How Donald Trump Is Affecting the CNN Brand

By Chris Ariens 

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Six months into the Pres. Donald Trump era Vanity Fair’s Sarah Ellison does a deep dive into CNN and how it remains an irritating obstacle for the commander-in-chief.

“We may look back in five years and find that CNN was fundamentally changed because of Trump,” a CNN employee told Ellison. “Maybe it will turn out that Trump changed the brand. We think we’re the middle. What if there is no middle anymore?”

CNN conducted a brand survey earlier this year and found Trump’s attacks and label of “fake news” didn’t stick with viewers. “I am happy to tell you there has been no diminution whatsoever in the CNN brand,” Zucker told us in February. “The CNN brand is as strong as it’s ever been.”

But at the center of the ongoing “war with the White House,” as Ellison calls it, is AT&T’s proposed $85 billion acquisition of CNN’s parent company Time Warner.

And, in the merger, CNN may be surprisingly vulnerable. “I know the AT&T people. CNN is not why they did this deal,” said one longtime media consultant in Washington. “They would spin him off in a minute,” this person added, referring to [CNN Worldwide president Jeff] Zucker. “They don’t care about him.” Media analysts call the proposed merger a “vertical” deal since it integrates programming and distribution into one shop. Current antitrust law doesn’t give much scrutiny to such deals, provided they do not dampen competition in the market. So it may have been harder, say for 21st Century Fox’s offer for Time Warner to get approval than for AT&T’s, according to multiple industry experts. Regarding the proposed AT&T-Time Warner deal, “I don’t think anyone with clout is opposing this deal,” the media consultant added.

Zucker signed a long-term contract extension last year. “As long as I’m happy, I’ll be here,” he told Variety last August.

But that was several months before Trump took office and made CNN public enemy No. 1. “I think there’s a real chance that Zucker is being forced out,” a CNN staffer told Ellison. “That’s going to blow up this organization like nothing in the history of CNN.”