Hiltzik: Mick Mulvaney, commentator? What does CBS think?

CBS News staffers are in an uproar over the venerable News Department’s hiring of former Trump White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney as a news commentator .

Their outrage is understandable and justified. Mulvaney, a longtime Republican civil servant, distinguished himself during his tenure in the administration as a loyal lackey for Trump.

He showed a micron understanding of political and economic issues, even while serving as Trump’s budget director and acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

If he loses, Trump will gracefully step down.

– Mick Mulvaney, CBS’ new political commentator, showing how well he knows Trump in 2020

But he demonstrated a bottomless ability to promote Trump’s policy goals, which boiled down to gutting federal programs aimed at helping the average American.

We’ll get into the details in a moment. But first, let’s look at the explanation the CBS brass offered to the network’s news staff when they questioned Mulvaney’s hiring.

“Being able to make sure we have access to both sides of the aisle is a priority because we know the Republicans are going to pick up the slack, most likely, halfway through,” the CBS co-chairman said. News, Neeraj Khemlani, to staff members. according to Paul Farhi of the Washington Post, who was working from a pirated recording of the meeting. “A lot of the people we bring in help us in terms of access to that side of the equation.”

This is of course absurd. CBS has every right to hire as many lobbyists as it wants to make its case on Capitol Hill; putting them on the air, essentially to put pressure on the public, is quite another matter. One question this raises is what value Mulvaney brings to the table. It’s not a neutral voice, but if he’s on the air just to present his partisan leanings, who needs him? Aren’t we getting enough from elected politicians?

To be fair, CBS isn’t the only news organization trying to curry favor this way. It used to be that political types offering nothing but a spin-off were kicked out of the newsroom; now they are given a well-paid sinecure to provide “balance”.

What Khemlani doesn’t appreciate – or perhaps he appreciates and doesn’t care – is that the quest for “access” has become the bane of American journalism.

This is what produces puffy stories about political insiders (they are known in the trade as “beat sweeteners”) and softball questions for politicians on Sunday newscasts.

Newscasts have become adept at bringing people to their own level of self-esteem. What it doesn’t produce, however, is incisive media coverage of the kind crucial to the functioning of our democracy.

So here is Mick Mulvaney, introduced for his first appearance as a CBS commentator by anchor Anne-Marie Green to give his thoughts on President Biden’s billionaire income tax bill.

“So happy to have you here,” Green said. “You’re the guy to ask about this.” The burden of his introduction was that Mulvaney was a man who knows, but with his opening words he acknowledged he knew nothing more about the billionaires tax than was embodied in Biden’s own proposal; beyond that, his analysis was largely dismissive and, more accurately, indistinguishable from what one would hear from any GOP politician. (Mulvaney served as a Republican congressman from South Carolina from 2011 to 2017.)

Now let’s take a closer look at Mulvaney’s qualifications to speak out on public issues. He was always someone who never let facts get in the way of partisan goals.

Starting with his March 2017 appearance on the CBS Sunday show “Face the Nation,” when he was director of Trump’s White House Office of Management and Budget. As I reported at the time, Mulvaney took the opportunity to film some of the most needy and helpless people in the country: the disabled.

“Let me ask you a question,” he told moderator John Dickerson at the end of a seven-minute interview. “Do you really think Social Security disability insurance is part of what people think of when they think of Social Security? I do not think so. It is the fastest growing program. It has grown tremendously under President Obama. It is a very expensive program, and we want to try to solve this problem.

Dickerson’s response to this volley of lies and misinformation, in its entirety, was, “OK, we’re going to have to get it over with.”

Far be it from Dickerson’s idea to challenge someone who might be useful in providing “access”.

If he was willing to question Mulvaney on substantive issues, however, he could have pointed out that, first, the disability insurance program has been part of Social Security since 1956, when it was signed into law by Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican President. He could have pointed out that Social Security has been structured as both a retirement and insurance program since its enactment in 1935.

Dickerson might even have pointed out that Mulvaney was wrong to say that disability was the “fastest growing program”. At the time, not only were the disability lists not increasing, but contractionand for more than two years. (The trend has continued to the present day.)

Not only was the program not “useless,” it had one of the lowest error rates of any government program — well below 1% of all benefits, just like it did then.Acting Social Security Commissioner Carolyn Colvin testified before Congress in 2012.

Mulvaney showed his commitment to good government after Trump named him acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2018.

As one of his first acts in office, he walked to a convention of credit union executives and bragged, “I’m the acting director of the CFPB, something that apparently keeps Elizabeth Warren awake. late at night, which I don’t mind at all. .”

Warren, you see, had conceived the CFPB before his election to the Massachusetts Senate in 2012 and had been its chief advocate in Congress since its founding. She had hell high in several steps, Mulvaney’s CFPB had suddenly taken to drop regulatory initiatives against abusive payday lenders.

Among them was a rule, which had been in the works for five years, aimed at preventing payday lenders and other profiteers from lending to customers they knew would be unable to repay the loans, as well as imposing charges to customers and to engage in other abuses.

Mulvney abruptly withdrew, without explanation, a federal lawsuit against four allegedly abusive installment lenders. And he closed an investigation into World Acceptance Corp., a payday lender in his home state of South Carolina, which had been accused of abusive practices, but who had contributed at least $4,500 to his congressional campaigns.

For Mulvaney, Warren’s objections to this deliberate weakening of his agency’s authority were water for a comedy trick, offered for the amusement of the executives of the financial services he was supposed to regulate. He saw his role as head of a consumer protection agency protecting not only consumers, but also the lenders whose consumers needed protection.

“We’re here to help protect people who use credit cards,” he told credit union leaders. “We are also here to help and protect the people who extend this credit.”

As Trump’s chief of staff, Mulvaney spent his time trying to polish Trump’s policies. You might expect a politician’s chief of staff to try to make his boss look good, but the policies he championed don’t speak well of Mulvaney’s character.

In February 2020, he appeared at the American Conservative Union’s CPAC conference to assert that media coverage of the emerging COVID pandemic was nothing more than an effort “to bring down the president”. That’s the whole story.” It’s almost certain that the White House knew at the time that the pandemic posed a serious threat to public health.

On November 7, 2020, Mulvaney’s name appeared above a Wall Street Journal op-ed in which he assured readers, as the title suggests, “If he loses, Trump will graciously give in.” It was four days after the election, when it was already clear that Trump had lost. “I know his mannerisms and his style and I kind of know how he thinks,” Mulvaney said, based on his 15 months in the Trump White House.

It’s a claim that, to say the least, hasn’t aged gracefully.

To put Mulvaney’s judgment in the current context, he also defended Trump’s attempt to force Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, by implying that he would otherwise deny US aid to the country. country.

Asked at a press conference whether Trump was offering a “quid pro quo”, Mulvaney replied: “We do this all the time with foreign policy.” Trump would be impeached for this scheme.

Put it all together, and it suggests there are good reasons to put Mulvaney in front of the CBS News audience.

CBS should air it to explain why he lied about the threat of coronavirus in 2020, and what made him think Trump would step down “gracefully” after losing the 2020 election.

And why he deemed it acceptable to extort a friendly country for purely personal partisan ends. And why he viewed the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as a shield for lenders, not consumers.

It’s a look I’d like to see. But for CBS, unfortunately for us, that would be a barrier to “access.”