The New York Times Magazine has a fascinating profile of Zucker and CNN under Trump. There are plenty of juicy details in it—including the fact that Trump considered giving exclusive rights to his inauguration to Fox News, suggesting he’s incapable of thinking about politics outside of his own base. But the biggest takeaway is that Zucker realized in 2016 that the network’s programming should revolve around Trump’s star. Here are two telling paragraphs:
It’s hard to imagine that either Trump or Zucker would be where he is today without the other. Trump’s foray into reality TV gave Zucker a prime-time hit when he badly needed one; now, Trump’s foray into politics has given Zucker a big story when he badly needed one. It’s a symbiotic relationship that could only thrive in the world of television, where the borders between news and entertainment, and even fantasy and reality, have grown increasingly murky....
As Zucker sees it, his pro-Trump panelists are not just spokespeople for a worldview; they are “characters in a drama,” members of CNN’s extended ensemble cast. “Everybody says, ‘Oh, I can’t believe you have Jeffery Lord or Kayleigh McEnany,’ but you know what?” Zucker told me with some satisfaction. “They know who Jeffrey Lord and Kayleigh McEnany are.”
CNN still does great reporting (particularly online) and it has more than its fair share of excellent journalists, many of whom—like Jim Acosta and Jake Tapper—have also become characters in the Trump pageant. But Zucker’s main realization was that putting Trump front-and-center—and allowing people like Lord and McEnany to provide a credible-seeming foundation for his lies, half-truths, and ravings—instead of, say, reporting or news, would let the network thrive. And the only cost was the destruction of the country.