The blurred lines on CNN

THE BLURRED LINES ON CNN…. Alex Castellanos’ role as a CNN political analyst has been controversial for a while, but this might be the most serious incident to date.

Media Matters for America has obtained evidence that CNN contributor Alex Castellanos’ political consulting firm, National Media, is the ad buyer for the insurance industry group America’s Health Insurance Plan’s (AHIP) new ad blitz attacking Democratic health reform plans. CNN has a responsibility to insure that Castellanos’ obvious conflict of interest does not tarnish their future coverage of the health care debate.

According to the detailed ad buy information obtained by Media Matters, Castellanos is responsible for placing, beginning October 11, more than $1 million of AHIP advertising in five states. Castellanos last appeared on CNN September 30; during a debate with Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) on The Situation Room, Castellanos defended Republican health care proposals.

If Castellanos returns to CNN’s airwaves to discuss health care, it shouldn’t be as a Republican strategist and CNN contributor, but as what he is — an industry spokesman.

So, the Alex Castellanos CNN turns to for political analysis on issues like health care reform is the same Alex Castellanos getting paid by the insurance industry to get ads on television attacking health care reform. None of this has ever been disclosed to CNN viewers, who might find Castellanos’ conflict of interest important.

CNN told Greg Sargent that, going forward, the network would disclose its analyst’s industry connection. CNN spokesperson Edie Emery said, “When Alex Castellano [sic] returns from his vacation and next appears on CNN, we will clearly disclose to our viewers relevant information including his firm’s relationship with AHIP.”

Greg added that CNN “doesn’t appear to have known about Castellanos’ work.” I suspect that’s right; CNN probably wouldn’t deliberately hide the analyst’s conflict of interest. Instead, Castellanos probably didn’t disclose his work, which raises questions about why CNN has him on the air as a credible analyst in the first place.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.