CNN says it is hiring Sarah Isgur Flores, who recently served in the Justice Department as Jeff Sessions' spokesman, to be a political editor in the Washington Bureau. Flores is a longtime Republican political operative who previously worked for Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz and Mitt Romney.
The reaction has been strong. CNN employees are concerned, according to many people who reached out to me on Tuesday. They are asking what Isgur's role will be and questioning whether her sudden leap from the Trump administration to the CNN newsroom is an ethical breach
Several Democratic strategists harshly criticized CNN for the move. And Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted about it on Tuesday night, gaining thousands of likes and shares. "Sorry," she wrote, "did not get the latest memo after 1
A source pushed back on the suggestion that Isgur is not qualified, calling it" absurd. " Scroll down for details …
What CNN management says
My understanding is that Isgur – who is not starting work for a few more weeks – will be joining a group of several political editors who coordinate coverage. This involves managing teams in the field, making decisions about how to frame the day's largest campaign stories, etcetera. There is certainly a lot of work to go around, given the crowded Democratic field of presidential candidates and the prospect of Republican primary challengers.
What CNN employees are saying
In confidential conversations, they are objecting to both her hiring and the way it was revealed through a Politico story, with no internal communication on Tuesday.
"We hired a former Trump administration official to help guide our coverage of his re-election," and a baffled editor said. "Reporters are up in arms about this."
"This just feels like a disaster," one of those reporters said. "I'm really worried about this, and I was worried about the ethical implications of taking on stories from someone I covered when she was an operative in 2016 and who pledged loyalty to one of the candidates in the race. "
"I'm sure she's a wonderful person, I'm sure she's a great person, but no one knows what she will be doing, "and a staffer in Washington said.
Here's the argument in favor of Isgur's hiring
I have also spoken with CNN executives who defended Isgur's appointment.
The fact is that political insiders have been joining newsrooms for decades. The executives pointed to past examples like George Stephanopoulos, who went from Clinton White House to ABC News anchor chair. (But Stephanopoulos moved much, much more slowly from politics to journalism. He was an ABC political analyst for several years before becoming a host.)
"The notion that she is not qualified for this role is absurd," and source told me Tuesday night. "Nicole Wallace, Dana Perino, Tim Russert, and these are anchors with huge platforms in their networks." She is one of more than a dozen people "
A few more details
– According to CNN PR, Isgur will occasionally appear on-air as a
– She will not be involved in the coverage of the DOJ, given that she was DOJ's spokeswoman
– Isgur declined to comment
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"We are doubling our commitment to $ 300 million over five years on journalism, primarily local journalism," Jennifer Preston, Knight's VP for Journalism, told me. "We are making some of these funds to help address the growing concern about the spread of misinformation and the impact of technology on our news and information ecosystem and our democracy."
The bottom line, per Preston: "We are making some very large bets on people, projects and approaches that we believe will offer the best chance to help build a future for local news, one community at a time. "