What is the bottom-line, when a subject journalism is supposed to watch & report on critically, turns out to be the one saving your news unit? What is the relationship between CNN and Trump? And what is the bottom-line, between a corporate news unit need to make profit and survive and their responsibility to society as a news unit?
New York Times Report:
CNN Had a Problem. Donald Trump Solved It.
Inside the strange symbiosis between Jeff Zucker and the president he helped create.
At 3:58 on a recent Wednesday afternoon in Washington, CNN’s largest control room was mostly empty but for a handful of producers hunched over control panels and, hovering behind them, a short, barrel-shaped, restless-looking man in a dark pinstriped suit and open white dress shirt: the president of CNN Worldwide, Jeff Zucker.
Zucker had spent most of the day holed up in a conference room, prepping two anchors who would be moderating a CNN Town Hall on Obamacare that night. Right now, though, his mind was elsewhere. It was two minutes until airtime for “The Lead With Jake Tapper,” and Tapper’s featured guest was the President Trump counselor and noted CNN adversary Kellyanne Conway.
Conway’s last interview on CNN, about a month earlier, had generated fireworks; she and Anderson Cooper spent nearly 25 minutes arguing about CNN’s report on the secret dossier of Trump’s ties to Russia. (Conway: “I know CNN is feeling the heat today, but I’m gracious enough to come —” Cooper: “I think you guys are feeling the heat.”) The tension between Conway and the network had since become a kind of B story in the larger narrative of Trump’s ongoing war with CNN, which the president had taken to characterizing as “fake news.” In response to calls for media outlets to boycott her, Conway told The Hollywood Reporter that she could “put my shoes and pantyhose back on and go on any show at any time.” And yet, when the White House offered Conway for Tapper’s Sunday morning talk show, CNN declined, questioning her credibility.
But that was a few days ago.
“She looks shiny to me,” one of the producers said as Conway’s face appeared on a feed from the South Lawn of the White House. “Do they have powder out there?”
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“Don’t worry about it,” Zucker assured him. “She looks fine.”
The monitor next to Conway’s featured a close shot of Tapper, starting his show in the studio down the hall. His opening line, a lightly self-deprecating reference to Trump’s latest howler — “President Trump says the media doesn’t report terrorist attacks. Wait, I thought he watched a lot of cable news?” — brought a smile to Zucker’s face. He was soon chuckling and then laughing out loud as Tapper unspooled a few more one-liners before introducing the main event: “Joining me now live from the White House, counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway.”
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Zucker, now 51, became the executive producer of NBC’s “Today” show at the almost unheard-of age of 26 and eventually took over the entire network. Along the way, he survived two bouts of colon cancer and Bell’s palsy, was blamed for killing quality television and has been accused of enabling the rise of Donald Trump. But he still loves TV. And he especially loves the adrenaline rush of producing live television. It’s a job that demands a unique kind of situational awareness: You are guiding the unscripted scene unfolding on the bank of monitors in front of you, shaping the event in real time to maximize the emotional impact of the moment.
“Stay on your doubles!” Zucker said to the director. “Stay, stay.”
Tapper had just shown a montage of various CNN correspondents covering a number of the very terrorist attacks that Trump claimed the media hadn’t reported and had asked Conway to explain the contradiction. Zucker didn’t want the director to abandon the split screen and zoom in on Conway — and thus miss Tapper’s facial expressions as she tried to respond. While Conway spoke, CNN trolled the Trump administration with a chyron: “CNN EXTENSIVELY COVERED MANY ATTACKS ON WH LIST.”
As Tapper cross-examined Conway — “the White House is waging war on people who are providing information” — Zucker paced behind the show’s production team like a coach on the sidelines, his hands alternately stuffed into his pockets, pressed up against the sides of his bald head, then squeezing the shoulder of one of the producers seated in front of him.
CNN’s Washington bureau chief, Sam Feist, told Zucker that the interview had been going for six minutes, the length they agreed to with the White House.
“Fine,” Zucker said. “Go 12.”
The director was again preparing to cut away from Tapper to focus on Conway, this time as she explained that the administration had “a very high respect for the truth.”
“Hey, doubles!” Zucker said. “Doubles.”
Zucker prodded a producer to pass along a question to Tapper through his earpiece: “Have you guys ever made any mistakes?”
Tapper obliged, with a slight rephrase: “Have you or President Trump ever said anything incorrect?” Feist, meanwhile, was staring at his phone, looking agitated. He was receiving unhappy texts from a CNN producer at the White House.