[Zucker] made the case that Trump answered CNN’s calls and the other candidates did not. Trump made himself available to the media. “We asked him to do interviews, and he did them,” Zucker said.But that was apparently the wrong answer and said in the wrong room.“Bulls---,” Jason Johnson, Sen. Ted Cruz’s chief strategist, whistled through his teeth, next to me. “I can tell you for a fact that we requested a call and we were denied,” Johnson said. “And that’s on the record.”
Aides to Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and others voiced additional gripes, mostly about the volume of coverage devoted to Trump. Those were familiar complaints. But the idea that CNN — or any other news outlet, for that matter — would have turned down opportunities to interview leading presidential candidates is new. And it doesn't pass the smell test.
Is it possible that at some point during the campaign Cruz offered to do a phone interview and CNN turned him down? Sure. But the typical pattern involved Cruz rebuffing CNN, not the other way around.
Recall this exchange between Cruz and Anderson Cooper during a March 29 town hall in Milwaukee.
CRUZ: How many hours of free media do CNN and Fox and every other station — you let him call in — and for a year, $2 billion dollars of free media ...COOPER: Well, I got to say, we've asked you for interviews pretty much every day, and you've declined every offer on my program.CRUZ: Well, Anderson ...COOPER: So, you can come on anytime.CRUZ: I want to point out I've been inviting Donald Trump for several days to come and make this a debate. . . . He's terrified to make it a debate because he doesn't want to actually stand and have his record challenged.
When Cooper said Cruz had been avoiding CNN, the senator did not deny it. He certainly didn't claim that he had tried to get on the network's air and been rejected. Instead, he quickly changed the subject to Trump's unwillingness to debate him one-on-one.
None of this is to say that the media, generally (or CNN, specifically), was perfect during the campaign. But as the history of the 2016 White House race is being written, at least one campaign is trying to plant the notion that the press blacked out non-Trump Republicans. It is a comforting narrative for those who fell short — but not an accurate one.