“I said to him one time, ‘You are the only boss I’ve had who is ballsier than I am,’ and I really meant it,” CNN’s Jake Tapper said in what Zucker called a “Bar Mitzvah video” before he received the honor.
“He completely changed CNN,” anchor Chris Cuomo said. He also ribbed him, saying, “One of his best skills is the ability to not seem as short as he actually is.”
Longtime Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw was also highly complimentary. “Jeff was a boy wonder from the day he walked into the doors of NBC,” he said of the onetime NBCUniversal chief executive, whom he called “Doogie Howser.”
Zucker was given the award by his “best friend,” Discovery CEO David Zaslav, a former colleague at NBC. “He didn’t just do his job better than anybody else, but he did your job better than anybody else,” he said. “He was really impressive, but he made all of us feel like we could be better. He brought us along and he made us better.”
Zaslav credited Zucker’s combination of “talent, hard work and confidence” and complimented his leadership of CNN. “In the most difficult times, we’ve seen Jeff stand up and do the right thing,” said the exec.
Nodding to Zucker’s past comments about someday seeking political office, Zaslav said, “The more awards he can get before his mayoral campaign, the better.”
In accepting the honor, Zucker said of Zaslav, “He’s the best friend that anyone could ever want, and I’m lucky that he’s mine.”
“I’ve had this most blessed career, but none of it compares to the work we are doing right now at CNN,” he said.
Zucker addressed the Trump administration’s clashes with his network and spoke more broadly about the state of play. “Sadly, the truth is under assault,” he said. “The press is under attack from the most powerful people in the world, and that is wrong and it is dangerous. These are the times that call for leadership. I am proud to stand up for the truth. I am proud to stand up for the free press. We are certainly not the enemy of the people.”
Earlier in the ceremony, The New Yorker‘s Ronan Farrow called out unnamed media company employees in the audience while accepting an award for his reporting. “I see some people here who have lied to protect power in the way we’re all decrying today,” he said. “People who have lied to The New Yorker.”