Jeff Zucker Screwed Democracy, Too
Collecting ducats while democracy burns.
1. The Fall of Jeff Zucker
The world is full of weird origin stories. Jeff Zucker’s is one of them.
Once upon a time, Zucker was the boy-wonder producer of a morning “news” show. He was to Matt and Katie what was Gelman was to Regis and Kathie Lee.1
And of this humble beginning, a media titan was born.
[T]he mystery shouldn't be why did Jeff Zucker's career die; it's why was it still alive to start with? This is the man who probably holds the record of screwing up in more ways and not just in more jobs, but in more different kinds of jobs than probably anyone in media history.
Running a movie studio into the ground? Check!
Destroying American democracy as a ratings stunt? Been there, done that.
Providing shelter to all manner of men accused of misconduct? Covered!
His career was the equivalent of a patient stricken with cancer, a heart attack and Ebola, who had also fallen out of an airplane. And then showed up for work the next morning.
And yet — he not only remained the president of a major news network, but was a plausible contender for advancement.
It is hard to look at a career like Zucker’s and not conclude that a great deal of the corporate executive “meritocracy” is really affirmative action for old, rich, white guys.
Normally I wouldn’t care about the comings and goings at Warner’s C-suite. But as Rushfield points out, Zucker’s fecklessness did play a small part in blowing up American democracy.2
While he was running NBC, he greenlit The Apprentice and resurrected Trump’s media career.
Then, when he was running CNN he endlessly promoted Trump’s candidacy, because it was good for ratings:
CNN infamously took his campaign speeches live, sometimes going so far as to broadcast images of an empty lectern with embarrassing chyrons such as “Breaking News: Standing By for Trump to Speak.”
In the name of ideological diversity, he opened CNN’s platform to Trump’s propagandists, irrespective of whether or not they could be trusted to speak honestly, or candidly, or responsibly on the network’s air.
There was Jeffrey Lord, who eventually had to be fired for Nazi-philia.
There was Kayleigh McEnany, who used her CNN perch as an audition to become Trump’s press secretary.
And there was Corey Lewandowski.
Corey is a special case because he was hired by CNN as an “analyst” three days after being fired as Trump’s campaign manager. It was an insult for the network to present the guy who just days before had been tasked with running Trump’s campaign as an honest broker who would tell the audience what he really thought about current events.
But it was worse than an insult—it was journalistic malpractice. Because Lewandowski had signed a non-disclosure agreement with Trump when he went to work with him. Most of Trump’s NDAs contained non-disparagement clauses which covered not just Trump himself, but his family and organization.
CNN hired Lewandowski even though he had signed one of these NDAs.
But then they would not either confirm or deny for their audience if Lewandowski was bound by a non-disparagement clause.