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Reporters at CBS and NBC are divided over new political pundits


In recent days, reporters at two major American TV networks have objected to big-name hires coming from the political realm. Mick Mulvaney from the Trump White House has joined CBS. And Jen Psaki, who is the current White House press secretary, is heading to MSNBC. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik joins us now to talk about this intersection of news and politics. Hey, David.


CHANG: All right. So let's start with Mulvaney here. Like, what are the specific concerns around him at CBS?

FOLKENFLIK: Sure. So Mick Mulvaney, of course, former Republican congressman, was a Trump budget director at the White House, was the acting chief of staff for then-President Trump, was hired. CBS seemed very proud of this. They had him on to talk about budget machinations. Privately, reporters raised questions. They said, look. This is a guy who worked for the White House. He was a spin master. He was, among other things, fairly hostile towards the press, much as his patron was. And CBS president Neeraj Khemlani said we need to access Republicans. We need to be able to have their voice reflected on our airwaves and reports, particularly as we look ahead to the elections coming up in November, where we think they'll take back the House of Representatives.

CHANG: And what about Jen Psaki? What are people at MSNBC saying about her hire?

FOLKENFLIK: Right. Well, she is said to be negotiating to come on board for their streaming service, Peacock for an MSNBC program, and that she would be a pundit on the channel. MSNBC, obviously, liberal. Psaki has a lot of cachet with liberals, a lot of love in the Twitterverse - defending the Biden administration, sparring with Fox News's White House reporters. Yet at the sister network of NBC, a lot of concerns. ABC's own reporter Kristen Welker put in a tough question to Psaki. Let's hear how she phrased that question.


KRISTEN WELKER: I guess the question is, how is it ethical to have these conversations with media outlets while you continue to have a job standing behind that podium?

FOLKENFLIK: So Psaki's answer was, look. I've gone through all the ethical hoops that I need to jump through at the White House. But it's a reflection that within NBC, a lot of reporters say, how can we have these negotiations going on with somebody whose administration we're covering. The president of NBC, Noah Oppenheim, told reporters there, look. That's our sister network, an opinion network. It's not what we do. Focus on your job. We'll do fine.

CHANG: I mean, the thing is, David, we've seen this before, right? Like, people moving from politics to broadcast news - this isn't unusual.

FOLKENFLIK: No, it's going back more than a half-century. If you think of Pierre Salinger some years after being president - John F. Kennedy's press secretary, became the, I believe, the Paris bureau chief for ABC News. Bill Moyers went from LBJ's press secretary to going on CBS and then PBS. More recently, think of George Stephanopoulos at ABC. He had been at Clinton White House, Nicolle Wallace to MSNBC from George W. Bush's communications director. And look. Fox News and and the Trump world have had sort of a turbocharged revolving door.

CHANG: Sure. And on and on and on. So what is the larger problem with this? Like, why shouldn't business as usual keep being business as usual?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, the networks see pundits as speaking to sectors of the audience, giving them someone who may reflect the way they think and someone to root for. But I think it's a question of journalistic loyalties. Who are these people, these pundits going to be loyal to? Even the analysts are supposed to be loyal to their employers, the networks, to the audience, and ultimately to facts and the truth. In the case of - let's take CBS in the case of Mick Mulvaney. You know, he had been not maybe the harshest figure in the Trump White House, but he had attacked the media and its credibility. So far, we haven't heard any apology or retreat from him. I think that's something that perhaps his colleagues in a journalistic outlet might expect.

CHANG: That is NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. Thank you, David.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.