CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker yesterday told a town-hall meeting of network staffers that he conferred with Muslim employees of the network regarding his controversial decisions following last Wednesday’s terrorist attack on the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine. “I talked to employees in … hotspots. I reached out to Muslim employees. I reached out across the company,” says a source who attended the session, abridging Zucker’s message.
Though it’s unclear just what Zucker was told in those conversations, his decisions are quite public: CNN has stood among the most cautious of media organizations in its treatment of the edgy cartoons generated by the magazine; it showed neither the controversial cartoons of the prophet Muhammad that appeared to have prompted the attack nor the post-attack cover drawing, which depicts the prophet crying and holding a sign saying “Je Suis Charlie,” below a title, “All Is Forgiven.”
Repeating a rationale he has cited in previous settings, Zucker told employees that suppressing the cartoons went against his best instincts, which generally bend toward airing anything newsworthy that his people can confirm. “It’s an exception to even my own sensibility,” says a staffer, again summing up Zucker’s gist. “But my first priority has to be to the safety and security of the employees of CNN … If somebody gets killed because we aired this, that’s on me.”
As Politico first reported, CNN eminence Christiane Amanpour pressed Zucker on his recent decisions considering that the Koran doesn’t prohibit depictions of Muhammad. “Basically he had no response,” an observer told Politico. In the telling of a source consulted by the Erik Wemple Blog, Zucker said he was no expert on the Koran but implied that the depictions do offend many Muslims.
Amanpour also emphasized that the Charlie Hebdo cover was leading news reports worldwide and everyone had it and so on. Zucker responded that he understood all those considerations, says the source, but circled back to the security issue.
The event took place in New York, where Zucker spoke to an audience of CNN employees, and was broadcast to CNN’s far-flung newsiverse; Amanpour (from London), Jake Tapper (from Washington) and Anderson Cooper (from New York) posed questions to Zucker, some of which had come from CNN employees. The network has 44 “editorial operations” across the globe and around 4,000 employees, according to its Web site.
In recent months, CNN anchors have screwed up on several occasions. Morning anchor Carol Costello, for instance, made light of the brawl involving the Palin family; and then there’s Don Lemon. In what one observer interpreted as a question about Lemon, Zucker was asked whether he addresses anchor screw-ups. “Zucker said, ‘Yes, every time that happens, I have conversations with those people,'” said a CNN observer.
Zucker handled the questions with poise, said the source. “He always has an answer and doesn’t seem to get offended at tough questions; in fact, he seems to like them,” says the employee. All manner of credit goes to CNN’s upper management for having the guts to take on the same style of interrogation that public officials get on air. Next step in this fabulous newsroom transparency project: Post the whole hour-plus-long video on CNN.com.