Jeff Zucker: The Media Did Not Create Donald Trump

"I reject the premise that we've given too much attention" to Trump, says the CNN chief.
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Donald Trump during a CNN debate

CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker disputes the popular narrative that the media has aided and abetted Donald Trump’s candidacy for the GOP presidential nomination by giving the erstwhile reality show host oxygen on his network. The exec noted Wednesday at a lunch with a small group of reporters that as the frontrunner, Trump was always going to get “a disproportionate amount of attention.”

But Zucker also pointed out that Trump, who has been a near constant presence across TV news, has been “much more available” than the other candidates. At CNN’s March 10 Republican debate in Miami, Zucker revealed that he spoke with several of Ted Cruz’s top aides and “offered them numerous options to come on for one-hour interviews, phone calls, town halls. They all said, ‘yes yes, yes, we want to do that,’ and then when we followed up with the invitation, it’s all ‘no,’” said Zucker, “My point is, you can’t have it both ways. So I actually reject that premise that we’ve given too much attention to [Trump].”

It should be noted that the narrative has been promulgated by Trump’s competitors, especially Cruz and Marco Rubio, who this week suspended his campaign after a crushing primary loss to Trump in Florida. And Trump has bragged about his ubiquity on TV news shows, boasting that he has spent very little on TV advertising.

Of course the election, and especially the debates, have been a boon for cable news, which has had the disproportionate amount of primary debates and offered wall-to-wall coverage on primary nights. Even the GOP faceoff on CNN last week, the least watched out of all four debates on the network, was still viewed by nearly 12 million people. The March 3 debate on Fox News ultimately pulled in close to 17 million viewers. But on Wednesday, Trump announced that he would not participate in what would have been the final debate of the primary season on March 21. That debate, which was set to air on Fox News, was later canceled.