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Cable news junkies will recognize the name of Richard Painter, a University of Minnesota faculty member who’s blossomed into a go-to source for leftwing cable channels and the networks on ethical issues in politics. In that role, the esteemed S. Walter Richey Professor of Corporate Law has appeared dozens of times on CNN, MSNBC and Headline News in the last three months alone.
One of the Trump administration’s most toxic critics, Painter gets beaucoup airtime due to his credentials as George W. Bush’s chief ethics lawyer for a couple years. But now a conservative watchdog is asking whether Painter’s prolific media appearances raise ethical questions of their own.
The Washington Free Beacon points out that the media almost never identify Painter’s role as Vice-Chair of one of the Trump administration’s most relentless adversaries—Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). Only twice in Painter’s 68 television interviews from November 2017 to February 2018 did the media state the Minnesota professor’s key role in CREW’s notorious attacks against the new administration and other Republicans in the courts and media, according to the Free Beacon’s analysis.
In nearly every other instance, he [Painter] was only introduced as some variance of the former White House ethics lawyer for Bush, a position that he left nearly 11 years ago. Painter also failed to disclose his current position on air when his current title was not mentioned.
On Jan. 3, NBC reporter Peter Alexander on “Today” cited a Painter tweet that criticized Trump, where Painter was identified as “former George W. Bush chief White House ethics lawyer.”
MSNBC’s Ari Melber noted during Painter’s appearance on Nov. 28 that Painter was “part of an organization that is suing Trump over alleged conflicts of interest in foreign income,” and on Nov. 16, Melber said Painter “is suing Trump for accepting payments from foreign governments through his corporations.”
The same kid glove treatment by the media holds true for Painter’s counterpart, despite CREW’s close ties to well-known leftwing heavyweights.
CREW bills itself as a nonpartisan organization looking at ethics violations on both sides of the aisle. However, the organization was once led by Clinton operative David Brock and is an approved funding group of the Democracy Alliance, which helps guide donations from wealthy liberals to anti-Republican activist organizations.
The Free Beacon’s analysis, which examined footage from Nov. 1, 2017 to Feb. 1, found that Norman Eisen, the chairman of CREW who was previously an ethics “czar” for Barack Obama, appeared on CNN, where he is a contributor, and HLN at least 19 times. However, he was identified as leading CREW at the start of an interview just three times.
Eisen, who was mainly introduced as the former Obama White House ethics “czar,” did not make any efforts to disclose his position with CREW when anchors had failed to mention them.
For example, NBC gave Painter and a clinical psychologist a platform recently for a lengthy column headlined, The 25th Amendment Proves Why Trump’s Mental Health Matters: Is America today in need of an unprecedented constitutional intervention?
Many clinicians have already laid out their own concerns about the president’s psychological health. Nearly 800 mental health professionals have joined a coalition asserting that they are so alarmed by Trump’s mental health that they feel a duty to warn the public. An online petition, intended for mental health professionals who believe the president is unfit to serve, has been signed by roughly 62,000 people.
NBC made no mention of Painter’s connection to CREW, only of his role in the Bush White House and the University of Minnesota. But don’t count on the sudden attention to embarrass cable networks and media into becoming more ethical in identifying the biases of pundits like Painter anytime soon.