Veteran journalist Ted Koppel on Monday night said CNN's ratings "would be in the toilet" if it weren't for President Donald Trump, noting how the president has been good for ratings and made the network a lot of money.
Koppel, who served as the anchor for ABC's "Nightline" for 25 years and was a broadcast journalist for ABC another 20 years before that, participated in a panel discussion at the National Press Club, where he spoke of the media's coverage of Trump.
"I think that we've left out a key word. Everybody here keeps talking about ideology and politics. Money, money, money. Donald Trump has been very very good for baseball," said Koppel, referring to the news industry.
"He has been wonderful for the industry. Your boss acknowledged as much a number of months ago during the campaign," Koppel said in reference to CNN president Jeff Zucker.
One of the panelists noted Leslie Moonves, former CEO of CBS, also acknowledged Trump was good for business during the 2016 presidential campaign.
"But that means what? If ratings are up, that means what?" asked CNN's "Reliable Sources" host Brian Stelter.
"Oh the ratings are up, it means you can't do without Donald Trump," Koppel said. "You would be lost without Donald Trump. CNN's ratings would be in the toilet without Donald Trump."
Stelter was visibly annoyed by Koppel's characterization of CNN's coverage, prompting him to push back by saying, "Ted, you know that's not true. You're playing for laughs."
Koppel pushed back.
"Hold on a second, Brian. What were the ratings before Trump, and what are the ratings now?" Koppel asked.
"I would say we might be up 20, we might be up 30 percent, we might be up 40 percent. If we go back down 40 percent, that's okay too," Stelter said.
One of the panelists interjected to say such a drop might "not be ‘okay.'"
"Of course it is," Stelter said. "Hold on, I reject the premise that these networks are making so much money off of Trump and thus we benefit from it."
Koppel proposed moving to discuss MSNBC and away from the "sensitive subject" of CNN.
"Tell me for a moment if you will – let's get away from CNN. Alright? Sensitive subject. Let's go to MSNBC – Is there a moment of the day when they are not focusing on Donald Trump or some intimately related subject?" Koppel asked.
The New York Times published a profile piece titled, "CNN Had a Problem. Donald Trump Solved It," last year and detailed Zucker's fascination with Trump.
"I’ve always had a little bit of a populist take on things. Which I know is interesting when you talk about Donald Trump," Zucker said.