Ryan Zinke can’t win for losing. Not if CNN has a say in it.

The plight of the current secretary of the interior (pictured above) was a topic of hot debate Tuesday night on “The Ingraham Angle.”  Los Angeles civil rights attorney and talk-radio host Leo Terrell, along with Horace Cooper, a Washington, D.C.-based senior fellow with the National Center for Public Policy Research and co-chairman of the Project 21 National Advisory Board, joined Fox News host Laura Ingraham on the program.

“It seems like Zinke is being offered on the altar of political correctness here,” said Ingraham. “If you hire the best people, of course you’re going to get a diverse workplace, because we think everybody from every background is smart, and they have merit, and they’ll be hired,” said Ingraham.

“Yet it became a lightning rod,” the host continued, “that basically Zinke’s racist. If you look through all the verbiage, Zinke’s racist.”

Terrell disagreed — and with such passion that he repeatedly interrupted the host and fellow panelist to express his point of view on the subject. (See the clip from the program below.)

“This is an administration that does not have people of color … If he [Zinke] has the best and the brightest, why does he have to say, ‘We don’t have to worry about diversity’?” Terrell responded.

“The people [Zinke] has actually put in place are very, very talented individuals,” countered Cooper. “The Bureau of Reclamation, the first woman was named there. The secretary of insular affairs is a Puerto Rican. The first assistant secretary there, they named a Native American … There are a plethora of individuals who were named because they were talented, and it turned out they ended up being minorities.”

Terrell then asked for EEOC data on the department’s hiring practices. “The Ingraham Angle” provided a graphic displaying the racial breakdown of employees within the Department of Interior and within the federal government as a whole. When Terrell expressed dissatisfaction with the disproportionate numbers of minorities — Ingraham noted that the graphics contained the racial breakdowns that existed during the Obama administration.

In a nutshell, the issue the panel explored was whether the most well-qualified person for the job should be hired regardless of a person’s race, gender, or other minority status. Should hiring, in other words, be done on a merit-based system?

The argument against hiring the most well-qualified person regardless of minority status is that a meritocracy system can disenfranchise minorities — meaning that the establishment and maintenance of a diverse workforce is itself an important hiring goal. So much so, that at times, hiring a less qualified person who would make the workforce more diverse can be the better choice.

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But the situation with Secretary Zinke has an additional twist. On Monday, CNN reported that anonymous sources said Zinke had repeatedly downplayed the importance of diversity in staffing matters.

The tweet for the story, taken only at face value, made Zinke look a little sketchy, particularly to those who value diversity over meritocracy in terms of hiring priorities. And it looked sketchy enough that folks on social media jumped all over it. No big surprise there.

Technically — if you’re willing to trust that CNN’s sources were reliable (and more on this later) — the tweet was true. However, when taken in context, the meaning of the tweet is turned on its head.

If readers actually clicked through and read the full story, CNN offered a tidbit of context that provided a lot more perspective, as The Washington Free Beacon explained.

Unlike what CNN’s tweet alone led readers to believe, Secretary Zinke reportedly also noted his intention to ensure his staff was the most diverse to date.

Specifically, the secretary, when offering the alleged sentiments that were dismissive of diversity, followed with, “Something along the lines of, ‘What’s important is having the right person for the right job,’ or ‘I care about excellence, and I’m going to get the best people, and you’ll find we have the most diverse group anyone’s ever had,'” per CNN’s longer form coverage — which was updated late Tuesday afternoon.

So even though Zinke said that he values a merit-based system and that a well-run, merit-based system would lead to a diverse workforce — he still got zinged for it.

And as if this whole mess weren’t complicated enough, Zinke’s office has denied the anonymous comments CNN cited, The Washington Free Beacon also reported.

Taken as a whole, this almost leads one to believe that CNN may have it out for the man.

“As a woman who has worked for him for a number of years in senior positions, I say without a doubt this claim is untrue, and I am hopeful that they are a result of a misunderstanding and not a deliberate mistruth,” Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift told The Beacon.

Taken as a whole, this almost leads one to believe that CNN may have it out for the man — that no matter what he said about valuing both merit-based hiring and pursing a diverse workforce, for example, that he would be attacked for it.

But no, that couldn’t possibly be it, could it? Because that would be presumptuous, partisan, and downright deceptive. . .

Michele Blood is a Flemington, New Jersey-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to LifeZette.

(photo credit, homepage image: Ryan Zinke, CC BY-SA 2.0, by Gage Skidmore; photo credit, article image: Ryan Zinke, CC BY-SA 2.0, by Gage Skidmore)