In an interview with “The New Yorker Radio Hour” broadcast over the weekend, CNN president Jeff Zucker derided Fox News as a propaganda outlet for the Trump administration, while claiming his own network was the only cable news outlet broadcasting “the truth.”
Asked for his assessment of the cable news landscape in the era of President Trump, Zucker began his reply by saying: “Obviously Fox News is, uh,” then paused for more than 11 seconds. “So, look, there’s three cable news networks. Certainly in primetime and in the morning, Fox is state-run TV and is extolling the line out of the White House.”
A spokeswoman for Fox did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Zucker said MSNBC “has become the opposition” and CNN “is seeking the truth.”
“Do you think the other two networks are not broadcasting the truth?” the New Yorker’s David Remnick asked.
“Well, I think that there are clear agendas at work at the other cable news networks depending on their political points of view,” Zucker replied.
CNN and other mainstream media outlets have been branded by Trump as “fake news” — a term Zucker would like to see banished.
“I think it’s an unfortunate phrase,” he said. “I think we should all try to avoid it. I think it’s also dangerous and unfortunate that the president of the United States and the people around him would try and denigrate an institution like the media, which is one of the bedrocks of this country.”
Zucker said there is a legitimate problem with “news that isn’t real,” invented either to advance a political agenda or just as clickbait to sell advertising — something Facebook and other online publishers have been grappling with since last year’s presidential campaign. But what Trump means by “fake news,” Zucker noted, “is news he doesn’t like — and there is a difference between news that is not real and news that he doesn’t like.”
The former NBC chief, who is credited, in part, with launching Trump’s television career with “The Apprentice,” said it’s always been clear that Trump is an entertainer who “knows how to work an audience.” But Zucker did not at all foresee Trump’s political success.
“There’s no way I or anyone else back in 2004, when ‘The Apprentice’ went on the air, would have predicted that Donald Trump would end up as president of the United States,” Zucker said. “I never had political conversations with him, ever. We had conversations about the ratings of ‘The Apprentice’ and how much [money] he was going to make doing ‘The Apprentice.’
“We ended up paying him what we wanted to pay him,” Zucker recalled. “He wanted a million dollars an episode to do ‘The Apprentice’ in the second year.”
Zucker said the network agreed to pay Trump $60,000 per episode for that season.
“But it worked out for everybody,” he said.
Zucker now admits that CNN’s decision to air many of Trump’s rallies during his 2016 campaign in full and unedited was a mistake.
“I think, in hindsight, if we could go back, we probably wouldn’t do all those,” Zucker said. “I think we probably did do too many of them. I do not think that’s why he’s president of the United States. I do not believe that’s why he won the Republican nomination.”
According to Zucker, the reason for Trump’s success lies in his rabid fan base.
“The people who voted for Donald Trump, the people who support Donald Trump, they understand he was a businessman,” Zucker said. “He did things, he said things — they may not be what we’re used to. They’re OK with it. They’re OK with it because they’re completely not OK with Washington. And all they wanted was somebody to go to Washington and actually just create havoc.”
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