In off the cuff remarks made while taking part in a Harvard University question-and-answer session, CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker suggested embattled NBC News anchor Billy Bush should not necessarily lose his job in the wake of revelations he took part in sexually charged banter with real-estate mogul Donald Trump.
“I don’t know that it’s so clear-cut that he should lose his job,” said Zucker, speaking at a forum organized by the Harvard Institute of Politics, part of the educational institution’s Kennedy School of Government. Bush is in negotiations with NBC News about leaving the Comcast-owned unit after a 2005 outtake from an “Access Hollywood” interview session with Trump was revealed by The Washington Post. Zucker acknowledged that Bush’s behavior on the tape, in which he appears to egg Trump on as the executive made claims about sexually assaulting women, was “boorish,” “juvenile” and “silly.” Representatives for Bush were not able to offer immediate comment on the status of Bush’s discussions with NBC.
“My gut would have been to put that story on the air” as soon as possible, Zucker said, an admonishment of sorts to NBC News, which was scooped by the Post as it worked to vet the story with attorneys and discussed whether “Access Hollywood” should be able to broadcast it first. The Washington newspaper, said Zucker, “deserves a tremendous amount of credit.”
Zucker’s comments came as part of a wide-ranging conversation that covered the evolution of CNN’s strategic direction since Zucker, the former chief executive of NBCUniversal. In conversation with journalist Lois Romano, Zucker said CNN has relied more heavily on original series and digging in deep on the biggest story of the news cycle, rather than hewing to a traditional cable-news broadcast that attempts to cover ten or more stories per programming cycle. “We were not covering any less news. We were just putting it in different places,” Zucker said.
And he took some time to address perceptions that CNN played a significant role in helping Trump, now the Republican nominee for President, gain traction with voters. “We recognized much earlier than most that there was a little bit of a phenomenon, and we recognized there was something going on with him,” said Zucker. With that said, the executive added, Trump was quick to give interviews early in the political cycle, while other candidates from both parties were not. The only mistake Zucker thinks CNN could have made is showing too many of Trump’s early rallies unfiltered. “You never knew what he was going to say. You never knew what was going to happen there,” said Zucker.