CNN SHOULD PROBABLY PICK BETTER PARTNERS…. It makes perfect sense for CNN to host plenty of debates for the Republican presidential candidates running in 2012. It makes less sense to partner with sketchy organizations to co-host these debates.

CNN said Friday that it is joining forces with the Tea Party Express — a political action committee that played a key role in the 2010 midterm elections — to co-host a Republican presidential debate.

The debate is scheduled for Labor Day week in Tampa, Fla., in September — five months before the 2012 presidential primaries begin.

Generally, major news organizations exercise some caution when partnering with outside groups, for fear of tarnishing the outlet’s reputation.

And that’s precisely why I’m a little surprised CNN would team up with a controversial political action committee. Indeed, I may be missing some examples, but I don’t recall CNN ever partnering with a political action committee on anything before.

Sure, it’s a Republican debate, but did the network look into the Tea Party Express’ background? Does CNN realize this is the same far-right outfit that was led by Mark Williams, repeatedly accused of racism? Did CNN appreciate the fact that even plenty of conservative activists look askance at the Tea Party Express because it appears to be a vehicle for a Republican operative’s consulting firm?

This seems like a mistake. Perhaps not on par with hiring Erick Erickson as a paid political analyst, but a mistake nevertheless.

Update: Dave Weigel notes that CNN has been cozying up to Tea Party Express for quite a while. Presumably, then, the network is well aware of the outfit’s sketchy nature, and doesn’t care.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. 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.