Update below the break: When it came to Roger Ailes and George Will, the media ethicists were out in full force. Why not for Zakaria? | Update May 15: Zakaria denies he "advises" Obama
CNN's Fareed Zakaria, host of the weekend show Fareed Zakaria GPS and editor-at-large for Time magazine, admitted on CNN Thursday that he has been advising President Obama on foreign policy matters.
Eliot Spitzer, host of CNN's In the Arena, brought up the fact at the very end of a conversation with Zakaria about Pakistan and foreign policy. Zakaria affirmed it and clarified that "mostly it's been face-to-face meetings...organized by Tom Donilon, the national security advisor."
Spitzer brought up the subject by telling Zakaria that "I read something in the paper this week...It said the President of the United States calls you for wisdom and advice about issues around the world."
After verifying that, Zakaria quickly changed the subject to praising Obama's approach to foreign policy. "It's been a very thoughtful conversation," he mused. "You know, we'll see where it goes."
A transcript of the segment, which aired on May 12 at 8:28 p.m. EDT, is as follows:
ELIOT SPITZER: Look, I read something in the paper this week a couple of days ago that actually made me -- you know brought a smile to my face. It said the president of the United States calls you for wisdom and advice about issues around the world.
So first, when he calls you, what does he say? "Hi, Barack calling for Fareed?" What does he do?
FAREED ZAKARIA: Mostly it's been face-to-face meetings.
ZAKARIA: You know, it's usually organized by Tom Donilon, the national security adviser.
ZAKARIA: What I'm struck by, though, honestly, Eliot, is how much time he's spending thinking about the issues of the Arab spring particularly the issues of Egypt, how -- how to make Egypt go right, what -- you know, what is the -- what are the mechanisms that the United States has to help the moderates and liberals.
It's been a very thoughtful conversation. You know we'll see where it goes.
SPITZER: I'm not going to ask you what you have said to the president but it makes my heart warm that the president is calling you for wisdom and advice. And thanks for coming on the show.
*****UPDATE (19:21 - Lachlan Markay):
In addition to the ethical issues that my colleague Matt touches on, there is a pretty notable double standard at work here in the rest of the news media's silence on Zakaria's conflict of interest.
Shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks, you may remember, Fox News Channel president Roger Ailes sent a letter to White House advisor Karl Rove with some suggestions as to what the president's response to the attacks should be. Veteran Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward first reported on the letter in his 2002 book "Bush At War".
The revelation sparked a media firestorm, as various news outlets offered the anecdote as evidence of the Fox News Channel's conservative leanings. This New York Times article was fairly representative of the tone of coverage.
Similarly, there was significant media backlash when it was revealed that columnist George Will had advised Ronald Reagan on debate tactics during the 1980 presidential campaign. As Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of the far-left Nation magazine, recalled, "a Los Angeles Times media critic called Will 'a political shill,' Chicago columnist Mike Rokyo called him a 'lapdog,' and the New York Daily News kicked him off their editorial pages (though it reinstated him too soon after)." (It should be noted that, contrary to vanden Heuvel's suggestion, Will's role in Reagan's campaign "was well known, and readers could take Will's views into account," as USA Today's Philip Meyer noted.)
Of course silence from vanden Heuvel and other left-wingers on Zakaria's comparable conflict of interest is to be expected, since pointing it out would do little to advance their agenda. More telling is the silence of the mainstream press that so vociferously criticized - or at the very least covered - apparent conflicts for conservative media personalities.
To top it all off, the man who brought the issue to light is himself a Democratic politician-turned-CNN-host. A trend seems to be emerging here.
*******UPDATE, May 15: On Saturday afternoon, Zakaria posted the following "clarification on my conversations with the President" to his CNN blog page:
The characterization that I have been "advising" President Obama is inaccurate. Over the last few months I've had a couple of conversations with the president, off-the-record. At no point did President Obama ask me for advice on a specific policy or speech or proposal, nor did I volunteer it. I know that he has had similar meetings with other columnists.