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CNN Reporter’s ‘Analysis’ of Harris Is One Long Press Release

Tobias Hoonhout

A national political “reporter” for CNN has published a string of glowing stories in the wake of Joe Biden’s selection of Kamala Harris as his running mate, marking a stark departure from her treatment of Sarah Palin’s 2008 run.

Maeve Reston, who frequently publishes “analysis” pieces for CNN that are not cast as opinion, has been unrelenting in her praise for the Harris pick.

On Wednesday, she published a piece titled “Harris pick recasts Democratic power structure for years to come.” The analysis piece praised the California senator for having been “vetted and tested through the rigors of the campaign trail in her own White House bid” and touted her as “a charismatic Black woman who could speak personally to the racial injustices that have surged to the forefront of America’s consciousness.”

While Reston did call Harris a selection that “defies easy definition,” she made no mention of Harris’s struggles in the Democratic primary, which led her to drop out before her home state’s primary, or her mixed record as a prosecutor, which included an attempt to block the use of DNA evidence in the case of a death-row inmate who claims he was framed for murder.

And in a piece published Thursday, which analyzed Harris’s opening speech as the vice presidential candidate, Reston gushed that “Kamala Harris just showed why Biden chose her as his running mate.”

She described Harris’s speech, which contained a number of misleading or inaccurate statements, as “shredding” President Trump’s record while “gliding past” the president’s “sexist depictions of her as ‘mean’ and ‘nasty.’” (The Washington Post pointed out Wednesday that Trump has called both men and women “nasty” in equal proportion.)

The piece contains one small caveat — “Harris has sometimes struggled to hold the energy of a room or to sustain the cheers that are so important in maintaining a candidate’s momentum” — only for Reston to dismiss it.

“That was not an issue Wednesday in the nearly empty gym,” she explains.

Reston also narrates a nearly 14-minute video for CNN on Harris’s career, which weaves in interviews with some of Harris’s friends and past co-workers. The profile includes some commentary from Reston and offers few criticisms. One segment describes Harris’s decision as San Francisco district attorney to refuse to seek the death penalty in the shooting of police officer Isaac Espinosa, after she ran on a promise never to use it.

“She took it from all sides on that case,” Reston says, describing how Senator Dianne Feinstein called for the death penalty in the case. “ . . . Kamala Harris stood her ground.”

What the video does not mention is that, in 2014, Harris appealed a California judge’s decision that the state’s death penalty was unconstitutional. “It is not supported by the law, and it undermines important protections that our courts provide to defendants,” Harris said of the ruling at the time.

A small segment of the video mentions that Harris was “faulted for fighting to uphold cases where there had been wrongful convictions.” But Reston, without providing details, adds that Harris “did a lot of work, both on her presidential campaign and over the last year, to try to address that distrust in the black community.”

The coverage differs sharply in style from Reston’s previous work at the Los Angeles Times, where, as a reporter during the 2008 presidential race, she covered Sarah Palin’s run as the first woman on a Republican presidential ticket from a much more professional standard.

In a piece published shortly after Palin was announced, Reston reported with a colleague that while Palin “has solid conservative credentials,” her relative inexperience are “facts that Democrats were quick to criticize.”

“In her rollout speech, Palin did not take on the traditional role of a vice presidential candidate, that of a political attack dog,” the article added, and included a number of factoids about the buildup to then candidate John McCain’s decision.

A piece published four days later asked further questions about Palin’s vetting process, describing the choice as one that had turned “politically perilous,” and quoted a number of strategists who described the process.

And in a solo piece published Oct. 2, 2008, Reston wrote that “Palin’s star power appears to have faded” entering the vice-presidential debate against Joe Biden, citing poll numbers and quoting voters worried about her lack of experience, while adding the caveat that “Palin has exhibited a rare ability to establish an emotional connection with Republican women who flock to her rallies.”

Considering the adversarial, albeit nuanced, coverage of Palin, it’s unclear at what point exactly Reston’s approach to reporting changed so drastically.

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