Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav appeared Friday morning on CNBC’s Squawk Box, in an interview that portended badly for the political approach that his company’s flagship news network CNN is going to take during the coming presidential election. The big takeaway is that CNN — under Zaslav as well as network president Chris Licht — will pursue ratings and a false sense of evenhandedness rather than taking seriously the genuine ongoing threat to American democracy presented by disgraced former President Donald Trump.
“Former President Trump is going to be on CNN?” asked Squawk Box co-host Joe Kernen.
“Yeah, he should be. He should be,” Zaslav said, seemingly in response to extensive criticism over the network’s decision to treat Trump like any other candidate. (No other presidential candidate in history has launched an insurrection to stay in office, or publicly threatened “death and destruction” over their legal troubles.)
“The U.S. has a divided government. We need to hear both voices, that’s what you see,” Zaslav explained. “Republicans are on the air on CNN, Democrats are on the air. All voices should be heard on CNN.”
When questioned by co-host Andrew Ross Sorkin over whether this approach can achieve ratings success, Zaslav replied, “Well, look, we’ve got a great political season coming, this is a new CNN,” as if the coming election were an upcoming release of network TV entertainment.
“Great for who — for the country?” asked Kernen.
The segment was first flagged online by New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen, a former journalist and fierce critic of the passive role many American news outlets have played in the face of rising right-wing extremism.
Zaslav also contrasted CNN with both Fox News and MSNBC, which he misleadingly called “advocacy networks,” an absurd false equivalence that none other than CNN media reporter Oliver Darcy has described as “nonsensical” and “not accurate.” (Put simply, Fox News is a propaganda outlet that engages in outright deceptions, not any kind of news organization.)
When Kernen then responded by asking if CNN had previously been “an advocacy network” itself, Zaslav provided a noncommittal answer, “Everybody’s got to make a judgment on everything based on how they feel.”
In truth, CNN during the Trump years contained a mix of sometimes hard-hitting confrontations with the administration as well as accommodation of right-wing dishonesty and the never-ending search for a “new tone” on Trump’s part.
At the end, when Sorkin said that he would watch the upcoming town hall with Trump, Zaslav added: “He’s the frontrunner, he has to be on our network. We’re happy that he’s on our network.”
Unfortunately, that is the exact same attitude that led to so many journalistic double standards during the Trump years (indeed, going back to the 2016 campaign) in an effort to preserve media access.