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CNN stars' reaction to Jeff Zucker's ouster reveals a "stunning disconnect" with what should matter to viewers

  • Anchors offering emotion on the air is usually associated with real-life tragedies. So seeing Don Lemon tear up last Friday night "was a little unnerving," says Will Bunch, especially since Lemon thanked Zucker not just for what he’d done for CNN but “for what you’ve done to the whole country." Lemon wasn't the only CNN star to go overboard over Zucker's exit. Clarissa Ward called Zucker's ouster "devastating," while Jake Tapper “hosted a shiva-like get together at his home," according to Puck News. "There are many layers to the Zucker saga that one has to peel away before reaching what I see as the crux of the matter: the stunning disconnect between what really matters to the cloistered community of careerist six-figure elites who went to the same Ivy League schools and dine at the same D.C. steakhouses, and what their angry, resentful viewers actually care about," says Bunch. "It’s clear that CNN’s on-air stars are seriously confused about the difference between a great boss — who mentored their promotion or let them cry on his shoulder in a personal crisis — and a great American." Zucker, Bunch adds, "was the apostle to fulfill the tragically brilliant 1985 prophecy of media critic Neil Postman, who tried to warn America in Amusing Ourselves to Death that one day the values of TV entertainment would crush civic discourse. Yet CNN’s anchors only seemed to notice that their ratings, their public profile, and presumably their paychecks rose in the years when the reigns of Zucker and Trump overlapped. Completely lost on Zucker’s acolytes was the irony of delivering such impassioned tributes to their ex-boss in the same news hour they were reporting that Trump — the monster that CNN helped create under that boss — has been destroying documents, dangling pardons for those who aided his January 6 coup attempt, and threatening a racially charged civil war. The saddest irony is that not only did Zucker’s ratings triumph collapse the moment Trump left the White House, but that ratings can’t buy you love ... outside of the CNN newsroom anyway."


    • Sorry, Don Lemon: Jeff Zucker wasn't good for Black people: "Perhaps Zucker wasn’t hearing about how bad Trump was for Black and brown people because there were almost none of them around him—Zucker’s track record of hiring Black people was, well, terrible," says Touré. "Under his reign, CNN was put on a special media monitoring list by the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) for its lack of diversity. Over several years, CNN repeatedly refused to meet with NABJ leaders to discuss the issue—the rift was so bad that I personally witnessed a legendary older Black media figure receive an award at an NABJ convention, and when this man spent half of his speech castigating CNN for not having Black people on its team, the CNN group got up and walked out, too embarrassed to stay."
    • Zucker was a master with his daily 9 a.m. ET morning shows for CNN staffers: "I have worked in at least a dozen newsrooms that have some version of that morning news huddle," says former CNN executive S. Mitra Kalita. "None matched the energy of what I saw at CNN, balancing the delivery of information, priorities, vulnerability, openness, and a willingness to change with the story, or with the times. What made Jeff Zucker’s meetings so special? Zucker himself produced the meeting as though it was a show. He arrived having read across all corners of the internet. Sometimes he had papers in hand, while other times he recited tidbits from memory, from a viral video of a baby hearing for the first time to the case for death by age 75. And like any show, he would first warm up his audience. In the few minutes before 9 am, he’d often banter with those of us trickling in: “What’s the most important news story of the day?” One day, his eyes lit up when I said the US reopening the case of the death of Emmett Till. I had the right answer."
    • How Discovery could reshape CNN in the post-Zucker era

    TOPICS: Jeff Zucker, CNN, Don Lemon, Cable News