CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker dissected President Trump’s hatred of CNN and discussed his own interest in running for office on a new episode of David Axelrod’s popular podcast.
Axelrod is a CNN host, but that didn’t stop him from asking Zucker some probing questions.
When asked if Trump’s steady stream of anti-CNN comments are “personal,” stemming from a sour relationship between Zucker and Trump, Zucker said he believes that’s one of several factors at work.
“He attacks CNN for a couple of reasons. One, we’re relevant. If we weren’t relevant, if we didn’t matter, he’d just ignore us,” Zucker said.
“He understands that CNN matters. He understands that CNN matters in the United States and around the world. And he understands that CNN has a disproportionate amount of swing and independent voters.”
Second, Zucker asserted, Trump attacks the media institutions that he has admired for decades.
The New York Times, CNN and “SNL,” all top targets of the president, are “media institutions that he grew up with in New York, that he cared about, and whose respect he coveted,” he said.
The third reason, Zucker said, “has to do with me.”
In the early 2000s, when Zucker was running NBC, he green-lit “The Apprentice,” catapulting Trump to a whole new level of stardom.
“I’m the one who put him and ‘The Apprentice’ on the air at NBC,” Zucker said in 2016.
The two men considered each other friends as well as business associates. Zucker attended Trump’s wedding to Melania Knauss in 2005.
“The fact is, we’ve had this long, you know, 20-plus year relationship, that for a long time was quite strong,” Zucker told Axelrod. “And Donald Trump did not understand, in the end, that just because we were friends didn’t mean he wasn’t going to be subjected to the proper scrutiny. He thought CNN should give him a pass because we were friends. He thought CNN should be like Fox News and just, you know, give him glowing coverage all the time.”
So, Zucker said, “he does hold that against me and CNN.”
Axelrod, Barack Obama’s former top strategist and a CNN political commentator, hosts “The Axe Files” podcast as well as a CNN TV version of the interview series.
On the podcast, which is produced by the University of Chicago Institute of Politics and CNN, Axelrod asked about the tendency of some CNN anchors to forcefully challenge Trump’s inaccurate claims and indecent behavior.
“I think that our job at CNN is to tell the truth,” Zucker said. “The problem is, in this day and age, I do understand that sometimes when you’re pro-truth, it comes off as anti-Trump.”
“In no way should we set out, ever, to be anti-Trump. We should always set out to be pro-truth,” Zucker said. “And all I encourage our shows and our anchors to be, is to hold those in power accountable and tell the truth. If that comes off as anti-Trump, then that’s a byproduct of being pro-truth.”
Repeating his comments from past interviews, Zucker said CNN rightly covered Trump as a Republican presidential candidate from the get-go, recognizing his disruptive power.
He said CNN made a mistake by televising so many of Trump’s pre-election rallies live, but “I do not believe that’s why he’s president of the United States. A lot of people want to assign that blame to us and to me.”
Zucker quipped: “If only we had that much power, especially on the Republican side. I do not believe that’s why he’s president of the United States. But I do think we made a mistake.”
CNN and MSNBC have pulled back from showing Trump’s campaign rallies live this year, except during periods of big breaking news. Fox News continues to show many of the rallies live.
At the very end of the podcast, Axelrod asked what Zucker might be doing in five years. “I don’t know for sure where I’ll be, but here’s the two things I do know: if the Miami Dolphins call, that’s where I’ll be,” he said, calling back to an earlier comment about his love for the team. “And number two, look, I still harbor somewhere in my gut that I’m still very interested in politics.”
A few years ago, there were discussions about Zucker running for New York City mayor. He didn’t mention that specific role to Axelrod, but said “I’m still interested” in a political run, “and it’s something I would consider.”
“Gimme a call if you’re thinking about it,” Axelrod joked.