CNN Appears to Have Benched Two Pro-Trump Contributors

CNN/HLN
Steve Cortes; Ben Ferguson

Steve Cortes hasn't been seen on the network in more than a month and Ben Ferguson hasn't been on since April, but both are still paid contributors.

CNN president Jeff Zucker is famously committed to ideological diversity. "You can't run a news channel and you can't do a show if you don't talk to all sides," he told The Hollywood Reporter in April.

But two of CNN's most prominent conservative contributors have been absent from the network in recent months. 

Steve Cortes, a prominent surrogate for the Trump campaign in 2016 and "happy warrior" for President Trump, has not appeared on CNN in the U.S. in more than a month. Ben Ferguson, a veteran Republican commentator, has not been on in more than four months, since Apr. 13.

Both men are, to date, still paid CNN contributors, but they appear to have been "benched" by the network — or simply left unbooked by the network's show producers.

While his dry spell dates to before the incident, Cortes came under fire for appearing in a Aug 5. video called "The Charlottesville Hoax" for PragerU that criticized media coverage of Trump's infamous "very fine people" comment.

"They just won't book him," a former CNN contributor said of Cortes. "They'll just pay him. They won't fire him, because that's just blatant. But they won't book him, and they'll tell all the producers not to book him."

A CNN spokesperson did not respond to THR's request for comment, and both Cortes and Ferguson could not be reached for comment.

The absence of Cortes and Ferguson follows the network's decision in early 2019 not to re-new the contracts of two other pro-Trump contributors, former congressman Jack Kingston and former South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer.

At the time, a network source attributed the decision to "the natural churn of contributors," but CNN's stable of pro-Trump contributors has thinned considerably from what it once was.

And Republicans outside the organization have taken notice. "Hard-core conservatives and defenders of the president are disappearing," one prominent GOP'er told THR. "Even the White House has noticed it."

Both Cortes and Ferguson appeared regularly — sometimes nightly — before disappearing from the network in recent months, save for a few appearances on CNN International, which is seen as a less desirable platform domestically.

Ferguson's absence seems to have followed a March 6 story by the progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters for America called "CNN commentator Ben Ferguson’s Facebook page is a cesspool of bigotry, false info and fabricated quotes."

CNN's reliably pro-Trump contributors, which still includes lobbyist David Urban, have long been a point of criticism for detractors.

"There are a few panelists that I've got to skip over," Late Show host Stephen Colbert told Anderson Cooper in an interview this week, singling out Ken Cuccinelli, a former CNN contributor who now works for the Trump administration. "Was there anything you ever asked him that you thought, 'I'm going to get an honest answer?'"