America is crumbling. The masking, distancing and sheltering-in-place mandates have resulted in accelerating domestic quarreling, families splintering and grocery buyers brawling. The mood has turned ugly. And I believe I know one reason why: CNN.
Ever since the coronavirus forced the nation indoors, CNN—which still, implausibly, bills itself as “the most trusted name in news”—has become the most untrustworthy, blatantly-biased, anti-Trump “news” source on the planet, making The New York Times, Washington Post, MSNBC and the Chinese Communist Party resemble Rush Limbaugh by comparison.
CNN’s sudden conversion from credible news reporting to left-leaning mud-slinging appears to be part of an ingenious master plan to improve ratings. And it’s working. Ever since the virus penned people into their homes, CNN’s ratings have risen, leaving liberal rival MSNBC in the dust.
CNN’s “anti-Trump all-the-time” strategy is the brain-child of network president Jeff Zucker, a veteran of NBC’s entertainment division, who first green-lt Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice” TV show in 2004 and then used the next decade to learn not only what made his reality show meal-ticket tick but also, for CNN’s purposes, what most ticked Trump off.
If you’re among the fortunate few who’ve been spared CNN’s daily assault on what used to be known as “objective journalism,” here’s what you’ve missed.
Boycotting White House news conferences
Traditionally, when the President of the United States speaks, it’s big news. Every network, like every daily, covers every word.
So, when President Trump began convening daily White House Coronavirus Task Force press conferences, here was the media’s chance not only to score nightly ratings but also to confront the chief executive directly. Accordingly, every cable network from MSNBC to Fox to CSpan to One America News dutifully provided live, wall-to-wall coverage. But one “news” network has conspicuously demurred.
CNN, citing the administration’s attempts to “propagandize” the proceedings, has decided to sporadically dip into Trump’s nightly White House feeds only when it considers the news of the moment “justifies” such an intrusion in its regular schedule. The result is that while every other cable network—including Trump-hating MSNBC—dutifully covers the live White House news conference, CNN holds forth with an ad nauseam loop of tedious Wolf Blitzer physician interviews or panel discussions.
Now, there’s no question that megalomaniacal Trump does, in fact, use the nightly briefings to puff himself up, but that’s not the point. The point is that like it or not, what the President or Dr. Birx, Dr. Fauci or Vice President Pence say at these nightly soirees is “news.” And a network whose business is to cover the “news” ought to be there.
On the other hand, if CNN’s real objective is to position itself as the “anti-Trump network,” than the decision to be the only network to boycott the nightly news conference makes inimitable sense.
Ironically, CNN was among those who yelled loudest when the Trump White House stopped holding its Presidential Press Secretary daily briefings. And last week, when Trump’s new spitfire press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, made her debut, CNN televised every word. So while the network refused to cover the President, it eagerly covered his spokesman. The hypocrisy was hard to miss.
Crawling with hostility
Avid TV news watchers have grown weary of the nonstop Chyron text-based graphics that crawl across their screens to juice up what’s being presented. Much of the time, blazing red “BREAKING NEWS” is anything but.
While most networks are guilty of hyping these news crawls, CNN has taken the art form to a new level of anti-Trump bashing. Typical was CNN’s all-cap Chyron bombardment during one recent White House Coronavirus Task Force, where the President, in all his venomous glory, mud-wrestled with cranky reporters: “ANGRY TRUMP TURNS BRIEFING INTO PROPAGANDA SESSION,” “TRUMP MELTS DOWN IN ANGRY RESPONSE TO REPORTS HE IGNORED VIRUS WARNING,” “TRUMP USES TASK FORCE BRIEFING TO TRY AND REWRITE HISTORY ON CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE,” “TRUMP REFUSES TO ACKNOWLEDGE ANY MISTAKES.”
Somewhere, Walter Cronkite is cringing.
Commenting with contempt
Journalists aren’t supposed to befriend the people they cover. At best, reporters and their subjects can be “friendly adversaries.” No doubt due to the current President’s overwhelming un-likability, the vast majority of those who cover him probably don’t like him. But most, at least somewhat cognizant that a reporter’s role is supposed to be that of an “objective” observer, try to disguise their animus. Not so for CNN’s on-air staff.
The network’s most obvious Trump despiser is White House correspondent Jim Acosta, who was booted from the White House in 2018 for failing to relinquish his microphone at a press conference. But now he’s back on Coronavirus Task Force detail with a grudge as big as his ego.
Then there’s the lugubrious Jake Tapper, another CNN anchor with a permanent scowl, whose antipathy toward Trump is boundless. Even formerly above-the-fray, bone fide journalists, like Anderson Cooper, Blitzer and Erin Burnett, seem to have been persuaded to bludgeon the President at every opportunity. One wonders if they’ve all been coaxed, coached or coerced into corroborating CNN’s anti-Trump position.
Boosting political favorites
Finally—and most egregiously—while the President is persona non grata at the Zucker news digs, another more favored son literally enjoys the run of the network.
Every day for the last 65 and counting, CNN has been right there as Gov. Andrew Cuomo gavels to order his own coronavirus give-and-take with the media. Two months ago, when Cuomo began his daily news conferences, even his archest critics who considered the New York chief-of-state more drama queen than truth-bearer—full disclosure: me!—had to acknowledge the relevance of the updated facts and homespun wisdom that Cuomo conveyed. The governor’s good-natured jousting with his COVID-19-suffering CNN broadcaster brother Chris was particularly moving and memorable.
For several weeks, Cuomo’s daily televised sessions were, indeed, “must see” TV. But after a while, the daily Cuomo briefings became stale, devolving into insufferable monologues about armchair pandemic philosophy, late night chats with newly-nesting daughters and crisis management lessons from a fearless, flawless government leader, “working seven days a week, 24/7 for the people of New York.”
Today, with New York State’s COVID-related hospital admissions and death numbers dropping, Cuomo’s daily self-aggrandizing diatribes—reminiscent of Trump at his bombastic best—have caused most other networks and even local New York City stations to cherry pick relevant information and bail out when Cuomo starts waxing poetic on his own brilliance. The New York Times typically covers the “news” content of the governor’s daily TV preening with a paragraph or two, if at all.
But one network stubbornly clings to broadcasting the governor’s every word. Lately, in fact, CNN has doubled down on Cuomo’s regular repetitious gabfest, occasionally even breaking into regularly scheduled programming—as it did Sunday in the middle of an interview with Trump economic advisor Larry Kudlow about the fate of the economy—so as not to miss out on Cuomo’s latest oratorical pearls.
A cynic might suggest that in providing the governor with unlimited air time, Zucker is laying the groundwork for Prince Andrew to swoop in should beleaguered Democrat standard bearer Joe Biden fail to vanquish the sexual harassment furor and drop out. Cuomo, a self-acknowledged “good friend and admirer of Vice President Biden,” has vowed he’s not a Presidential candidate, won’t run and is staying put in New York. Yeah right.
So, is CNN purposely prejudiced against reporting anything remotely positive about the current President? When CNN President Zucker is asked if CNN’s coverage is anti-Trump, he quickly responds that CNN is “pro-truth.” But “truth” these days, rather than being an absolute, is more often than not in the eye of the beholder. And for the millions of people in America and elsewhere who despise Donald Trump’s every move, the “truth” that CNN serves up each day is just what they’re looking for.
Fraser P. Seitel has been a communications consultant, author and teacher for 40 years. He is author of the Pearson text “The Practice of Public Relations,” now in its 13th edition, and co-author of “Rethinking Reputation" and "Idea Wise.” He may be reached directly at [email protected]