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Sam Nunberg's Spectacle Prompts an Ethical Debate

Critics wonder whether hosts exploited a vulnerable guest; he plans to get treatment
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 6, 2018 11:30 AM CST

(Newser) – It's not often that a news host feels compelled to ask a guest if he's been drinking, but that bizarre scenario unfolded Monday night as former Trump aide Sam Nunberg made the rounds of cable shows to complain about Robert Mueller's subpoena of him. On Tuesday, Charlie Gasparino of Fox Business Network tweeted that Nunberg now plans to fully cooperate with Mueller and will "go get treatment following his grand jury appearance on Friday." The entire spectacle has some wondering whether media outlets exploited an apparently vulnerable guest:

  • The worry: "I know it's compelling to watch Sam's bizarre interviews right now ... but I'm actually concerned that someone I've known a long time is not okay," tweeted SE Cupp of HLN on Monday.
  • One critique: "This is one of the reasons America hates the media," write Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei at Axios. "Our entire industry lit itself on fire because a troubled Trump hanger-on made an ass of himself—live."

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  • A question: Media writer Brian Stelter of CNN writes that an "ethical debate is raging in journalism circles" as a result of the Nunberg circus. "If your source seems drunk or drugged or just plain out of his mind, what is your responsibility?" Stelter notes that several interviewers gave Nunberg ample opportunity to tone things down and seemed concerned about his personal welfare.
  • Not so unusual? One journalist who has known Nunberg for a while is McKay Coppins of the Atlantic, who spoke to Nunberg himself Monday. "I won't venture a guess as to which theory best explains his actions," writes Coppins. "But as anyone who's known Nunberg for a while can attest, his behavior Monday doesn't necessarily require special explanation. He's been pulling stunts like this for years—this is just the first time he's gotten the kind of audience he's always craved."
  • Nunberg's stance: "I'm not having a meltdown," he told Yahoo News Monday night. "In fact, I'm the first person ever standing up for themselves.” Toward the end of the interview, he exulted in one aspect of his day: "No. 1 on Twitter!" he yelled.
  • Roger Stone connection? Aaron Blake of the Washington Post runs through some theories of his own, noting that Nunberg is a "close ally" of Roger Stone, who's known for antics of his own. "Indeed, Nunberg did little to suggest Monday that this wasn't some Stone-orchestrated scene," writes Blake. "He repeatedly talked about how he felt Mueller was targeting Stone for alleged collusion with WikiLeaks, and he repeatedly argued that Stone was innocent. Despite plenty of inconsistencies in his appearances, this was one point he kept coming back to."
  • Who is Nunberg? CNN has background on Nunberg, an attorney, including his tumultuous history with President Trump.
  • Colbert can't resist: Stephen Colbert devoted much of his monologue to Nunberg, which you can see here. He said Nunberg "took over cable news like a car chase." Referring to Nunberg daring Mueller to arrest him, Colbert mused, "You know Mueller can arrest you, right? That's like saying 'Eat me' to Hannibal Lecter."
(Read more Sam Nunberg stories.)

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