Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

The Beltway revolving door between consulting and commentary

One thing that's accepted as a given in D.C. is that there's nothing amiss when people constantly cycle back and forth between raking in big bucks consulting for private-sector clients and going on the air to share ostensibly independent political commentary.

While people constantly obsess about the revolving door between government and lobbying, this other revolving door -- between consulting and on-air commentary -- gets almost no attention at all, even though it's widespread.

But now comes a situation that's focusing a bit of attention on it: The case of two CNN contributors, Alex Castellanos and Hilary Rosen, and their work for BP.

This morning's Washington Post reports that BP has retained the services of Rosen, a Democrat who heads the Washington office of the Brunswick Group, to help out with BP's lobbying and public relations offensive inside the Beltway.

Rosen has contracted out some of this work for BP to Castellanos, a Republican consultant who's perhaps best known for the racially charged Jesse Helms ad showing white hands ripping up a resume.

In a statement, CNN says that neither Rosen nor Castellanos will be invited on the air to discuss topics relating to BP. "Both Alex and Hilary are contributors used primarily to comment on political issues, and they are not being used to discuss the oil disaster story," CNN spokesperson Edie Emery emails me.

That's all very well and good, but there's an interesting larger issue here: Should networks ever turn their airwaves over to analysts whose selling point to clients is that they have influence with lawmakers currently in power?

The question is whether consultants whose livelihood depends on maintaining good relations with lawmakers should ever offer political commentary on the networks, even on topics not directly relevant to their clients.

One analyst who's frequently on CNN said the answer is No.

"When contributors on the networks have agendas before the government they're analyzing, it is a blatant a conflict of interest," this analyst grouses to me. "The networks should not let contributors -- whether they're lobbyists or advocates -- analyze the White House and Capitol Hill on the air if they are simultaneously representing clients of any kind before the government."

I don't know if I'm prepared to go that far. But what's interesting to me is that it's simply accepted as a Beltway fact of life that commentators -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- frequently offer ostensibly independent-minded commentary on the government and politics even as they're also taking in big bucks representing private-sector interests before that same government. This is the revolving door that's never discussed at all.

UPDATE, 2:50 p.m.: This drives home the point: As Ben Smith reported the other day, The Huffington Post severed all ties with Rosen once the news broke that she was on BP's payroll.

UPDATE, 2:54 p.m.: The Nation had a nice expose on just this topic, with lots of juicy detail.

By Greg Sargent  |  June 21, 2010; 2:27 PM ET
Categories:  Climate change , Political media  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Under fire, Dem leaders standing by DISCLOSE act
Next: Steve King: Socrates and Plato have my back


"This is the revolving door that's never discussed at all."

Well, considering how widespread it is, this fact is not surprising in the least. I wish more would talk about it, but at least you are. That's a start.

It, unforuntately, won't go much further.

Posted by: TheBBQChickenMadness | June 21, 2010 2:36 PM | Report abuse

That's why you have to be very skeptical of all of these commentaries by supposed experts and consultants and advisors. They all look to me as if they are playing a game on us. I can't help but think that James Carville and Mary Matalin go home each night and laugh their a$$es off at the disingenuous garbage they fed us that day.

Posted by: sbj3 | June 21, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

This is a particularly ironic article given how often people shuttle back and forth between the major media corporations and the Obama administration. But you never read articles about whether this presents a conflict of interest for the so-called 4th Estate, for the very reasons outlined here against BP.

Posted by: zippyspeed | June 21, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse


I have something for you. I will be back tomorrow.,-defends-Rep.-Barton/136633092644822843.html

"June 21, 2010
AUDIO: Rep. Steve King backs up his Obama race comments, defends Rep. Barton
Posted by Staff
Rep. Steve King on those who he says took his race comments out of context: "We really should just ridicule them for trying to run with emotions and no logic. I think Socrates and Plato would have laughed themselves silly if [they saw] these people were leading thought in America."

When asked to offer examples of Obama favoring blacks, King cited the New Black Panthers voter intimidation case in Philadelphia: "Can you imagine switching the skin colors there and seeing what would have happened? Can you imagine the president dumping that [case]?"

On Rep. Joe Barton's apology to BP: "I think Joe Barton was spot-on when he called it a shakedown....They want to swallow up as many Fortune 500 companies as they can.""

Posted by: Liam-still | June 21, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, Liam, appreciate it.

Also, BG and SG, see the update -- the Nation article linked goes into this problem in some detail

Posted by: Greg Sargent | June 21, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse

"This is a particularly ironic article given how often people shuttle back and forth between the major media corporations and the Obama administration."@zippyspeed

Name them zippyspeed and the conflicts that are as blatant as Rosen and Castellanos?

Posted by: bmcchgo | June 21, 2010 3:00 PM | Report abuse

re The Nation article - the closing line:

"We live in a time where there are no shortages of opinions and an incredible deficit of facts."

Good stuff!

Posted by: sbj3 | June 21, 2010 3:11 PM | Report abuse

Quick note...Media Matters catches Kristol doing the "I am the small people" on FOX (to match his use of this in the WS column I noted this morning):

Posted by: bernielatham | June 21, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

There seems to be an emerging theme, or meme, or what-have-you, over the last few days, about the gotterdamerung of the punditocracy. Item: CNN actually fessing up. Item: Nagourney's NYT piece the other day. Item: a WaPo piece to the same effect over the weekend. Can't come soon enough!

Posted by: joeff | June 21, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

Funny, though, how it's not a big deal until Democrats are doing it?

And it's only progressive media who tends to take this conflict of interest seriously enough to stop allowing someone to give commentary?

Posted by: theorajones1 | June 21, 2010 3:15 PM | Report abuse

A bit of clarification: I think the WaPo piece was actually about the triumph of "narrative" over "facts," but that's certainly of a piece with the foregoing.

Posted by: joeff | June 21, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Rosen & Castellano should be off the air at CNN. But then, all those retired military officers who were affiliated with and profiting from military contractors should never have been used for Iraq / Afghanistan commentary either.

Posted by: suekzoo1 | June 21, 2010 3:27 PM | Report abuse

Greg, great post and timely. The insider influence stuff is getting very complex and hard to track and this is a good beat for the blog. Good links too.

Theora, that's right I think, but it's important to make sure everyone who does this gets called out. The GOP more so, but if there is vigilance against all the perpetrators of this kind of corruption it will make it harder for the GOP to get away with. Guys like Mark Penn should have been roundly criticized (and were, on the left) a long time ago.

Posted by: BGinCHI | June 21, 2010 3:29 PM | Report abuse

@theora: "And it's only progressive media who tends to take this conflict of interest seriously enough to stop allowing someone to give commentary?"

You should read The Nation article. MSNBC is by far the worst offender.

Posted by: sbj3 | June 21, 2010 3:30 PM | Report abuse


The Texas Republican party has doubled down on their state’s same-sex marriage ban in their continued war against LGBT rights. Just months after the Republican state Attorney General challenged a same-sex couple’s request to divorce, the state GOP is pushing even further in their new 2010 platform. Taking a page from the heinous Ugandan anti-homosexuality bill, the GOP both wants to criminalize marrying a same-sex couple and reinstate a sodomy ban.

Basically, if someone were to help a gay couple get married, “the GOP would like to see that person serve mandatory jail time.” In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court found in Lawrence v. Texas that Texas’ “Homosexual Conduct” law — a measure outlawing oral and anal sex — unconstitutional. It appears Texas Republicans would like to overturn that decision.

Posted by: cmccauley60 | June 21, 2010 3:38 PM | Report abuse

While we're on this subject, could we note the very large number of electronic media commentators, generally presented as "strategists," who are fundamentally election campaign consultants?

There's nothing wrong with this as long as they are discussing election campaigns. More often than not, though, television networks keep them around to discuss... well, everything. This includes subjects to which election campaign consultants bring a rare combination of abject ignorance and relative indifference to the substance of government policy.

Television news organizations do this because election campaigns are entertainment programming -- not as good as natural disasters and wars, which offer compelling visual images, but more reliable in that they occur on a regular schedule. Election campaign consultants bring the atmosphere of the campaign to the discussion of almost any subject, be it Afghanistan, an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, or a Supreme Court nomination. They are much better than public officials or academic experts in keeping their talking points punchy, suitable for video clips to be replayed later. They work smoothly with on-air journalists whose own professional experience includes a lot of time logged on campaign planes and buses.

Election campaign consultants are great for filling entertainment programming time on news stations. Their substantive contribution, though, is worse than negligible; viewers are likely as not to come away from campaign consultants' discussion of serious public policy issues understanding less about them than they did before. No one seriously interested in how to beat the Taliban or get out of the recession would think of getting advice from somebody like Donna Brazile or Alex Castellanos -- except ABC, CNN, and Fox, who do it every day.

Posted by: jbritt3 | June 21, 2010 3:52 PM | Report abuse

No word about whether TX will ban sex with animals?

They probably don't want to tie up the courts.

Posted by: BGinCHI | June 21, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

jbritt, you make a good point, and this is widespread in our era of 24/7 news.

It even extends to a show like Countdown. Many times when it's a technical subject, the guest is Wolffe or Fineman and the pivot is to the political angle. I suppose this is readily defensible, but it leads us over and over to a culture of opinion rather than reasoning. We need more educated, experienced commentary on many of the issues before us. This has been especially true on the financial issues; there is no end to the political speculation, but a dearth of specialist information that would allow people to dig more deeply into the issues.

The horse race is getting really boring.

Posted by: BGinCHI | June 21, 2010 3:57 PM | Report abuse

Another fellow looking out for the "small people"...

"Rand Paul To Unemployed: Quit Whining And Get Back To Work"

Deep and pervasive structural unemployment is easily rectified, you see, if these lay-abouts would merely certify themselves in some medical profession.

Posted by: bernielatham | June 21, 2010 4:20 PM | Report abuse


Federal judge ruling by this Wednesday regarding Oil Moratorium:

Posted by: Papagnello | June 21, 2010 4:27 PM | Report abuse

Like I've been saying...

Here's Sharron Angle via NRO:

“At that point, I realized that the government had interfered with my family. It was kind of like a mother bear and her cubs: Don’t get between me and my cubs, or you’ve got trouble.”

Posted by: bernielatham | June 21, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

The President has taken tens of thousands from BP and BP PACs in campaign contributions -- probably more than Castellanos and Rosen will be paid. Maybe we could sever ties with him.

Posted by: NotreDameAlumn | June 21, 2010 4:32 PM | Report abuse

(h/t on that last to Sullivan)

Posted by: bernielatham | June 21, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

@NotreDameAlumn - care to provide citations to those claims

Posted by: bernielatham | June 21, 2010 4:35 PM | Report abuse

All, Steve King's latest justification of his claim that Obama is a reverse racist:

Posted by: Greg Sargent | June 21, 2010 4:36 PM | Report abuse

Ah, words of wisdom from a ND alum. What a surprise.

If you take contributions and then clearly do the bidding of the contributor over those who don't contribute, then that's a case for corruption. Otherwise it's the flawed system that we currently enjoy.

If you want to get money out of politics, talk to your friends in the GOP and on the Supreme Court.

Posted by: BGinCHI | June 21, 2010 4:38 PM | Report abuse

"If you take contributions and then clearly do the bidding of the contributor over those who don't contribute, then that's a case for corruption."

So, in all cases where we find that a Democrat has accepted a contribution and then voted or otherwise acted as the contributor wished, can we have the Democrat removed from office and prosecuted?

If not, what is the difference?

Posted by: quarterback1 | June 21, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

Obama, greatest BP cash collector of all times, all times.

Posted by: quarterback1 | June 21, 2010 5:11 PM | Report abuse

qb, did BP get what it paid for?

Why did they contribute so much?

How are Obama's securing a fund to pay damages and Barton's apology the same thing? IS the money contributed to each having the same effect?

Posted by: BGinCHI | June 21, 2010 5:52 PM | Report abuse


"did BP get what it paid for?"

You would have to ask BP. Perhaps they did, in the form of favorable treatment right up until (and leading to?) the Gulf disaster.

"Why did they contribute so much?"

I assume BP really wanted Obama to be elected, and/or wanted a lot of favor with him.

"How are Obama's securing a fund to pay damages and Barton's apology the same thing?"

Who said they were?

"IS the money contributed to each having the same effect?"

The point is that you have no objective or reliable way to answer your own question. You merely assume that Obama acts on principle and Barton on cash. Barton could just as well act on princile and Obama on cash, right up until he knew it was more to his advantage to boot his boot on BP's neck.

The point is, your argument is a tautology.

Posted by: quarterback1 | June 21, 2010 6:19 PM | Report abuse

The hidden and paid for agendas of the "pundits" on TV is a very important topic. I suggest on the crawl space at the bottom, that any conflicts of interest are revealed. In the science field this is always done. For instance Ari Fleisher is now a consultant by profession. Shouldn't we know his clients? Academics and writers would be more authoritative experts than these insiders on the take.

Posted by: enelson52 | June 21, 2010 7:55 PM | Report abuse

Obama is the biggest recipient of BP candidate $:

At least with Castellanos and Rosen, their careers were not made with BP money, unlike the President. Further, these two are just two of hundreds of TV commentators that no one listens to and they have no real power. Relatively speaking, this is a non-story.

Posted by: NotreDameAlumn | June 21, 2010 10:39 PM | Report abuse


Politico is a right-leaning website which is naturally going to be biased against Democrats so that is not a good source to get your facts from.

According to the Center of Responsive Politics, which is a non-partisan reasearch group that tracks money in politics, reports that Obama raised over $750 million dollars in campaign contributions during the 2008 elections. Of that, $656 million was contributed by INDIVIDUAL donors which includes $71,000 coming primarily from BP EMPLOYEES, not PACS. However Obama did receive donations from PACS, only $1,830, chump change in my book.

Sorry dude, Politico mislead you.

Posted by: Rudyabdul | June 22, 2010 4:20 AM | Report abuse


You completely whiffed on that. For example, you didn't even touch the fact that Obama is the biggest BP $$ donee over a 20-year period.

You misled yourself, with help from the partisan left sources you cited.

Posted by: quarterback1 | June 22, 2010 8:14 AM | Report abuse

What else is new. Most people, given the chance would opt for big bucks over principle. Money rules.

Posted by: adrienne_najjar | June 22, 2010 9:57 AM | Report abuse


The point is that if the columnist here is going to be upset about two commentators having their hand in the cookie jar, let's be concerned about those with REAL POWER having their hand in the cookie jar -- not some cable TV talking heads.

As as for "chump change" -- the left keeps talking about the Republican ties to big oil, but this shows Obama has that tie too. One wonders if the MMA would have had more oversight in the last two years if Obama wasn't in the pocket of BP.

Obama golfs while the Gulf burns.

Posted by: NotreDameAlumn | June 22, 2010 10:46 AM | Report abuse

UPDATE, 6:25 a.m.: To see the Jesse Helms political ad mentioned in this article, visit this YouTube link:

Posted by: yoinkflotsam | June 23, 2010 8:18 AM | Report abuse

Not everyone is over 50. Please, be helpful to those younger than you, by posting links to images or video of the stuff you talk about.

Posted by: yoinkflotsam | June 23, 2010 8:27 AM | Report abuse

Wow, that really makes a lot of sense dude.


Posted by: clermontpc | June 23, 2010 9:17 AM | Report abuse

They Suck!

Posted by: bpsuks | June 27, 2010 6:23 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company