Was the Sam Nunberg story too good to pass up, or should the networks and media outlets he contacted have resisted the urge to put him on the air on Monday?
Nunberg, a former Trump campaign worker, contacted several left-leaning media outlets on Tuesday to protest a subpoena he had received from special counsel Robert Mueller.
“This is one of the reasons America hates the media,” wrote Mike Allen of Axios, who referred to the display as “scandal porn.”
“Our entire industry lit itself on fire because a troubled Trump hanger-on made an ass of himself – live.”
Nunberg went on CNN and MSNBC numerous times during the day, mostly by phone, ending when he went on CNN and anchor Erin Burnett asked if he was drunk and said he smelled of alcohol.
Nunberg’s 15 minutes of fame began with a call to Katy Tur of NBC News, in which he said he had received the subpoena from Mueller but did not plan to appear on Friday or turn over the emails Mueller had requested because it would take too long and he was not willing to implicate Roger Stone, whom he views as a mentor, or Steve Bannon.
Tur kept him on the phone for more than 20 minutes trying to goad answers out of him over whether Nunberg knew directly of Trump colluding with the Russians. She finally asked whether Nunberg believes Mueller’s investigators have something on the president. “I think they may,” Nunberg said. “I think that he may have done something during the election, but I don’t know that for sure.”
He later called Jake Tapper on CNN and told him that of course Trump had known about the meeting in Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr., in which a Russian lawyer and others had promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.
“You know he knew about it,” Nunberg said. “He was talking about it a week before.”
Nunberg spoke to NY1’s Josh Robin, MSNBC’s Ari Melber, CNN’s Gloria Borger and Jake Tapper and others through the day. The Washington Post, whom he did not contact, wrote that this was either an elaborate Roger Stone-designed stunt to take the attention off other woes, he was trying to signal Trump the special counsel had evidence that should confirm him, he was indeed a broken man or, the most novel from columnist Ruth Marcus, that he was trying to impeach himself as a witness.
The networks’ handling of this was improper, according to a stinging critique of the coverage on Fox News.
“Liberal news organizations feasted Monday on Sam Nunberg, a clearly distressed, possibly drunk bit-player from the early days of the Trump campaign, as multiple interviews went off the rails and media members took advantage of a clearly fragile man,” Fox’s Brian Flood wrote.
“During the media blitz, Nunberg was allowed to spew distasteful and insensitive remarks about Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, accuse Trump surrogates of extramarital affairs and even refer to Trump as an ‘idiot.’”
Andrew Seaman, the president of the Society of Professional Journalists wrote on his blog that the situation was “complicated” and networks perhaps should have taped the interviews rather than run them live.
“In many cases – including this one, I think journalists can do better,” Seaman wrote.
Jeffrey McCall, a media analyst and journalism ethics guru, told Fox he thought networks should tape interviews rather than run them live.
The interviews “’might have made for sensational and dramatic television,’” McCall said.
“But they were ‘not helpful in terms of providing viewers with information of substance’ and ‘causes credibility problems’ for networks that went all-in on a questionable source.”