Tucker Carlson examines media titan’s attempts to silence Americans, rid country of free speech
CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker has told staffers of the liberal network that he could move on after this year, triggering speculation about what CNN will look like without Donald Trump at the forefront.
The notoriously hands-on Zucker, who began his career at NBC, rose from researcher all the way to president and CEO of NBC Universal. Along the way, he was largely responsible for increasing Trump’s fame when he greenlit his popular reality show, “The Apprentice.” Zucker ended up atop CNN where he oversaw a shift from a just-the-facts news organization to a left-leaning network that coincided with Trump’s leap from NBC reality TV star to president of the United States.
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CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker benefited from Donald Trump while running two different networks. (Getty Images)
Zucker — who is referred to simply as “JZ” by CNN staffers — rode the ratings success of “The Apprentice” at NBC before launching a crusade against his old pal once he was at CNN. Even liberal Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan pointed out the trend Sunday in a column headlined, “They may be at odds now. But Trump and CNN’s Jeff Zucker have always had one thing in common.”
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Sullivan wrote that Zucker made Trump a “household name” while at NBC and the trend continued once he landed the CNN gig.
“After Zucker moved to the top job at CNN, he, along with others in the media, helped elevate a fringe candidate to the White House. He will forever bear some responsibility for the civic destruction that followed,” Sullivan wrote.
Zucker’s infatuation with Trump was clear quickly, as CNN famously aired Trump’s rallies — often showing an empty podium to tease upcoming events — early in Trump’s 2016 campaign. Zucker’s network eventually turned on Trump and the duo have feuded ever since.
Trump regularly mocked Zucker’s network and often accused CNN of unfair coverage. In turn, Zucker loaded CNN’s lineup with anti-Trump opinion hosts. The network’s former top White House correspondent Jim Acosta regularly prioritized show-boating and quabbling with Trump and his spokespeople over serious questioning.
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DePauw University professor and media critic Jeffrey McCall noted that the ratings at CNN during Zucker’s tenure were “rather weak” and that the traditionally down-the-middle news channel now looks far different for many Americans.
“He politicized the channel beyond what it had been in its heyday. Even CNN founder Ted Turner criticized the channel two years ago for its obsession with politics,” McCall said.
Journalist and Status Coup co-founder Jordan Chariton covered the media industry for much of Zucker’s tenure at CNN. Chariton, who now focuses on progressive causes, closely watched CNN’s evolution away from a nonpartisan news organization.
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“CNN shifted from a more generic news channel to a reactionary, conflict-and-chaos model mostly driven by Trump’s absurd and/or dangerous tweets. With that also came less focus on actual vetting and meticulous reporting in favor of pushing stories like ‘Russian collusion’ based on one or two unnamed sources from the CIA,” Chariton told Fox News.
“Even when those stories were later shown to be unfounded, there were never any corrections or retractions,” Chariton continued. “Ultimately, Zucker is indeed a generic ratings-driven executive who will always choose presenting a political food fight over important stories like the still ongoing Flint water crisis, deepening economic poverty and looming eviction crisis, exploding homelessness and more.”
Zucker’s strategy didn’t always equal success, as CNN’s most popular program in 2020 was “Cuomo Prime Time,” which averaged 1.8 million viewers to finish No. 21 behind 13 different Fox News programs and seven different MSNBC offerings.
CNN saw a ratings bump following Election Day but quickly fell “back to earth” after Inauguration Day, Variety recently reported.
With Trump out of office, Zucker’s network is searching for a new identity but can rely on the second impeachment trial of the now-former president to keep up its anti-Trump coverage. Over the last few weeks, CNN has also focused on attempting to make QAnon and controversial Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., the new faces of the Republican Party.
Media Research Center news analyst Nicholas Fondacaro suggested that Zucker might be aware ratings could dwindle once Trump is out of the picture.
“It’s interesting that Zucker already announced that he’s planning on leaving CNN at the end of the year. Perhaps he suspects that CNN’s rating are going to crater so he’s getting ahead of the executives at Warner or AT&T,” Fondacaro told Fox News.
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Fondacaro feels that Zucker’s legacy will be leaving CNN’s “reputation in tatters” regardless of when he exits the network.
“And not just the reputation of the network but their journalists, as we know Zucker would have a direct hand in the live on-screen product, whispering to the anchors in their earpiece what to ask in interviews,” Fondacaro said, before specifically singling out CNN anchor Jake Tapper.
“As the Trump presidency progressed, we saw Jake Tapper toss out his reputation as an honest newsman in his arrogant quest to become a modern-day Edward R. Murrow. He used to be on my shortlist of reporters I would recommend to my non-political friends,” Fondacaro said. “But Jake has become a political hack of the highest order by using his show to rant, lecture, and amplify his opinion.”
Indeed, Tapper is regularly criticized by conservatives on social media for painting himself as a nonpartisan journalist while regularly tweeting Democratic talking points. Tapper’s evolution mirrors CNN’s pivot away from journalism, according to Fondacaro, who feels it was all part of Zucker’s plan.
“Zucker fostered a newsroom culture that put a heavy value on pushing pure speculation and opinion as newsworthy, and scheduled wall-to-wall coverage based on it,” Fondacaro said.
Former CNN digital producer Steve Krakauer worked closely with Zucker during his time at the network that predated Trump’s 2015 pivot from reality television show host and businessman into presidential hopeful. Krakauer is now the editor of Fourth Watch, and he closely monitors the media.
“I don’t think when Jeff went to CNN in 2013 he would think that he would be so intertwined into Donald Trump, who was his big star at NBC,” Krakauer told Howard Kurtz Sunday on “MediaBuzz.”
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“You have to really think, was it business or was it personal with how the network ended up going over these last four years? Obviously, there was a huge … relationship between them that was completely fractured once that happened, it was very good before, and then all of the sudden, you saw what we got,” Krakauer said, referring to CNN’s relentless anti-Trump coverage.
“Obviously there were some personal elements to that.”
Fox News’ Joseph A. Wulfsohn contributed to this report