CNN Is Criticized for Hiring Trump Administration Aide as a Political Editor

Sarah Isgur Flores, a Republican spokeswoman who worked most recently for the Justice Department, has been hired by CNN to help with the network’s political coverage, propelling a Trump administration official directly into a news role for a top cable network.

Her hiring as a “political editor,” not a commentator, led to internal and external criticism of CNN for placing a Republican political operative in a position to help guide daily political coverage, including 2020 presidential campaign news.

In an internal memo on Wednesday announcing the hire, CNN’s Washington bureau chief, Sam Feist, said Ms. Isgur would spend the first few months getting to know CNN, and then “play a coordinating role” in covering politics.

“We’re thrilled that Sarah is coming to CNN,” Mr. Feist wrote. “She brings a wealth of government, political, communications and legal experience to our team.”

Ms. Isgur recently worked as a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, including for Jeff Sessions, the former attorney general whom President Trump fired in November, and for Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who has overseen the special counsel’s Russia investigation. She sent a goodbye email from her Justice Department account on Friday.

She previously worked as a deputy campaign manager for Carly Fiorina, a Republican who ran for president during the 2016 election.

Ms. Isgur was critical of Mr. Trump during the 2016 primaries and has also been critical of CNN, including complaining that the network was excluding Ms. Fiorina from a presidential debate. And years ago she retweeted a comment from a conservative news outlet that referred to her new employer as the “Clinton News Network.”

Mr. Feist’s memo on Wednesday came after a flurry of concern — and in some cases, deep frustration — voiced by members of the network’s political staff, according to two people familiar with the complaints. The memo was co-signed by two senior CNN executives, David Chalian and Virginia Moseley.

CNN has previously showed a willingness to hire employees from conservative-leaning news outlets and organizations, arguing that ideological diversity is helpful in ensuring robust coverage. Kaitlan Collins, one of the network’s rising star White House correspondents, was hired from The Daily Caller in 2017.

But the network is a frequent target of Mr. Trump and his allies, and its journalists have faced threats of physical violence, including a pipe bomb mailed to its Manhattan headquarters last year.

Frank Sesno, a former CNN White House correspondent who now works as the director of George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs, said that there had long been a “revolving door” between politics and news outlets. But political aides typically have a “cooling-off period” between jobs and Ms. Isgur’s quick transition is unusual, he added.

He said CNN should clarify what Ms. Isgur’s role would be. “It’s one thing if you have somebody on staff whom you can consult, and it’s another thing if they are editing your copy,” he said. “Pretty big difference.”

CNN declined to comment on Wednesday. The memo from Mr. Feist said that Ms. Isgur would help “organize and communicate between news gathering, digital and television” arms of the network, which has a sprawling news operation.

Ms. Isgur did not respond to an email and a phone request for comment.

Some prominent journalists have forged careers in news after working in politics, including George Stephanopoulos, who was hired as a contributing correspondent for ABC News in 1996 after serving as one of President Bill Clinton’s closest advisers.

His move from the Clinton White House to ABC News — initially as a partisan member of a Sunday political panel, who would also do some reporting — raised hackles inside and outside the network at the time. He has since risen to become the network’s chief anchor and a host of “Good Morning America.”

And the road from political strategist to political pundit is well traveled on both sides of the aisle.

After Karl Rove left President George W. Bush’s administration, he joined Fox News as an analyst. David Axelrod, the chief political strategist for both of President Barack Obama’s campaigns, was hired by NBC News as an analyst in 2013, and has since moved to CNN.

More recently, in 2016, CNN announced that it had hired Corey Lewandowski as a paid contributor, days after Mr. Lewandowski was fired as a campaign manager for Mr. Trump. He later resigned. The network also severed ties with Donna Brazile, a veteran Democratic operative turned analyst, after it emerged that she had shared questions from a CNN-sponsored event with friends on Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

But Ms. Isgur is joining the network as a political editor, not a pundit, and departing an administration in which the president routinely criticizes the news media, including CNN.

Mr. Sesno said the “hostile environment” had created an additional perceptual problem.

“To bring someone from that administration requires a clear statement that that person does not share that disdain for the industry they are entering,” he said. “And that their real commitment is to journalism, truth and the public.”


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