Jeff Zucker When Asked About Mayoral Aspirations: ‘I Always Like a Challenge;’ CNBC Prime Time Could Go Conservative Opinion

By A.J. Katz 

New York Times media columnist Ben Smith included a variety of interesting TV news tidbits in his latest column, published yesterday.

On various occasions over the years, WarnerMedia news and sports chairman and CNN president Jeff Zucker has been asked if he’d consider entering politics in the future. He has never completely ruled it out. In this recent NYT piece, Smith asks Zucker about the position of New York City mayor. The CNN chief remarked, “I always like a challenge.” Take that as you will.

Smith writes:


Four years ago, he told me he was considering a future in politics. On Thursday, I asked him whether he was interested in the most obvious role, which will be open next year in a city aching for leadership: mayor of New York.

He paused, and said he didn’t want his answer to cause a storm of news.

Then, he said, “New York City is going to need a very strong mayor in the aftermath of this, and I always like a challenge.”

Smith also reports that incoming NBCUniversal chairman Jeff Shell has expressed an interest in transforming CNBC prime time into a conservative talk block, in the form of what Fox News currently has. CNBC has traditionally aired nonscripted programming with a business theme. But that might change, according to Smith’s reporting. Former Telemundo chairman Cesar Conde is stepping into the role of NBC News Group chairman, and will have oversight of the the financial news network. Apparently, he has yet to describe his vision for the news division.

Mr. Conde’s boss, the new NBCUniversal chief executive, Jeff Shell, has suggested in private conversation that he wants to make a more dramatic change at the company’s other cable news network, CNBC, two NBCUniversal executives said. Mr. Shell, the two executives said, is considering turning the network’s prime-time hours, currently occupied by “Shark Tank” reruns and business-focused reality programming like “The Profit,” over to right-wing talk shows. A similar plan was floated years ago—a development executive even met with the talk-radio flamethrower Mark Levin, a CNBC executive said. But it could allow Comcast to extend an olive branch to Mr. Trump and his avid supporters.

CNBC has not responded to a request for comment.

Smith reports that Fox Corp. has begun to build “a secret operation,” hiring two former reporters for the conservative Washington Free Beacon, Elliott Schwartz and Alex Griswold (Schwartz had also run Jeb Bush’s campaign “war room”), “whose job is to defend Fox from criticism from progressive outlets like Media Matters and Sleeping Giants on social media, protect advertising dollars and discredit critics, three people familiar with the work said.”

Smith also reports that the Fox Corp. executive team feels widespread criticism of Fox News’ coronavirus coverage “has stung hosts and alienated advertisers,” adding:

But it also seems a kind of ineffectual, corporate re-enactment of Mr. [Roger] Ailes’s once-feared opposition-research tactics, which included private detectives, aggressive hunts for leaks and smear campaigns against reporters. The new Fox executive team shares Mr. Ailes’s ambitions, but doesn’t seem to have the stomach for his tactics.