“TASS has nothing on them,” Zucker said during the keynote interview at today’s Financial Times “Future of News” conference in New York City.
Zucker, interviewed by FT‘s global media editor Matthew Garrahan, said that while Fox has always been a conservative voice, the network has changed significantly over the past 18 months, in the post-Roger Ailes era.
“There are a handful of good journalists there,” Zucker said, “but they’re incredibly lost in the state propaganda machine.”
The brickbats — “I’ll get attacked all night tonight and all night tomorrow night,” Zucker joked, sort of – came during a one-on-one discussion of the state and future of TV news, with Zucker proclaiming that President Donald Trump has, indeed, “made American journalism great again,” though clearly he wasn’t including Fox News in that roundup.
Nor did he go easy on Trump, who, the CNN honcho said, likely has no idea of the “harmful and potentially incredibly dangerous” impact his daily barrage of “unhealthy” anti-media criticism has on journalists around the world.
“Fake news,” said Zucker, does exist, but it’s of the sort recently exposed in the Facebook/Russia scandal, not “news (Trump) doesn’t like.”
“He did it again recently with the New York Times,” Zucker said. “When they reported that Trump was looking to change up his legal team, he tweeted ‘more fake news from failing New York Times.’ ” Zucker pointed out that John Dowd, Trump’s lead lawyer in the special counsel inquiry, resigned today.
“There you go,” Zucker said.
Asked about his own relationship with Trump, Zucker said it extends back to the 1990s, when Zucker produced the Today show and Trump was an occasional guest (“His name then was John Barron,” Zucker joked. “Sorry. I’m going to get in trouble.”)
The Zucker-Trump relationship intensified when Zucker, as head of NBC’s entertainment, gave the greenlight to Trump’s The Apprentice.
“The Apprentice had an amazing run on NBC and did incredibly well,” Zucker said. “We had a really good relationship.”
The good vibe even carried over into Zucker’s early days at CNN (he left NBC in 2011). “That only changed later.”
But even at their friendliest, Trump most definitely did not get Zucker his job at CNN, the exec insisted, despite the President’s frequent claims to the contrary.
“That’s not true,” Zucker said, explaining that Philip I. Kent, then CEO of Turner Broadcasting, was casting a wide net to find someone to head CNN, and Zucker and Kent had already been in discussions when Kent found himself sitting next to Trump at a dinner in New York.
Trump “said Jeff’s a good guy,” Zucker said. “In Trump’s mind that means he got me the job. I’ll let everyone decide for themselves.”
Has Trump’s ongoing ire at CNN led to the government’s attempted blocking of the AT&T/Time Warner deal? (Attorneys for AT&T and the U.S. Department of Justice gave opening arguments today in a trial to decide on the potential $85 billion merger).
“I have no idea,” Zucker said. “Opening statements were today. It’s game time, now we should just let the game happen.”