CNN has changed former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren’s title from “analyst” to “ambassador” when he appears as a guest on the network. Sources knowledgable of the situation told me that the move comes after internal dissent within CNN that Oren’s classification as an “analyst” was not suitable.
CNN spokesperson Edie Emery confirmed the change in an e-mail, though she did not get back to me on whether the change was a result of internal grumbling. “Mr. Oren is no longer appearing as a CNN analyst and instead as a guest. This was at his request,” Emery told me.
One source says that some staffers comfortable with him being an Israeli voice among many other voices were alarmed when he morphed into an “analyst.” Now Oren’s title when he appears at CNN is as a former “ambassador”–the same title CNN used before he signed onto the network as a contributor in January.
It seems that changing Oren’s title back to “ambassador” reflects that Oren’s talking points lined up with what the Israeli government was saying–particularly over the last month as Israel waged an assault on Gaza.
Throughout July, as Israeli bombs blanketed the Gaza Strip, Oren frequently appeared on CNN. Most of the time he was introduced as a “CNN Middle East analyst,” along with being called the former ambassador. But according to transcripts published by LexisNexis, starting on July 29, he began to be referred to only as the “former Israeli ambassador to the U.S”–and not an “analyst.”
In January, CNN announced that Oren would be joining them. The Jerusalem Post reported that Oren “signed a contract with CNN.” It’s unclear what the status of Oren’s contract is today; CNN did not respond to questions about whether Oren was paid and, if he was paid, how much it was.
The New Jersey-born Oren served as Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. from 2009-2013. His joining CNN raised eyebrows among media watchers like The Palestine Center’s Yousef Munayyer, who wrote that having Oren join the team would make CNN’s already lopsided coverage in favor of Israel even worse. In 2012, after another Israeli assault on Gaza, Munayyer published a study showing that CNN had on Israeli government guests much more frequently than Palestinian guests.
Oren had been a frequent guest on CNN long before he was hired in January to provide what he described to the Jerusalem Post as “balanced but insightful commentary on pressing Israeli and Middle East issues.”
But it’s some of his more recent appearances as an “analyst” that have sparked controversy. In May, two Palestinian teenagers were shot dead by Israeli troops while demonstrating on Nakba Day, the day that commemorates Israel’s expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during the wars around the country’s creation. Video cameras captured their deaths, leading to outrage around the world.
When CNN host Wolf Blitzer had Oren on to discuss the killings, the former ambassador and CNN analyst questioned whether the Palestinian teens were really dead. Oren said “we don’t know” for “certain” whether the two boys were killed and said:
The many, many inconsistencies, you see two young people who were supposedly shot, one to the chest, one through the back but they both fall in the same way. They fall forward which is inconsistent with what we know about combat deaths..
The way the bodies fall, the fact that there’s no blood, someone who was hit in the back and a bullet has an exit wound, there is a tremendous amount of bleeding. There’s no bleeding in the picture. There are many, many inconsistencies.
And as we reported here, in July, Oren appeared on Erin Burnett’s show on CNN to discuss whether the network’s coverage of civilian casualties in Gaza was fair. “What Hamas does want to do is drag Israel into a conflict in Gaza to get Israel to kill large numbers of Palestinian civilians,” Oren said. “Journalists quite naturally will want to capture those images. The images are tragic, they are lurid, but they also make headlines.”
In response, CNN’s Karl Penhaul, who reported on the ground in Gaza, said: “I think that any reporter and any of our colleagues would believe that it was obscene to suggest that we are showing the bodies of wounded, the dead and the dying, to make headlines.”