Screenshot: CNN

Former Pennsylvania Senator and onetime GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum is now a “senior political commentator” at CNN, meaning that the network pays him to throw conservative punches during its endless on-air melees. On Sunday morning’s State of the Union, while doing this very job, Santorum made a boneheaded comment about the Parkland shooting victims who marched on Washington over the weekend.

“How about kids, instead of looking to someone else to solve their problem, do something about maybe taking CPR classes or trying to deal with situations where there is a violent shooter that you can actually respond to that,” Santorum said.

Dumb? Extremely. And Santorum didn’t get a chance to explain himself on CNN’s airwaves until Wednesday morning, when Chris Cuomo invited him onto New Day. “The fact of the matter is I did misspeak in using the term ‘CPR,’” Santorum said. His broader point, he added, was that kids should be joining organizations that focus on preventing gun violence. Cuomo then proceeded to argue with Santorum over proper policy responses to mass shootings, claiming all the while that he was not pushing a policy position. There was plenty of crosstalk. Both men were playing their roles. It was classic CNN fare.

But Santorum’s Sunday and Wednesday appearances were mere bookends to the type of larger, self-fulfilling controversy that CNN has managed to perfect. Per network transcripts and the media monitor TVEyes, the “CPR” comment was discussed for days on at least eight different CNN programs, often across multiple blocks, before Santorum and Cuomo went mano a mano:

This is CNN’s model: It hires people like Santorum to be—as network boss Jeff Zucker once put it—“characters in a drama.” Their provocations set off internal content feedback loops that can be milked for days, with the news organization’s anchors nobly crusading on the right side of history. And at the end of it all, everyone collects their checks.