If you want to take the Red Pill now, this will go a lot better. Jeff Zucker, head of CNN, was knowingly and actively a crypto-Donald Trump supporter in 2016. He didn’t do it because of some secret pact with the Clinton campaign to promote the “easiest to beat” of the formidable GOP stable. He didn’t do it because he was an unwitting stooge of Trump’s sycophantic cadre. And he certainly didn’t do it because Trump was playing 4D chess. He did it for his own bottom line.
When we get mad at our favorite politicians because they “sell out” to the least common denominator, for relevance, for access to power, or simply for sheer ego, we forget the basic rule: “there is no bottom.”
However, in media, there is in fact a bottom: It’s the bottom line. Money is the ultimate influence when shareholders, debtors, massive star payrolls, and greenlights from suits dictate personal fortunes and misfortunes.
When unrestrained activist infotainment/news meets unrestrained capitalism, the combination forms its own moral alignments, and Zucker, absent actual morals and the ethics that are harnessed to those, aligns himself with whatever makes bank for him, and as head of CNN, that means whatever makes bank for CNN.
This isn’t just about CNN either. It’s all of them. It’s the nasty little secret buried in the hallway supply closet, behind the payroll envelopes that nobody uses since they converted to electronic pay statements and working from home. It’s the hush-hush “don’t speak of it” conversation that editors and senior editors have after (more than) a few drinks. Media is a business and the business has owners who make decisions based on money.
Disney, which owns ABC, ESPN and a coven of movie studios (among other things), is just fine thanking the same agencies in China that are responsible for putting a kind face on genocide. Then they go out and report how Trump made all kinds of promises and predictions about COVID-19 in the early days, which have “fallen short or are drastically behind.” They leave out how China consistently lied about the seriousness of the virus and its spread, misreported (and continues to suppress) the numbers of its own dead, and coopted WHO to support their deception. China, like Trump, makes bank.
Ethics? They go around like the spinner in a game of oiled naked Twister and stop wherever the cash is. The Washington Post is owned by Jeff Bezos, who also happens to run Amazon, one of the largest companies on earth, which gets substantial bucks from doing business with…China. Even while the company shut down its China market in 2019, Amazon still heavily recruits Chinese sellers, for low prices and to keep their position as “earth’s biggest selection.”
WaPo’s media reporter Erik Wemple is really good at calling CNN’s pot black, while ignoring his own kettle, which has profited mightily under Bezos since it adopted a “democracy dies in darkness” tagline directly targeted against President Trump.
Forget about the newsroom and the editorial page. Let’s look at the money side. Jeff Zucker greenlit Trump’s “The Apprentice” while at NBC. The fact that the show propelled Trump, who was already well known but not a present superstar in the early 2010s, into the top tier of political personalities was no secret. In February 2016, The Wrap reported:
The rise of Donald Trump has stunned almost everyone in the media and political establishment — except for a TV executive who can take more credit for Trump’s media success than almost anyone:
CNN President Jeff Zucker.
Zucker has given Trump so much play on his network — sometimes airing Trump rallies end to end — that it has shocked some colleagues and media observers. For the once-lagging network, the Trump play has paid off wildly: Its ratings have skyrocketed this election cycle.
There’s more evidence that Zucker and Trump have a you-scratch-mine and I’ll-scratch-yours back room arrangement than there is that Trump is a Russian stooge. Zucker and CNN have made lots of bank on Trump–by opposing him, as have MSNBC, The Washington Post, The New York Times and all the other media who report every tweet of the president’s as if it were the herald of Armageddon, and fact check his every word at rallies.
Twitter might not even be around today if it weren’t for St. Donald, it’s patron saint. He has said he won the White House because of Twitter, among other factors, but every time he trashes Twitter, they get the benefit, financially. Trump is to media what Barack Obama was to gun manufacturers (not a perfect analogy since 2020 has been a record year for gun sales, but much of that is due to the pandemic and the riots in some cities). Trump is a golden goose for those in media who oppose him, because when he mentions them, they get clicks and views and subscribers. And Trump always, always, mentions them when they write negative stories. So they keep doing it (truth be damned).
Donald Trump is bankable. He’s not just bankable, he is the bank in media. A single tweet from Trump, especially one decrying a book as “fake news” can be worth millions. Beneath the “exit” sign in the White House West Wing, there’s a little box with a slot to deposit your business card, and book publishers fight over the contents. They divvy out the tasks to ghost writers who get some mention in the dust jacket, while the spill-all sordid details of daily drama are front-and-center as told by the diva of the day.
There are also the special few who are invited for nearly unprecedented access to The Boss, like Bob Woodward. Woodward met 18 times and recorded the conversations. It didn’t matter what Trump said, or the truthfulness (or untruthfulness) of his words. Trump knew that anything Woodward published would help him, because literally nothing Woodward could write could stick.
Just taking the coronavirus remark as an example. As Jim Geraghty noted, it’s nothing new. It’s not even a “bombshell.” Trump had been alternately playing down the “China virus” while taking credit for early action at the time he spoke with Woodward. The same thing with the other so-called revelations from Woodward’s interviews. Trump is on record, publicly, saying pretty much the same thing as Woodward wrote.
That’s the thing with Trump. He contradicts himself–sometimes in the same sentence!–enough that pretty much anything he’s likely to tell a reporter on the record is something he’s said publicly, at a rally, in a news conference, or somewhere the camera were rolling. It’s like trying to report how a certain room is blue when it’s really wallpapered in tartan plaid: all the colors are already there.
The media all know this. The reporters at CNN, like Jeremy Diamond, have covered Trump since 2015. They can recite Trump in their sleep. They know Trump is liable to say anything, repeat anything, retweet anything, according to which of the homunculi fighting over the joystick buried deep in his cerebellum wrests control from the others, before it’s wrested away again.
None of it matters, because supporting Trump means money to the heads of the organizations. If there’s a bottom to politics, the media lies at its slimy floor. But there’s a cost for writhing in the slime, especially for the workers who have to churn out content day after day while the bosses laugh at Trump’s surging poll numbers. They’d love getting rid of Trump from the White House (so they can hit the talk show circuit, publish a few “how we did it” books, and sell influence to Democrats), but they’d really love it if he won again.
That’s what the Zucker tapes show. That’s what Leslie Moonves meant when he said about Trump and the 2016 race, “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”
Obviously, this is poor for employee morale, like workers in Ford’s San Jose Assembly Plan quality control department who were responsible for the Pinto’s gas tank learned the hard way. So a bunch of families perished in flames–but we made money!
I haven’t seen anything in the polling or the news events that drive voter decisions to believe that Trump is going to lose the election in some blue landslide to Joe Biden. I see the same tightening we saw in 2016, and even solid-blue states like Minnesota are coming into play. I still think this is Trump’s election to lose, and he will likely win it, because regardless of the polling, there’s the incumbent’s advantage, the blue-shift bias in polling, and the “Trump factor” of folks who keep saying “I just want to be left alone to live my life,” or who are concerned about their kids and their retirement.
Many voters might despise Trump, and a majority have already decided they will vote for Biden because he’s “not Trump.” But an unknown number are beginning to have some cognitive dissonance with that decision, while others want a reason to vote for Trump, who has been overall good for the stock market, and good for our economy. Of course, the media is all over this, reporting how Trump’s economic message is “vulnerable.”
They know Trump will tweet against it, and that will bring in more waves of Very Online activists and Democrats tweeting and sharing the articles, and that will lead to more views, clicks, advertising revenue, and, yes, profit. Trump’s quick Twitter trigger is the best thing that has ever happened to the anti-Trump media, and at the top, they know it.
Zucker knows it, and made the mistake of having too clubby a past with the reality-star turned president. As Matt Taibbi wrote, “CNN these days plays face to Trump’s heel, and vice versa, because that’s where the money is.” Zucker gave away the kayfabe–he broke character long enough for everyone to get a peek behind the show, to see the showrunners scrambling for a line when the script runs away on live TV.
Trump has consistently tweeted that the media is the “enemy of the people.” Most of this is simply staying in his character, throwing red meat to his base, and being the tweet-happy trolling triggerman he is at heart. But there’s a core truth too. Kind of like when Jerry Seinfeld always said “not that there’s anything wrong with that,” when referring to gays. Heh heh, well, yeah, sure, it’s fine–but not for me.
Bank robber Willie Sutton said he robbed banks because “that’s where the money is.” Our media may as well be in the same line of work, for all the moral and ethical value of what they’re producing most of the time, even while they claim they’re following after truth. The truth is too inconvenient to them, and most reporters would rather not know (or choose to ignore).
The people in the C-suites of big media know that they’re in it for the buck. They know that they would gladly be the enemy of the people if the people who happen to be shareholders, and the ones who set CEO compensation, wanted it. Those same people gloss over “mostly peaceful” riots, cops shot ambush style in L.A., and other atrocities, because “not that there’s anything wrong with that.” Privately, they share nervous laughter while hoping Trump tweets about their latest accusations and “bombshells” about him, because, well, that’s where the money is.