Right around now, CNN is basking in extraordinary viewership numbers that it interprets as an endorsement of its approach to the 2016 presidential campaign. “This is the best year in the history of cable news … for everybody. We’ve all benefited. Within that best year ever, I think CNN has outshined everybody by taking a significant share of the audience,” said CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker in a sweet interview with the Hollywood Reporter. And right around now, Fox News is basking in the remarkable performance that anchor Chris Wallace turn in a week ago at the third presidential debate.
Enter Dean Baquet, the executive editor of the New York Times, to shed some perspective on things. In a London interview upon the expansion of the newspaper’s international digital coverage, Baquet slammed CNN for its decision to place Corey Lewandowski, the fired former Donald Trump campaign manager, on its payroll over the summer — even though Lewandowski was under nondisclosure strictures. “I’m sorry, that is outrageous. I cannot fathom that,” said Baquet, referring to Lewandowski as a “political shill.”
For the record, Zucker has defended the move on the grounds that CNN political discussions need contributors who’ll speak up for Trump, and the network’s lineup didn’t include such types as campaign 2016 got started. He also said there’s a “bias” at work wherein critics cite Lewandowski’s work but don’t gripe about Democratic political contributors with ties to Clinton.
Turning his attention to CNN’s main competitor, Baquet offered this appraisal: “Fox News at its heart is not a journalistic institution. Megyn Kelly [a Fox presenter] is a great journalist, Chris Wallace is a great journalist, but it is some weird mix of a little bit of journalism, a little bit of entertainment, a little bit of pandering to a particular audience … I don’t think Roger Ailes will go down as one of the great journalists of his time.”
For a guy who spends loads of time running a newspaper, that’s not a bad little summation of Fox News. Rarely before has the “heart” of Fox News received the scrutiny that has come its way during the season of Trump. The awful morning show “Fox & Friends” assisted Trump in making his transition from entertainment to politics, as the show featured a segment with him every week starting in 2011. Even as a candidate, Trump has called in frequently to what has been his cable news home base. News programming on the network has featured plenty of Trump skepticism, with a Harvard Shorenstein Center study finding that the flagship Fox News program “Special Report” churned out a 2-to-1 ratio of negative-to-positive Trump coverage over a four-week period in the summer.
Eclipsing such work have been Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, the prime-time opinionators who’ve taken different approaches to promoting the Trump campaign: O’Reilly has done so under the guise of a real journalist who pretends to ask Trump tough questions; Hannity has been more honest and upfront, stating his belief that Trump is the best alternative for the country and deploring the possibility of a Hillary Clinton presidency. To his credit, Hannity has protested that he is no journalist — a candid admission that provides a nice toehold for Baquet’s singeing assessment.