There’s has been a good deal of speculation in recent months that CNN Worldwide chief Jeff Zucker may leave CNN at some point in the near future.
The Wall Street Journal published a piece in October titled, CNN President Jeff Zucker Faces What Might Be His Last Lap.
Today, Vanity Fair’s Joe Pompeo is reporting that according to a source of his, “there’s talk in the upper ranks of WarnerMedia that Zucker is expected to leave CNN in the first quarter of 2021.”
Pompeo adds that Zucker has more than a year left on his current contract. He re-signed in spring 2018.
Zucker’s exit (if it indeed does happen after the inauguration) would be stunning for CNN and the entire television news industry.
His run as CNN Worldwide CEO started in January 2013, and after a relatively slow start, his leadership has helped the network achieve record ratings in recent years. In fact, CNN was the No. 1 television network during election week 2020, and averaged its largest audience for a week since launching 40 years ago.
However, CNN’s (and MSNBC’s) ratings will most certainly drop once Biden is inaugurated, as the network’s traditional viewers won’t be as enraged by the behavior of their president, and feel the need to watch someone give voice to their own feelings on a nightly basis. CNN has been among the 5-most-watched networks in 2020, per Nielsen. That probably won’t be the case through 2024. It may very well return to the top 30 status that it had pre-Trump.
The network has become President Trump’s antagonist of sorts during his one term in office.
Zucker and the outgoing president have a long history dating back to their time together at NBC, where Zucker famously greenlit The Apprentice. Zucker and CNN drew criticism for lavishing Trump with outsize attention during his 2016 campaign, but as the chaos of the Trump White House took hold, CNN became one of the administration’s most aggressive chroniclers, putting the network in the crosshairs of the MAGA faithful.
When Trump talks about “fake news,” he’s primarily focusing on CNN. The network’s coverage angered Trump so much that he reportedly even tried to play role in AT&T’s acquisition of CNN’s parent company, WarnerMedia, and Zucker’s standing at the company (which of course obviously didn’t work as Trump had hoped).
The Trump campaign sued CNN for libel back in March. On Nov. 11, that lawsuit was tossed out by a federal judge.
With that in mind, if a change at the top ever were to happen, perhaps early next year would be that time.
Apparently there’s also been friction between Zucker and new WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar, who arrived at the company in April. The Wall Street Journal reported in that same October story that Zucker “was blindsided by a recent restructuring in which he lost oversight of CNN’s financial, human resources, and communications departments.”
What do people at CNN think about a potential exit? “People really love Jeff and they do not want to see him go,” a CNN journalist told Pompeo. “I think a lot of people will be devastated if he does leave the network, and are concerned that you won’t be able to find someone with his leadership style to fill that role.” Another CNN staffer was more direct: “Jason Kilar has no idea what’s about to walk out the door.”