Jeff Zucker on Trump Rise: ‘The Front-Runner Is Always Going to Get a Disproportionate Amount of Attention’

By Chris Ariens 

Does CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker feel responsible for the rise of Donald Trump?

“I don’t, because he has been the front-runner of the Republican party since he announced last June,” said Zucker during an intimate lunch meeting with reporters today. Just as Hillary Clinton got the lion’s share of attention in the Democratic race early on, “the front-runner of the party is always going to get a disproportionate amount of attention,” he said.

Zucker also says Trump “has been much more available than many of the others who have been or are still in the race. Just because he says ‘yes’ and has subjected himself to those interviews, and [other candidates] don’t, I’m not going to penalize him for saying ‘yes.'”


Zucker says there are open invitations to all the candidates, in some cases, from him personally.

“At the debate down in Miami, I spoke to [Ted] Cruz’s four top aides, and offered them numerous options to come on for one-hour interviews, phone calls, town halls, etc. They all said, ‘yes yes, we want to do that.’ And then when we followed up with the invitation, it’s all ‘no.’ My point is, you can’t have it both ways. So I actually reject that premise that we’ve given too much attention to him.”

“He’s not proactively calling. We come to all the candidates,” added Zucker, who, as president of NBC Entertainment in 2003, gave Trump his first network TV show with The Apprentice.

The gathering, set up by CNN’s parent company Turner to discuss the current business trends at all properties, was attended by Adweek’s Jason Lynch.

Given that he was in front of a group of reporters, Zucker didn’t miss a chance to take a shot at Shane Smith, co-founder of Vice, which recently launched cable channel Viceland. You may recall, Smith had been talking with Time Warner about taking over HLN. At the time, Smith called it “a distressed media asset.”

After discussing politics and today’s CNN digital news, Zucker added, “Somebody should ask me how Viceland is doing.”

Someone did, to which Zucker responded: “Not very well!”