“You Showed Empty Podiums!”: GOP Operatives Blast CNN President Jeff Zucker For Network’s Obsessive Trump Coverage
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Republican presidential primary campaign operatives blasted CNN President Jeff Zucker for his network’s obsessive coverage of now president-elect Donald Trump, calling it “unfair” and obsessive.
In October, Zucker admitted that he recognized “there was a little bit of a phenomenon to Donald Trump” and acknowledged that the network gave “him quite a bit of coverage,” but said he had no regrets.
Politico’s Hadas Gold and Gabriel Debenedetti wrote that Zucker “was jeered and heckled” during a conference at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute Of Politics with operatives from several campaigns that criticized his networks’ obsessive coverage of Trump. Former GOP candidate Carly Fiorina’s deputy campaign manager refuted Zucker’s claim that the network “continuously asked the other candidates to come on and do interviews,” saying, “I don’t remember getting invited to call in.” According to Politico, others piped in that they “didn’t get that call,” would “be invited for eight seconds,” or would be invited on “at 2 o’clock in the afternoon.” One of former GOP candidate Marco Rubio’s senior advisers explained that it wasn’t just interviews CNN gave to Trump, the network also aired “empty podiums” awaiting Trump rallies and “hours upon hours of unfiltered unscripted coverage of Trump.” From the December 1 article:
GOP campaign managers who worked for President-elect Donald Trump's primary opponents shouted Zucker down with increasing anger as he defended how much airtime the network gave Trump, and claimed it allowed other candidates to dial in to shows by phone.
Zucker defended CNN’s coverage, though he admitted it perhaps aired too many of Trump’s early rallies “unedited” -- an admission he has made before.
But the room grew more and more animated as Zucker went on to say that many campaign managers thought it was “unfair” how much coverage and attention Trump was getting.
"I have to respectfully push back on the campaign managers who spoke here today, because frankly, respectfully, I think that’s bullshit. Donald Trump was on CNN a lot,” Zucker said, refusing to back down. “That’s because we asked him to do interviews and he agreed to do them. We continuously asked the other candidates to come on and do interviews."
“I don’t remember getting invited to call in, though,” Sarah Isgur Flores, Carly Fiorina’s deputy campaign manager said, kicking off a parade of comments.
More irritated voices across the room quickly chimed in: “We didn’t get that call.” “We’d be invited for eight seconds.” “At 2 o’clock in the afternoon we’d be invited on,” another said sarcastically.
“All of the Republican candidates were invited to come on,” Zucker said. “Cable news in general, CNN in particular, should not be held responsible for the fact that Donald Trump said yes to those interviews.”
"It’s not the interviews,” Rubio senior advisor Todd Harris said as another audience member shouted, "You showed empty podiums!"
"You showed hours upon hours of unfiltered unscripted coverage of Trump, this was not about interviews,” he added.
In fact, Zucker gave Trump his start in reality TV during his time as the head of NBC Entertainment when he launched The Apprentice, later giving him “astonishing amounts of free exposure in the Republican presidential primary … often unfiltered and without critical fact-checking.” Zucker repeatedly defended his network’s “heavy focus” on Trump and their hiring of Trump boosters -- including the ethical nightmare of CNN’s hiring of Corey Lewandowski, who was at times simultaneously paid by the Trump campaign and the network and was likely prevented from criticizing Trump.