CNN made the controversial decision this week to not renew the contract of one of their conservative contributors, Eliana Johnson, a former White House reporter for Politico and the future head of the Washington Free Beacon, according to Buzzfeed News.
The Beacon is admittedly right-leaning, but former editors have emphasized that their focus is providing conservative coverage that “will abide by the canons of journalism — fact-checking, legal review, calling the subjects of your stories for comment.”
While it is true that it is within the right of any employer to choose not to renew a contract with one of its employees, the timing of this case in relation to the announcement of Johnson’s new position has raised some eyebrows.
Johnson is taking over the publication after a successful career in political correspondence in Washington and as a conservative analyst for outlets like CNN.
CNN has known liberal leanings, but Johnson is part of an effort the outlet has made to ensure its discourse includes opinions and analysis from all points of the political spectrum. But if this is the image they are aiming for, they would be better served by not going back on their mission to provide intelligent, responsible, albeit conservative, journalists.
If, say, FOX News were to let go of a liberal contributor after an announcement of a new position with a leftist outlet, there would arise a national debate about the ethics of potentially biased journalism.
Johnson handled the decision well, saying, “CNN has a right to tap or drop contributors at any point, none of us is entitled to a contract renewal.” This is different from the typical perception of how a conservative might respond to such a decision; she could have attacked CNN as liberal media attempting to vilify conservatism. Instead, she backed out with grace.
The decision sets an unfortunate precedent that conservative contributors are welcome until they pursue conservative career goals. This is dangerous not only because of its inconsistency within the realm of responsible journalism, which should aim to provide a holistic picture of politics, but also because it furthers the divide between left and right-wing ideologies and medias.
CNN failed to renew Johnson’s contract not only very soon after the announcement that she would run the Beacon, but before she ever had the chance to take on the new position. Any speculation on what Johnson may or may not do with her position is simply that — speculation.
The network also remains in contract with similar contributors, such as Rich Lowry, the editor of the National Review, a self-proclaimed conservative news outlet that Johnson herself has previously worked for. When explaining their decision, CNN cited Johnson’s choice to leave her White House reporting beat at Politico.
Although Johnson is stepping away from her Politico reporting, her contributions to CNN were never as a reporter, but rather as an analyst and a conservative voice in on-air debates.
A job as the editor of a right-wing Washington paper does not hinder Johnson’s ability to contribute to political discourse — if anything, it could provide her with even more valuable insight.