[T]eaming up to sponsor a debate is not the problem, says Kelly McBride, senior faculty for ethics reporting and writing at the Poynter Institute. Instead, it's the Tea Party Express's status as a PAC.
"They've partnered with the League of Women Voters and lots and lots of organizations," McBride says. "That's all well and fine. But a political action committee is expressly created to influence a process and further the agenda. That might be the difference." [...]
[J]ournalists such as Haynes Johnson, a former Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist with the Washington Post and now a professor at the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism, say the partnership was out of line. "I think it's a terrible precedent for any legitimate news organization to partner with a political group, especially one that takes such a strong stance as the Tea Party," Johnson says. "I think we shouldn't do it, and I think it's wrong."
He adds, "I think it's a bad idea for news organizations to partner with political groups, period. I think it's even more egregious to bring in someone as polarizing and ideological as the Tea Party and give them a voice."
Obviously, networks partner with groups all the time: Thursday's debate featured a (rather spurious) partnership between Fox News and Google, for example. But partnering with a group that is so unabashedly divisive seems a rather odd call for any outlet that is concerned with "credibility."
I think the short answer is that CNN, like other outlets, is much less concerned with "credibility" these days than in currying favor with different ideological groups. There is no actual news value to be gained by, say, hiring an Erick Erickson, but CNN has seemed to edge closer and closer to Fox News territory in an apparent attempt to ... well, what? Siphon off Fox viewers, perhaps, or perhaps their management has taken the Fox News success as a lesson that the hard right is the only available large audience, if you tell them what they want to hear.
It seems part of an ongoing process, for all the network outlets. After the debates, we get to hear "analysis" by people who either work directly for the candidates or are otherwise allied with them or against them: This counts as news for no discernible reason. It is the continuation of the Crossfire phenomenon, in which ideological debate is gradually degraded into mere partisan slapfight, and the goal of "news programs" is not to convey a firm truth, but to present a series of people who will purport to tell you what their truth is, and if the audience wants to find out which "view" most accurately reflects the real truth then they can go to hell.
I think partnering with an extreme ideological group (and one that is generally disliked by the rest of the public) made CNN look foolish, if nothing else. Whether or not it damaged their credibility hinges upon how much of it you believe the network had to begin with.