Can this be listed as an in-kind donation on FEC reports?
CNN took some criticism last month for its decision to hire John Kasich as a political commentator even while the former Ohio governor publicly flirts with running for president in 2020. The argument against it is that Kasich, like contributors on various networks before him, should not be given a free platform to promote his candidacy.
On Tuesday, anchor Kate Bolduan proved the point when she grooved a slow pitch down the middle of the plate, and Kasich made contact.
The exchange came at the end of a back-and-forth about what it takes to run for president, mostly centered on Beto O’Rourke and his chances if he tosses his hat into the Democratic ring. After noting that he was seen as a potential GOP primary challenger to Donald Trump, Bolduan wanted to know if Kasich had made up his own mind about possibly running in 2020:
Bolduan: “Most important question of the day. I have noticed from Twitter that you have taken up yoga. Has yoga brought you any more clarity about your decision?
Kasich: Everybody is talking about the fact that I’m on Instagram talking about things that are important to me. Yoga was one of them. I’m going to keep at yoga…I went with my wife to see the iconic singer Cher. And popping up in the beginning of her show was her relationship with Sonny Bono. I was very good friends with Sonny, he and I were in Congress together…I think that the Instagram gives you an opportunity not just to put silly things up there. I think what people want to know is who are you? That is what is exciting about Instagram if you use it in the right way.”
Social media has become a major part of how political candidates communicate with the public. How ethical is it for a news network to turn over its airwaves to a paid contributor to publicly promote his own Instagram account while he has been musing a run for president?
For an answer, we should look to Steve Schmidt and MSNBC. Schmidt is one of the political professionals advising billionaire Howard Schultz as he decides whether to run as an independent in 2020.
Two weeks ago, Schmidt’s MSNBC colleague and fellow Republican Never Trumper Nicole Wallace gave him a few minutes of airtime on her show to promote Schultz’s candidacy. The network later announced it Schmidt would no longer be a contributor for at least the duration of his time working for Schultz.
The same standard should apply to Kasich. It is perhaps even more urgent because he is rumored to be a candidate himself, not just a high-profile advisor to one. But every opportunity CNN gives him to promote his Instagram or opine on everything that is wrong with the current presidential field is free publicity for a possible run.
It is not enough for CNN to wait for Kasich to decide and then take him off the air, as it has done with other contributors in the past. He should be held off the air until he publicly makes a decision. That is the only way to avoid this blatant conflict of interest.