The latest WikiLeaks release shows CNN reaching out to Democratic officials to suggest questions for host Wolf Blitzer to ask Donald Trump in an interview, a practice the network has defended as “completely unremarkable” and sound journalism.
Emails from the hacked file of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta also showed the network asking Democrats to suggest questions for an interview with Ted Cruz.
The communications could infer a coziness with Democrats, particularly in the wake of previous reports that former CNN contributor and current Democratic National Committee chief Donna Brazile had communicated with the Clinton campaign about potential questions to be asked in campaign forums.
But CNN yesterday said it does the same with Republicans as part of efforts to present the best interviews.
“When preparing for interviews, we are regularly sent suggestions from rival campaigns and political parties, both solicited and unsolicited,” said CNN spokeswoman Lauren Pratapas.
“Casting a wide net to ensure a tough and fair interview isn’t just common media practice, it’s smart.” She did not immediately provide specific examples of Republicans being asked for similar help. A representative from the Republican National Committee did not respond to a request for comment.
WikiLeaks has not similarly targeted Republican officials in their release of private communications. The WikiLeaks communications showed an email chain involving several officials at the Democratic National Committee that discussed Blitzer interviewing Trump in April on the eve of a foreign policy address. It wasn’t clear who at CNN had communicated the request. The interview was subsequently cancelled.
The email chain had 17 suggested questions, including, “Would you order US troops to withdraw from South Korea, and if so, how quickly?” and “Which international organizations should the United States be a member of?”
Another April email, from DNC research director Lauren Dillon to five colleagues titled “Cruz on CNN,” said that “CNN is looking for questions. Please send some topical/interesting ones.”
Frank Sesno, a former CNN Washington bureau chief and now a professor at George Washington University, said that when he was working as a journalist, he would ask political opponents for similar help.
“When doing research for an interview, you go behind enemy lines to both learn what the opposition is thinking and what the pressure points might be,” Sesno said. “If they were colluding with them or trading some kind of favors, that would be different.”
For example, giving a candidate questions that they would be asked in an interview or suggesting they could get easy treatment in return for some help would be wrong, he said. Similarly, media ethicist Kelly McBride at the Poynter Institute said she had no problem with the practice, as long as CNN is doing the same for others like asking the Trump campaign for suggestions when interviewing Clinton.
“The side that is working against a candidate has targeted a certain group of voters and is pushing a specific message to these voters,” McBride said. “As a journalist, you want to speak to these voters in a way that is informed and reasonable.”