CNN President Jeff Zucker thinks that President Trump’s “fake news” attacks and anti-media criticism have pushed journalists to press harder for the truth, making “American journalism great again.”
The exception? Fox News, he said.
Zucker attacked CNN’s rival Thursday during his keynote interview at the Financial Times’ Future of News conference, during which he told FT’s global media editor Matthew Garrahan that while Fox has always leaned conservative, the network has taken a dramatic turn in the past 18 months, particularly since founder and former chief executive Roger Ailes left the network in 2016.
Fox, Zucker said, has become a “propaganda machine” that is “doing an incredible disservice to the country.”
“What has happened to that network in the last 18 months, especially the last year, is that it has just turned itself into state-run TV,” Zucker said, according to the Associated Press. “TASS has nothing on them,” he said, referring to the Russian government-owned news agency.
A Fox News representative could not be immediately reached for comment. Fox News host Sean Hannity called Zucker’s comments “CNN Fake News.”
Zucker’s remarks may not be surprising to those familiar with CNN and Fox News’s long and bitter feud, which dates to Fox News’s inception in 1996. But the rivalry has intensified during Trump’s presidency, with CNN and Fox hosts criticizing one another’s coverage of the president almost daily. In recent months, both networks have aired or published dozens of online articles about the other, calling out their ratings, embarrassing missteps and even coverage of the Winter Olympics.
Fox News aired clips of CNN’s “town hall” about gun violence last month to highlight what it called “liberal” media bias in the debate over gun control, according to The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi. And CNN aired a news segment about comments by Fox News host Laura Ingraham that NBA superstars LeBron James and Kevin Durant should “shut up and dribble” rather than express their political opinions. CNN host Brooke Baldwin pointed out how Fox sometimes gave celebrities such as Kid Rock and Chuck Norris a political platform.
Zucker’s remarks Thursday, however, hint at the growing divide between Fox News’s opinion programming and news division. Just two days ago, Fox military commentator Ralph Peters quit, claiming he could no longer stomach how the network’s opinion hosts kept defending Trump’s actions. In a scorching letter of resignation, which was leaked to BuzzFeed, he wrote: “Fox has degenerated from providing a legitimate and much-needed outlet for conservative voices to a mere propaganda machine for a destructive and ethically ruinous administration.”
Peters himself had not been shy about his conservative views, and Post columnist Max Boot described the retired Army lieutenant colonel as “to the right of right.” Peters advocated a first strike on North Korea and was suspended from Fox News for calling former president Barack Obama a “total p—y.” He blamed the Fort Hood, Tex., shooting on Islam and suggested in the wake of the Benghazi attacks that if “they kill four of ours, [we] kill 400 of theirs.”
Still, as Peters wrote in his resignation letter:
“Four decades ago, I took an oath as a newly commissioned officer. I swore to ‘support and defend the Constitution,’ and that oath did not expire when I took off my uniform. Today, I feel that Fox News is assaulting our constitutional order and the rule of law, while fostering corrosive and unjustified paranoia among viewers. Over my decade with Fox, I long was proud of the association. Now I am ashamed.”
Last week, chief Fox News anchor Shepard Smith criticized Fox News’s opinion side, telling Time magazine that those hosts “don’t really have rules” that they are required to follow. Some opinion programming, he said, “is there strictly to be entertaining.” Hannity subsequently tweeted that Smith was “clueless” and held political views that Hannity did not share. Ingraham also tweeted about Smith’s remarks, saying they were “inconsiderate & inaccurate.”
Despite the apparent rift at Fox News, the network has maintained its top cable news ratings in part because of its prime-time opinion lineup, which includes Hannity and Ingraham. Fox’s average daily rating (1.55 million viewers) was more than twice CNN’s (700,000) throughout the day, according to Nielsen figures for February. CNN is in third place among cable news networks, while MSNBC, with a daily average of 989,000 views, ranks second.
In addition to the audience’s endorsement, Fox News has that of the president, too. Matthew Gertz of Media Matters for America, for example, found a feedback loop between Trump and the TV hosts he pays most attention to, which revealed that many of the president’s tweets — such as his claim that his “nuclear button” is “much bigger & more powerful” than Kim Jong Un’s — were lifted right from Fox News.
CNN, on the other hand, has suffered unrelenting attacks from Trump, who calls the network “fake news” whenever he disagrees with its coverage.
On Thursday, Zucker said Trump’s disapproval won’t stop CNN from doing its job. He added, however, that the president’s unending hostility toward reporters has affected the rest of the world.
“He doesn’t even understand the danger he is creating for journalists and the danger he is creating for news organizations,” Zucker said, according to the AP.