Journalists Mourn as CNN Exec Who Fueled Trump's Rise Announces Plans to Leave Network

February 4, 2021

CNN president Jeff Zucker, the media executive whose shameless obsession with ratings fueled Donald Trump's rise to the White House in 2016, is leaving the network at the end of the year.

Journalists at CNN and other outlets mourned the impending departure of Zucker, even as many of them continue to struggle to accept the reality of Trump's defeat in 2020. The outpouring of public praise, typically reserved for individuals who have made positive contributions to society, was weird.

"Zucker brought a producer's brain, a nose for news, and an eye for talent," wrote CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter. "Numerous stories described his hands-on management and his support for confrontational interviews."

For example, host Chris Cuomo once confronted his own brother—Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D., N.Y.), aka the "Butcher of Albany"—with an oversized cotton swab to make fun of his large nose while thousands of New Yorkers died from COVID-19.

CNN host Jake Tapper told the New York Times that Zucker was "the best boss I ever had, and it's not even close." Stelter confirmed that Tapper's comments expressed "what countless people at CNN feel about Jeff Zucker."

The Hollywood Reporter noted that Zucker's departure would mark "the end of an era for the venerable cable news network" and quoted an anonymous CNN reporter who lauded Zucker's management style for inspiring "fierce loyalty from many reporters and anchors, especially those he championed and gave new opportunities, though even veteran anchors who predated his arrival grew to respect him."

CNN host Don Lemon told NBC News media blogger Dylan Byers that he would try to persuade Zucker to remain at the network. "I've been at CNN for 15 years. The best of those years have been with Jeff," Lemon said. "He's staying for another year. I'll take it. But know this, I will spend the next year trying to convince him to stay longer."

Political correspondent Dana Bash was equally thrilled that Zucker was staying on for (at least?) another year. "I'm a 27-year CNN veteran. I have a very good perspective on what Jeff means to CNN—how his leadership makes us all want to do and be better," she said. "The fact that he is staying another year is music to my ears."

Apart from relentlessly covering every single one of Trump's public appearances during the 2016 election, CNN is best known for the time its spokesman mocked a reporter for doing "standard" journalistic outreach to sources, while the network itself was laying off investigative reporters.