Newt and CNN: Working the Refs Works

CNN-GingrichThere’s a kind of right-wing media criticism we’ve often called “working the refs.” The point is not to make complaints with a basis in reality; rather, the hope is that by complaining that your “side” isn’t getting a fair shake, someone in the media will want to avoid further scolding and so next time cut you break.

It works. In fact, it worked so well for Newt Gingrich that he got a TV show out of it–courtesy of CNN.

The cable news network is rebooting the debate show Crossfire next month, and the New York Times  (8/23/13) makes clear that the star of the show is Gingrich. The Times recalls Gingrich’s success in attacking the moderators in last year’s Republican presidential debates, and his performance apparently impressed CNN president Jeff Zucker:

It was all quite calculated. “Particularly in a Republican primary, taking on the media immediately resonated with almost half the primary voters,” Mr. Gingrich said.

That is a section of voters that CNN is eager to engage. During an onstage interview at the Brainstorm TECH conference in July, Mr. Zucker said: “Newt is an incredibly smart, intellectual thinker. I think, frankly, one of the criticisms of CNN that it didn’t have enough conservative points of view on the air was probably a valid criticism.

And what better way to show you care about ideological diversity than by hiring the guy who attacked one of your own reporters for asking him a question he didn’t like?

In reality, CNN has had plenty of conservatives on the air before they added Gingrich. At the time of Gingrich’s “valid criticism,” CNN had already added arch-conservative pundits Erick Erickson and Dana Loesch to their line-up. (Among Erickson’s contributions to the public debate, his observation that “feminazis” were “too ugly to get a date.”) CNN had long time conservative commentators Mary Matalin and former George W. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer. Former Bush Homeland Security official Fran Townsend is a regular on the network’s programming. And on and on.

Make no mistake, the Times story tells us: Crossfire is a debate show, but the “marquee attraction” is Newt Gingrich. And he got the gig by making the boss think that there weren’t enough people like him on television. That’s not true, but corporate media have always had a soft spot for accommodating right-wing complaining.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.