Tapper on Zucker: ‘Only Jeff Really Has the Power To Do That’

By Chris Ariens 

Jeff Zucker, CNN’s global chief, would like you to know that CNN’s future success heavily depends on how it does in the digital space.

But he’s still a TV producer at heart, as we learn from Marissa Guthrie‘s THR cover story. Zucker has a direct line to what you see and hear on CNN at any given moment. Guthrie sat down with Zucker Feb. 16, just after Pres. Donald Trump‘s 77-minute news conference during which he took the media to the woodshed.

By the time I join Zucker in his modest office, Jake Tapper and Wolf Blitzer are offering a recap from the anchor desk in Washington. We watch it on the largest of the 11 screens mounted on the wall opposite Zucker’s desk. “It was unhinged; it was wild,” says Tapper. Then CNN contributor and Trump loyalist Jeffrey Lord appears via Skype to offer a counter from Trump land. “I’ve been listening to you, and I think we saw two different press conferences,” says Lord. “He was relaxed, he was funny, he was on point.”

Zucker gestures toward the TV: “That’s why it’s important to have these voices,” he says, deflecting a question I hadn’t yet asked about the criticism CNN has faced for giving too much unfiltered airtime to factually challenged Trump-friendly pundits. Continues Lord, “I can tell you this minute that Rush Limbaugh is exalting over this …”

At this point, Zucker picks up his phone and barks into the receiver: “What about the 57 percent of people who didn’t vote for him? Doesn’t he have to be their president, too?” He hangs up. Seconds later, Tapper poses a version of the question to Lord.

Zucker was also glued to CNN when Tapper interviewed Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway Feb. 7, “making sure the control room knew to let it run long and blow through the commercial breaks,” Guthrie writes. “He was telling my executive producer, ‘Keep going!'” says Tapper, “because only Jeff really has the power to do that.”

1.1 million viewers watched Tapper’s show on TV that day. The interview has also racked up nearly 1 million views on CNN.com.