Good on Stephen Colbert. The “Late Show” host last night welcomed CNN host Anderson Cooper for a little chat, and the name of former Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski arose.
The late-night host moved into media-accountability mode: “Oh, Corey Lewandowski who now works at CNN. So he works for you guys. Does he still get any money from the Trump people at the same time?” asked Colbert.
Cooper: “I believe, I read he gets a severance, a continuing severance from the Trump campaign.”
Colbert: “So you all are paying him, and Trump is paying him, but he’s on your show doing analysis for a man he still gets cash from.”
Cooper: “Pretty much, yeah. [Laughter] I guess that’s one way to look at it, yes.”
Colbert: “And you still respect his opinion too?”
Cooper: “Well, you know, we have people from all the campaigns.”
With that last response, Cooper sort of danced around the most essential question here. Let us fill in the blank — there’s no reason to respect the opinions that Lewandowski unfurls on CNN. The financial arrangement is corrupting enough on its own terms. Yes, indeed, CNN is paying a political operative who’s getting paid at the same time by the Trump campaign. It’s an absurd conflict of interest whose rationale still hasn’t been adequately explained. Omitted from the back-and-forth between Colbert and Cooper, however, is the matter of a possible non-disparagement agreement that Lewandowski may well have signed regarding his time with the Trump campaign. That would take off the table a whole range of experiences that Lewandowski might be expected to share with CNN viewers.
The Washington Post recently reported that Lewandowski “received his regular $20,000 monthly fee on July 6 — two weeks after he was jettisoned and had been hired by CNN as a political commentator.” There is one mitigating consideration in all of this, and it’s that CNN has disclosed to viewers Lewandowski’s severance arrangements and hasquestioned him on air about any non-disparagement clause. He didn’t really answer that one. “I’m a guy who calls balls and strikes,” he said in a June interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett.