December 3, 2013

Politico’s Mike Allen, left, interviews Timothy Geithner. (Mandel Ngan/Getty Images)

Today Capital New York re-launched as a property of Rosslyn-based Politico. The always-smart site is getting super charged with an investment in newsroom talent, technology and business savvy from the parent company. It looks fabulous.

Part of the debut presentation was an exclusive interview with CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker. The piece itself establishes the ground-breaking nature of the event, calling it Zucker’s “first one-on-one interview since taking control of CNN last January.”

The byline? Politico’s Mike Allen, along with Capital New York’s Alex Weprin.

CNN couldn’t possibly have chosen a better way to break its Zucker one-on-one moratorium. The thrust of the Allen-Weprin piece was that Zucker is into innovation and wants to break out of the straight-news mold. Here’s a key paragraph:

The 48-year-old Zucker initially faced internal resistance to his experiments beyond the realm of hard news, but he now has an irrefutable retort: The No. 1 show on CNN is now “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown,” a travel-adventure show featuring the bad-boy celebrity chef. Zucker said that inside CNN, his formula has finally been accepted “because people have seen the results.”

Based on that arrangement of words, a Capital New York reader might just conclude that “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” owes its existence to Zucker. However: Last June, the New York Times’s David Carr explained how Bourdain acceded to CNN: “Mark Whitaker, managing editor of CNN Worldwide, has been working to decrease the network’s reliance on politics, where its middle-of-the-road approach often suffers in comparison to the edgier, more partisan offerings of Fox News and MSNBC. He began talking with Mr. Bourdain back in March in the belief that the chef’s penchant for traveling to far-flung places like Thailand and Saudi Arabia was a fit with CNN’s international credentials.”

That was six months before Zucker started his job at CNN.

CNN’s workaholic PR operatives couldn’t have fashioned the piece more favorably. Here, Zucker is a hands-on guy; his office is a no-frills environment; he’s adapting to the web; and so on. He’s also still pushing some of the talking points he sprayed around when he began work at CNN, including the part about attracting “viewers who are watching places like Discovery and History and Nat Geo and A&E.”

What’s missing?

*Allen-Weprin report that Zucker is eyeing more “series and films untethered to the news” in primetime hours. But where’s the question about how much that stuff will cost?

*How about mention of CNN’s November ratings difficulties?

*There’s been a great deal of speculation about the fate of Piers Morgan, one of CNN’s key prime-timers. What does the boss have to say about this?

*Gary Ginsberg. The New York Post has reported that Ginsberg, a Time Warner executive who worked for years as an official at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., would be coming to CNN and Zucker’s No. 2. What’s up with that?

*And since this is Zucker’s first one-on-one interview since taking over in January, the whole year is fair game, right? Then why not engage Zucker in a full-on breakdown of the Boston Marathon bombings mistake?

Or other stuff that has escaped our antennae!

Maybe this is just the way things work in medialand these days: As long as Mike Allen is available, why would an organization like CNN break its silence with anybody else? CNN gets fawning coverage; Allen, Weprin and Capital New York get some marginally new comments from CNN’s top dog on what’s to come. Traffic ensues, along with future exclusives.

Politico has a full-time reporter, Dylan Byers, who covers every last twitch at CNN. Why can’t he sit down with Zucker? In a brief chat this afternoon, Byers noted that Allen has become part of the Capital New York operation and that such decisions are above his pay grade. Legit response. “My feelings about Mike are that I respect him immensely,” says Byers, who says he’s “grateful” any time that Allen makes a contribution to his media beat at Politico.

Allen didn’t respond to an e-mailed question.

Tom McGeveran, the editor of Capital New York, on the other hand, provided a thorough counter to our questions:

I think it’s fine to ask questions about a story subject after you’ve read an article about it (or him or her), and I don’t feel bad that we haven’t already answered all of them; the news is iterative, and so is our reporting. I thought Mike and Alex did a great job conveying, for all of you to evaluate, what Zucker’s plans are at CNN. His prospects for success, of course, remain to be evaluated as the details unfurl; and that analysis will be something we will develop over the coming weeks and months, since success is really more interesting to evaluate from empirical fact, rather than by an all-consuming prognostication that allows the writer to say “see!” later on if he turns out right, or just ignore if he is wrong. We have not by a long shot finished reporting on the network, or on Zucker’s work there, and we intend to do on these topics what we always do on every topic: find out the news and write it. We don’t drop in and talk about something and then leave it forever; we follow stories, and this one is top of mind for us.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.