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CNN president Jeff Zucker thinks that President Donald Trump was motivated by his antipathy toward his network and influenced his Justice Department’s lawsuit to stop AT&T’s acquisition of parent company Time Warner.
“Do I think there was political motivation in trying to block the deal? I do. And, do I believe it came from the highest parts of government? I do,” he said Saturday at the SXSW conference in Austin.
Added Zucker, “There was absolutely no basis for the government doing what they were doing, so clearly there was a political agenda at work and I don’t think it takes being a genius to figure out where that comes from.”
But, with a judge recently dismissing the government’s decision to allow the deal, Zucker said the issue is somewhat “moot.”
The CNN head honcho also responded to the Democratic National Committee’s decision to bar Fox News from hosting one of the 2020 presidential primary debates.
“I think the consternation about this is a little misplaced,” he said. They don’t have to give one to CNN. They don’t have to give one to MSNBC. There’s no obligation to give one to Fox.”
Echoing his previous criticism of the network, Zucker said that Fox News “has done a lot of damage to the political discourse in this country.” (Zucker called Fox News “state-run TV” at an industry conference in March 2018.)
He said the relationship between the Trump White House and Fox News is “completely symbiotic,” calling it “a propaganda network.”
Zucker was asked about his interest in running for public office, “political ambitions” he said he has harbored for 30 years. “I’m still interested in the idea,” he said. “At some point, I’d like to really give that a shot. It’s not imminent. It’s not happening next year. We’ll see where the world goes.”
Zucker was also asked to respond to concerns about diversity at CNN, which led to calls last week from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Association of Black Journalists to increase the number of African-American executives at the network. “I think that especially among African-Americans in the most senior editorial positions at CNN US TV, we need to continue to improve,” he said. “It’s something that we’ve been working on for a long time. We continue to work on it and we’ve got to continue to make progress there.” (But, he said that the network’s on-air diversity is “good.”)
Zucker also provided more insight on Saturday into the changing role of Sarah Isgur, the former Justice Department spokesperson who was originally hired as a politics editor before announcing on Friday that she will instead serve as an on-air political analyst starting in April.
He said that Isgur recently got married and decided that the new role was a better fit for her. “We were certainly comfortable with that, and that’s certainly what we will do,” he said.
Addressing the backlash to the hiring, Zucker said, “I didn’t really see any issue with having someone who was smart and understands the way that Washington works as part of our organization. Unfortunately, a lot of people made assumptions based on their own biases and didn’t really take the time to understand what that was about.”
Zucker was also asked to defend his network’s practice of hiring both liberal and conservative contributors, saying that he believes in hearing from “both sides.” He added, “At Fox, Donald Trump can do no wrong. At MSNBC, Donald Trump can do no right. And, I don’t think either one of those is right.”
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