After Bomb Scare, CNN Staff Grapples With Threats Being the New Normal

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"Maybe I am cynical, I don’t see it getting better before it gets worse," says afternoon anchor Kate Bolduan. Adds national security correspondent Jim Sciutto: "This is a reminder that that danger is real."

Will the pipe bombs sent to a widening array of individuals singled out for denigration by President Donald Trump be the catalyst to quell an era of ugliness and violence? Not likely, say multiple anchors at CNN, who found themselves at the center of an enormous national story on Wednesday when one of the bombs was discovered in the basement mailroom of the cable news network’s Manhattan headquarters.

"When I first heard the president’s scripted teleprompter speech, I had a moment where I thought, well, maybe this will be the tipping point," New Day anchor Alisyn Camerota tells The Hollywood Reporter, "Maybe he’ll be able to keep his focus on lowering the temperature of the rhetoric. But I wasn’t terribly hopeful.”

Indeed, we have been here before. “Some form of this conversation was had after Gabby Giffords was shot. It was had after Steve Scalise was shot,” notes afternoon anchor Kate Bolduan, referring the 2011 shooting of the former Arizona congresswoman and the 2017 shooting at a Republican congressional baseball practice. “And those conversations lasted all of 10 minutes. Maybe I am cynical, I don’t see it getting better before it gets worse.”

Indeed, by Wednesday evening at a rally in Wisconsin, the president was accusing the media of fomenting the partisan ugliness plaguing the country. And in a Thursday morning tweet, Trump explicitly blamed “purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media" for the “anger” in the country. 

“To be attacked by the president last night and again this morning, it’s unacceptable,” says Poppy Harlow, who spent several hours on Wednesday broadcasting from the street along with her co-host Jim Sciutto. “But I think the most powerful response that we all as journalists have is to go on the air and do our job.” 

With the “CNN sucks” chant a regular feature at Trump’s rallies, the network's journalists have grown accustomed to the rhetorical attacks. Many news organizations had stepped up security well before Trump began declaring the media "the enemy of the American people."

At the New York Times building headquartered in midtown Manhattan, staffers received an internal memo on Wednesday stating that the newspaper is "now taking the additional step of sending anything delivered directly to the lobby security desk to the X-ray machines before delivery, and we will continue to be hyper vigilant in the days ahead." ABC News also has introduced new procedures for incoming mail. At Fox News' Manhattan offices, employees were informed by email that all of the "usual security protocols are already in place, some of which include roving patrols around the perimeter of the building." 

Metal detectors to screen mail and visitors bags were put in place years ago at CNN, while at the net's New York headquarters, an entrance to the newsroom offices from the public mall in the Time Warner Center was permanently closed. “CNN has been taking measures and security steps for months now because of explicit threats and comments from public officials that are concerning,” says Sciutto. “And this is a reminder that that danger is real.” 

Many CNN staffers say they were not surprised by Wednesday’s events. “We’ve been upset about the message that the president is sending,” says one. “We have been worried about violence for a long time.”

But on Thursday, even as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo deployed National Guard personnel to critical infrastructure points around New York City, it was back to business. “It focuses you more,” says John Berman, Camerota’s co-host on New Day. “It makes the job all the more clear, it really does.” Regular updates from CNN’s security personnel and executive Jeff Zucker were crucial in maintaining focus and calm in a chaotic situation, they say. Zucker had been critical of Trump and the White House response in his Wednesday statement and pointedly noted, "The president, and especially the White House press secretary, should understand their words matter. Thus far, they have shown no comprehension of that."

“I just feel like we’re in really good hands,” says Camerota. “I feel okay. I don’t feel distracted. I wanted to come to work today. I felt a real sense that this is where we belong — we needed to show viewers that we were back on the air."

On Friday, CNN staff received an email from Zucker that another suspicious package sent to the network had been intercepted at a nearby New York post office. "There is no imminent danger to the Time Warner Center," Zucker wrote, promising to keep the staff updated. "As we announced yesterday, all mail to CNN domestic offices is being screened at off-site facilities, so this package would NOT have come directly to the Time Warner Center, even if it hadn't been intercepted first."

Oct. 26, 8 a.m. Updated with Friday's intercepted package.