CNN President Jeff Zucker took aim at US President Donald Trump’s war against the media Tuesday morning at the Innovative TV Conference in Jerusalem, but barely addressed the international media’s bias against Israel.
Zucker spoke with Channel 2 anchor Yonit Levi following a blistering speech from Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan which blasted how the press skews reporting about Israel’s ongoing conflict with the Palestinians.
While the news executive largely dodged that elephant in the room, he had much to say about Trump’s denunciations of “fake news,” and declaration that mainstream media is “the enemy of the people.”
Although his relationship with Trump dates back to the one-time hit reality TV show The Apprentice
, which Zucker green-lit for NBC in 2004, the CNN head said the two have become adversaries since Trump singled out CNN as a purveyor of lies against him.
“I think this is an extraordinary time in journalism, and I think it’s an incredibly important time,” said Zucker, noting that the network has harnessed record ratings and profits since Trump took center stage.
“It’s incredibly dangerous and unprecedented that Trump is calling the media ‘the enemy of the people,’ and it’s important for us not to be intimidated by it, and not to back off in any way,” he continued. “I think it’s our responsibility in the media to hold those in power accountable, and that’s what we’ll continue to do.”
Zucker added that it is “shocking to watch many members of the political establishment in Washington not stand up to [Trump’s] allegations.”
“We’re just doing our jobs, and we will keep doing our job,” he said.
While Zucker said he would not comment directly on specific threats against journalists at CNN, he noted that ensuring the safety of reporters across the world is a top priority during Trump’s tenure.
In terms of the US president’s delegitimization campaign against all media outlets that do not support him, Zucker conceded that it has engendered short-term damage, but added that he does not believe it will create permanent harm.
“I don’t think it undermines our democracy, but it certainly doesn’t help it,” he said.
Despite being barred from White House briefings and having questions ignored entirely by the president and press secretary, Zucker said the network remains resolute in its ongoing coverage, and even described the alienation as “liberating.”
“Honestly, it doesn’t bother us,” he said. “Because all it does is force us to continue to do our jobs and continue to report the facts... The fact that they don’t want to provide any access frees you up to just do your job and not worry about anything like that.”
“Listen,” he added, “CNN’s viewership has never been higher, CNN’s place in the world has never been more important, and our journalism has never been better. Whatever they want to do, that’s fine.”
While Zucker said he understands that Trump is “playing to his base,” he nonetheless noted that his approval ratings are at record lows for a president at this point in his term.
He added that Trump is a master manipulator at changing narratives to suit his purposes.
“There’s no question that when there is news they do not like, or want to comment on, he will try to change the narrative by creating a different story line by attacking the ‘failing media,’ as he sees it,” he said.
Still, Zucker said the press has adapted to the maneuver, and is now less likely to “chase the balls and shiny objects” Trump throws.
“I think everyone is pretty aware of what he’s doing when he does that,” he said.
Although Erdan made clear his distaste of the international media’s bias against Israel before Zucker spoke, the CNN head did not wade into the waters of the geopolitical conflict, despite ongoing claims by government officials that the network presents dangerously skewed coverage.
Asked by Levi if there is any truth to the criticism, Zucker was circumspect.
“Look, I understand what Minister Erdan is saying and that’s his perspective, and I think that he is certainly entitled to that opinion, and I appreciate that,” he said. “I do think that as we cover the story of Israel, everything can’t be seen just through the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and I think that for too long that’s the lens through which everything has been viewed.
“I think that we have to be conscious that there are always two sides to a story, and I just encourage our folks all the time to make sure that we are providing the full context of what happens.”
Zucker added: “Do I think we are perfect? We are not perfect. I don’t think anyone can claim perfection. But, it is important for us to provide the full context.”