The email controversy surrounding Hillary Clinton continues to grow but there is one aspects that is less of a problem for her as it is for one of her allies, Paul Begala. Begala is shown in email seeking directions or talking points from the State Department on what to say about one of Clinton’s speeches and then writes back to tell Clinton aides that he gave her an “A+.” Such talking points are common in Washington but the email forces the practice into the open and raises the question about independence of commentators, even in today’s formula conservative-liberal/democratic-republican casting. People like Begala are supposed to be crushingly predictable in blindly support one side of the formula casting, so it is hardly surprising to see such scripting or shaping. However, some have asked about the propriety of a CNN commentator who appears to be so closely coordinated with a political figure like Clinton even on his impressions of her skills as a speaker. It was an ironic twist from a commentator who declared national that “voters to not give a sh**” about the Clinton emails.
Part of the notoriety over the email is clearly as a reflection of the networks of allies that the Clintons have throughout government and the media. While Begala is pegged as “the democrat” in these point-counterpoint formats, it is he concern to be on message for Clinton specifically that has attracted commentary.
Begala, a former advisor to Bill Clinton, asks in the email for talking points before he went on CNN to rate Hillary Clinton’s early performance. He is sent to various Clinton aides at State. After his appearance, Begala emailed back: “I gave Sec. Clinton an A+ in our dopey CNN report card last night.” Ms. Mills forwarded that to Mrs. Clinton with an “FYI.”
There is also Begala’s involvement on retiring Hillary’s campaign debt while she is Secretary of State. One email according to the New York Times is about retiring her $23 million campaign debt from 2008 and her chief of protocol, Capricia Marshall, wrote to Paul Begala in April 2009 to say “Thank you so very much!!! We raised 500K from the email contest!! You are all amazing — the world adores you! You put a serious hole in HRC debt!” What is interesting is that people like Keith Olbermann were dumped by MSNBC for writing a couple checks for political candidates but Al Sharpton regularly organizes political events with the Obama White House and Paul Begala is closely aligned with the Clintons in such emails.
Begala is a very talented television commentator and often offers insightful observation, albeit from a pigeon-holed perspective common to today’s formula television commentary. He is a commentator not a journalist. His regimented perspective is no different from conservatives selected to play the opposing role. While many of us find the formula casting a bit too much like a scripted political reality show, it is a formula that clearly works for the cable shows. The problem is that the red-blue casting invites this type of alliance and steering from parties or powerful figures. For journalists, it raises troubling issues even for a commentator with a network. On the other hand, Begala can respond that he was a known Clinton person and was brought into CNN to fill the role in a point-counterpoint format. Moreover, he could argue that asking for talking points does not mean that he will use them. He already had a publicly known alliance with all things Democratic and all things Clinton. The talking points can simply add historical or contextual facts that escaped him in preparing for the otherwise formula response that he was hired to give on air. No one has suggested that Paul Begala is Walter Cronkite. He was brought in as a crushingly predictable partisan voice as were his counterparts placed in the “four-in-a-box” political fight segments. Why shouldn’t he ask for talking points from the Clinton people when he is type-casted as the Clinton or Democratic voice?
The alternative is for CNN to tell commentators under contract that they are not to solicit talking points for on-air segments. Yet, that would not stop unsolicited talking points or a myriad of ways for operatives to get such information to media allies.
What do you think?