CNN Chief Jeff Zucker Defends Donald Trump Coverage After Another Record-Setting Night

Media's doing "too much handwringing" over how Trump is covered, the network president said.
Jeff Zucker, president of CNN, defended the network's focus on Donald Trump on Wednesday after the Republican front-runner helped drive ratings to record levels the night before.
Jeff Zucker, president of CNN, defended the network's focus on Donald Trump on Wednesday after the Republican front-runner helped drive ratings to record levels the night before.
Taylor Hill/Getty Images

NEW YORK -- CNN president Jeff Zucker on Wednesday defended his network’s heavy focus on Republican front-runner Donald Trump the day before, particularly its coverage of the arrest of Trump's campaign manager, according to network sources.

Zucker kicked off Wednesday's employee town hall by saying that the previous night’s televised Republican forum, which featured Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, was the most-watched ever for that format.

CNN averaged 3.26 million viewers during the three-hour event, with viewership jumping to more than 4 million during the second hour, which focused on Trump. The real estate mogul has been a ratings bonanza for cable news networks like CNN, which is up 165 percent in prime time from a year ago. At the same time, CNN and its network rivals have faced questions about the excessive amount of airtime given to Trump, who has benefited from having his rallies broadcast live and being able to routinely call in to news shows rather than appearing in person.

During Wednesday's town hall, an employee asked why CNN seemed to devote “80 to 90 percent” of its airtime Tuesday to Trump, and to the news of the battery charge against his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski. The employee pointed out that there were other significant news stories Tuesday, such as a Supreme Court decision on public-sector unions and President Barack Obama's pledge of new initiatives to fight opioid abuse.

“We actually covered every one of these stories on CNN, but they weren't all necessarily on television," Zucker said, according to sources who were not authorized to discuss the internal meeting.

Since taking the helm in 2012, Zucker has taken an all-in approach to CNN's television coverage, with certain big stories -- from the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 to the 2016 election -- dominating the channel. Zucker said Wednesday that CNN is "covering more news than we have ever covered" if one factors in the network's robust digital operation.

A CNN spokeswoman reached by The Huffington Post did not provide a comment.

Speaking at Wednesday's town hall, Zucker said there has been "too much handwringing" over the media's coverage of Trump, according to sources.

CNN has also come under scrutiny for hiring two political commentators, Jeffrey Lord and Kayleigh McEnany, whose on-air roles seem to be primarily as Trump boosters and defenders.

In September, The Washington Post's Erik Wemple reported that Trump's campaign had passed along Lord’s name to CNN in an effort to counter what it considered to be an excess of “Jeb Bush-friendly analysis” on the network. Lord spent time defending Trump as a unpaid guest before he was hired as a paid contributor.

On Wednesday, Zucker said he’s “really comfortable" with Lord's role at the network. The network chief touted CNN's “tremendously diverse roster of analysts," including Lord, as being a big part of the network's success this election cycle.

Editor's note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims -- 1.6 billion members of an entire religion -- from entering the U.S.

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