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Hacked Emails Highlight The Controversial Role Of Paid Partisan Pundits


Among the talking heads on cable, Donna Brazile has long been a familiar face on CNN. Her knowledge and access as a political analyst comes from years of being a Democratic operative at the highest levels. Now Brazile has parted company with CNN. Yesterday, she resigned amid revelations that she tipped off Hillary Clinton's campaign about questions Clinton could face at CNN-sponsored candidate events during the primaries.

Brazile had been on leave from her job as CNN commentator since last summer, after stepping in to lead the Democratic Party. These revelations surfaced thanks to hacked Democratic email made public by WikiLeaks. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik joins us now from New York.

And David, what exactly did Brazile do as far as we can tell?

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: As far as we can tell, she tipped off Hillary Clinton's campaigns and advisers to questions that she was likely to be asked at CNN-sponsored debates and town hall-style debate back in March, during primary season. There was one in which it appears that the co-host of a town hall-style event, Roland Martin of the cable channel TV One, who was moderating it along with CNN's Jake Tapper - Martin had forwarded her a question he was intending to ask and she relayed the question, essentially verbatim, along to the Clinton camp.

And you could hear that question basically appear on the air later on. In another one, she ran into a woman at a CNN event at which they were passing out clean filtered water to people in Flint, Mich., because of concerns about lead poisoning there. And she'd passed on the fact that a woman had volunteered - hey, I'm going to ask a question about lead poisoning and about my family's situation. That was passed along as well.

MONTAGNE: So what else have we learned from these hacked emails about how the Washington press corps interacts with major political players?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, there have been some embarrassments, shall we say. Glenn Thrush of Politico, I spoke to - he's senior political writer there. He was found to have shown a passage to John Podesta, the chairman of the Clinton campaign, in advance of publication of a story. Thrush says - hey, he does that with Democrats and Republicans alike to try to make sure that he's getting the facts right. He doesn't give them veto power. That was an embarrassment.

John Harwood, distinguished columnist for The New York Times, political writer and - as well as for CNBC, was found to, in some ways, congratulate Clinton folks for how well their candidate had done at various moments or how their campaign was fairing. You know, what John Harwood was engaging was the norm in the back-and-forth kind of human commerce that reporters do. Some conservative critics took that as a collusion or somehow that he was on the team.

MONTAGNE: Well, you know, this election cycle has really paid off for CNN. It's also drawn a lot of criticism for the system of paid partisan pundits - and not just Brazile - for instance, Donald Trump's former campaign manager still informally advising Trump.

FOLKENFLIK: Sure. Corey Lewandowski - you can see footage of him getting on and off Trump campaign airplanes. He's on the phone to folks there all the time and advising them, not just getting information. You know, I first raised questions about Donna Brazile's role as a paid pundit for CNN back in 2008 in a story for NPR. The real question is where the loyalties lie. And I think what these WikiLeaks, these hacked emails, show is that the loyalties, initially, are triggered for somebody like Donna Brazile, you know, previously the vice chairwoman of the party. They lie with their partisan affiliations.

Corey Lewandowski has barely been able to acknowledge when facts have gone against Donald Trump in any meaningful way, and it shows you that he's not serving the audience. He's serving, you know, patrons or people with whom he's still affiliated at the campaign. And I think that, ultimately, paying these partisan pundits shows a form of corruption of the cable system as opposed to serving an audience.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.