On Monday, the media demonstrated its full-bore animosity for the Trump administration by parading a former Trump aide, Sam Nunberg, across the networks as he spewed bile and bizarro-world conspiracy theories. Nunberg called into MSNBC to speak with Katy Tur; on-air, he stated that he would resist a subpoena from special counsel Robert Mueller, adding, “Let him arrest me.” He explained, “I think they may [have something on the president]. I think that he may have done something during the election, but I don’t know that for sure.” Then he called into Jake Tapper’s CNN show and asked the host if he thought he should comply with Mueller’s subpoena request, stating, “They know something on [Donald Trump] … I don’t know what it is, and perhaps I’m wrong, but he did something.” One anchor, CNN’s Erin Burnett, even suggested on-air that she could smell alcohol on his breath. Nunberg denied that he was drunk, and stated instead that he was on antidepressants.
It was a breathtaking spate of nuttiness.
But it raised a serious question: should members of the media have even put Nunberg on-air? Nunberg was obviously paranoid and likely delusional. All of which led Jim VandeHei of Axios to tweet:
It’s not shocking that the media would feature a Trump-associated party going nuts. CNN has been running with headlines about a Russian prostitute who claims to have first-hand knowledge of Trump collusion with Russia, and wants to be released from Thai prison in exchange for that knowledge. If that sounds too sketchy for television, that’s because it is. But CNN ran with it anyway.
But let’s return to the question of the day: were the networks wrong to run with Nunberg?
The case in favor of putting him on-air: perhaps he had something of news value to say, and the media can’t be in the business of acting as the sanity gatekeepers — not in an era with nutty political figures making huge inroads repeatedly. As Jim Geraghty of National Review points out:
The case against putting him on-air: the networks actually thought he was nuts and put him on-air. That’s malfeasance of the highest order. If you believe someone has a serious problem, putting them on-air for the ratings is an act of immorality; it turns the news business into a freak show.
And that’s what makes Burnett’s response the key indicator here: she was questioning Nunberg’s sobriety on-air. If she had such serious questions, why would she put him on television? At least other hosts weren’t face-to-face with Nunberg — he was calling in. But Burnett has no such excuse.
Here’s the real question: if Nunberg hadn’t been an ex-Trump aide but an ex-Obama aide, would he have been given this sort of airtime? It’s difficult to imagine the answer is yes. Which should be a pretty severe indictment of the media.