania Trump’s plagiarized speech from Monday night. On Tuesday morning, Lewandowski appeared on CNN and said that if Manafort was the person who signed off on Melania Trump’s speech, then he should resign from the campaign. So now, in addition to collecting a paycheck from CNN for providing useless analysis, he’s using his paid position at the network to carry on professional feuds with his rivals.
The CNN anchors, meanwhile, said nothing about whether their colleague’s reported personal animus towards Manafort was coloring his “analysis.” They also might have asked him why failing to catch a plagiarized speech passage was a fireable offense while physically assaulting a reporter and then lying about it is not. But those are extremely awkward questions that make for uncomfortable television segments, so they were left to the wayside.
Last week, NPR’s David Folkenflik talked to CNN executives (none of whom wanted to be named) about Lewandowski’s hiring and what they believed he would bring to the network. “Viewers should benefit, they argue, because Lewandowski actually knows how Trump makes decisions,” Folkenflik reported. “Judge Lewandowski by his performance, they say.” Well, Lewandowski has already said on CNN that he doesn’t know how Trump thinks, he’s causing the network headaches over his various ethical conflicts, and he’s using his perch as a paid commentator to settle scores with his enemies on the campaign.
Doesn’t seem like the viewers are getting a lot out of this arrangement, but Lewandowski certainly is. CNN would be better served by dumping Lewandowski and using his rumored $500,000 salary to hire some reporters who might actually provide the network’s audience with something useful.