Where do you go after the man you made a reality TV star becomes President and turns on you? Perhaps you try to take his job. CNN’s Jeff Zucker hinted as much in a conversation with Democratic kingmaker David Axelrod.
Zucker, who launched Trump’s TV career with ‘The Apprentice’ while running NBC, drops his bombshell in the last few minutes of an interview that otherwise rehashed his “meteoric” rise as a media executive. “I still harbor somewhere in my gut that I’m still very interested in politics,” he said.
Axelrod teased a little more information out of the CNN president – he had turned down a position with Al Gore’s campaign in the past, and had always harbored a desire to run for office, apparently – before joking that he might “know somebody” who could help Zucker out. Axelrod, of course, is best known as the strategist behind Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, almost singlehandedly propelling an unknown junior Senator from Chicago into a beloved president with a massive cult following, based on little more than a four-letter slogan in 2008.
Zucker has dropped few hints before that he might have ambitions beyond CNN, but he was quick to blame the president after a bomb-like device appeared at the network’s New York offices last month, blaming his former employee’s rhetoric for putting reporters’ “safety” at risk, and seems to harbor residual guilt at his role in pushing Trump into the spotlight.
Using the interview as a chance to test out campaign-ready soundbytes, Zucker told Axelrod, “I think that our job at CNN is to tell the truth, and to stand on the side of pro-truth.” Leaving the listener to wonder if any news broadcaster has ever come out as “pro-lie,” Zucker took a dig at his favorite target: “I do understand that sometimes when you’re pro-truth it comes off as anti-Trump.”
CNN has been blamed for giving oxygen to the Trump wildfire in the early days of the 2016 campaign, and Zucker alternated between defending his coverage and claiming he was only doing what his competitors were doing. “I recognized his popular appeal – I understood there was something about Trump and his character that was popular and I thought would work, and I do think that’s one of the reasons that I had CNN pay attention right away to Donald Trump, because I think if you look back, most national news media organizations didn’t take it very seriously.”
Axelrod didn’t let that statement go unchallenged, countering that “some would argue it’s a chicken and egg thing.”
Zucker got defensive, trying on an air of Trumpian defiance. “I’m not going to apologize…we’ve never been above what the audience is interested in. I think this idea that you should only feed the audience spinach, and you should tell them what’s important – I reject that.”
“You cannot pretend we’re not a business. And by the way, doing journalism costs money. It costs a lot of money.”
He’s starting to sound presidential already.