Former CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien calls out network for hiring 'hot mess' Sean Duffy

Raechal Shewfelt
Editor, Yahoo Entertainment

Count journalist Soledad O’Brien among the many who disapprove of CNN’s hiring of Sean Duffy as a conservative contributor.

During a Friday visit to BUILD Series in New York City, O’Brien, who’s a former CNN anchor herself, was asked about her take on the network’s hiring last month of someone that she, as host Ricky Camilleri phrased it, doesn’t “see as particularly fit to be an on-air pundit.” O’Brien had shared a quick take on Twitter that made it clear she has a strong opinion.

Cut back to BUILD and, yep, O’Brien continued to be adamant: “That’s many words to say Sean Duffy is a hot mess.”

The one-time Real World: Boston star joined CNN in October, a month after resigning from his seat repping Wisconsin in the U.S. House of Representatives, in order to spend more time with his family. He and his wife of 20 years, fellow Real World alum and Fox News contributor Rachel Campos-Duffy, now share nine children. On Oct. 7, they announced the birth of their youngest, a baby girl named Valentina, who was born with Down Syndrome and with two holes in her heart that will require surgery.

Duffy was criticized by more than O’Brien. In October, CNN commentator Jen Psaki, a former communications director in the Obama White House, accused him of trotting out an “absurd conspiracy theory” and being “factually wrong” about suggesting that, in 2016, Ukraine hacked the Democratic National Committee’s email server, according to the Daily Beast. (What he alleged had been proven untrue by CNN’s own reporting.)

The same month, Duffy was criticized for speaking out against Army Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, alleging that Vindman might have testified to House impeachment investigators in a way that’s unfavorable to President Donald Trump, because he’s not loyal to the United States. (Vindman was born in Ukraine, but moved to America when he was 3. He’s now a Ukraine expert on the National Security Council.)

O’Brien said cable news in general has changed, and not for the better, since she left CNN in 2013.

“You didn’t have what they have now, which, I think, is to set up ‘this vs. that’ fighting,” O’Brien said of her time on CNN. “What Sean Duffy said was despicable about this gentleman who was testifying and completely without evidence at all, right?

“And, also, we didn’t have people who you were hired by the network, who are on specifically in order to be kind of bomb throwers into the conversation. We actually had a very strong Standards and Practices team. He wouldn’t be asked back, but also you would be hauled in to Standards and Practices.”

O’Brien said she was once hauled into the department because another woman named Soledad had donated to a political campaign. They wanted to make sure it wasn’t her.

“There was a real sense of watching what your anchors did and said to make sure that you were controlling how the platform operated,” O’Brien said. “It’s more of a free for all now. I think that’s problematic. I think when you’re paying someone who’s saying despicable things, that’s hugely problematic.”

O’Brien said that her most recent show, Matter of Fact with Soledad O’Brien, has different rules.

“I like experts. The show we do, if you’re not an expert in climate change, you don’t get to come on the air and talk about climate change,” she said. “If you’re not an expert in science, you don’t get to talk about science. It’s not brain surgery. It’s just giving the platform to experts.”

O’Brien’s latest project, Hungry to Learn, is a documentary about college students so broke from paying tuition that they can’t afford to eat.

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