Jeff Zucker said he would answer questions all day long about CNN’s relationship with, and coverage of, Pres. Donald Trump. But at a press lunch with other Turner executives, Zucker began his remarks talking about the decision by Venezuela to pull CNN en Español off the air.
“That’s an attack on the freedom of the press, everywhere,” said Zucker who explained the government pulled the network because of this year-long investigation. “Now they’ve taken CNN en Español off the air,” he said, adding that the government is also threatening to take down other feeds and streams of CNN. “That’s what happens when an authoritarian regime starts taking down feeds and blocking websites, just because we exposed the truth,” he said.
After Turner CEO John Martin gave a state of the company, laying out his 2017 goals, Zucker, along with Turner president David Levy and Turner International exec Giorgio Stock talked about their divisions. By the time it was opened up for questions, most went to Zucker and most were about Trump.
Zucker revealed that in January, the network conducted its “biggest brand survey that we’ve ever done” to determine whether the label Trump has given it, “fake news,” is sticking with viewers. “I am happy to tell you there has been no diminution whatsoever in the CNN brand,” he said. “The CNN brand is as strong as it’s ever been.” He said the company will look to share those results publicly.
Asked about whether CNN and other networks have a responsibility to try and close the national divide, Zucker said, “Our only responsibility is to tell the truth. Our only responsibility is to put the facts out there. We can’t make people believe something if they’re inclined not to.”
CNN is coming off its biggest ratings year ever, as well as its biggest ad revenue year, “by a long shot,” Levy said. And the eternally optimistic Zucker said 2017 is poised to be even bigger.
As for programming, the CNN Worldwide chief lauded the gains of Reliable Sources, as well as New Day which he said is “on fire” and is set to beat MSNBC’s Morning Joe for February, it’s third monthly win in the last four months.
“Morning Joe gets a lot of attention but it’s completely disproportionate to the pounding that New Day is giving it,” said Zucker, who also singled out Jake Tapper for his work at the network.
“It’s worth noting that you see all of Turner up here and it would be hard to argue that there’s two fresher, newer, bigger personalities in all of television right now, than Samantha Bee and Jake Tapper on the news side.”
The event wrapped up just after 1 p.m. At that point Zucker got word that Pres. Trump was holding a news conference, and dashed out of the Porter House Grill, where the event was held. He returned to CNN’s newsroom in time to hear Trump mention him by name.
After calling on CNN’s Jim Acosta, Trump said sarcastically, “Ask Jeff Zucker how he got his job.” Zucker famoulsy hired Trump as the host of The Apprentice in 2004. Since then, Trump has taken credit for helping Zucker land his job at CNN in 2013.