CNN in Trump’s Crosshairs By Jonathan Easley and Joe Concha
Trump has long been critical of CNN, claiming it is biased against him and labeling it the “Clinton News Network.” During the presidential campaign Trump ripped the network as “dishonest as hell” and “disgusting.”
That feud escalated this week with CNN’s decision to run a controversial report highlighting Trump’s alleged ties to Russia, which provoked an explosive public exchange between Trump and CNN’s chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Under fire, CNN is fiercely defending its bombshell report and its reporter. Trump and his team are digging in against both, lashing out at the media outlet as “fake news” and threatening to ban Acosta from future events if he’s disrespectful to Trump again.
The grudge match with Trump comes at a fraught time for CNN.
There is speculation that the feud between Trump and the network might impact AT&T’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner, which is CNN’s parent company.
Trump has said he opposes the deal and met with AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson in New York City on Thursday. Trump has shown a willingness to intervene in the public and private markets to drive outcomes he’d like to see in the business world.
In the short term, media analysts are split over how long the feud will last and what it will mean for CNN’s daily programming.
CNN is being praised by many in the media for breaking the story that intelligence officials briefed President Obama and Trump on the existence of an opposition research document put together by a former British spy that alleges deep ties and conflicts of interest between Trump and Russia.
Many in the media believe CNN showed restraint by not printing the salacious details in the unconfirmed report, unlike Buzzfeed News, which has suffered blowback for publishing the uncorroborated allegations in full.
Acosta’s outburst has also been the subject of debate, as partisans either view it as a noble stand against an abusive president-elect, or a an embarrassing over-reach that showed disrespect for the office of the president and an outright hostility toward his administration.
Trump seems to feed off that tension within the media, which is massively unpopular in the eyes of the public. Some believe it helped him get elected.
“Maybe CNN gets a short term bump from the attention,” said David Shuster, the former Fox News and MSBNC anchor who once worked for CNN president Jeff Zucker. “But the long term damage to CNN, and the boost to Trump, could be significant. He's winning this.”
Trump has a propensity to move from feud to feud, which is also something to watch in terms of damage for CNN.
Fox News and Megyn Kelly were the top target for Trump at the beginning of his presidential campaign, and there was a time when he was a ubiquitous presence on CNN, where he would appear with a number of the network’s stars — including Don Lemon, who he has since criticized.
Over the summer, Trump feuded with MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” but more recently he has talked to the show’s hosts, showcasing his ability to mend fences.
Trump’s relationship with CNN soured after the GOP primary.
The network itself came under criticism for showing too many Trump speeches unedited. Some of Trump’s rivals in the GOP primary argue the network helped elect him.
More recently, CNN has been a big target for people at Trump’s rallies, with thousands of supporters repeatedly chanting in unison “CNN sucks.”
The controversy could flame out quickly, as Trump has displayed a pattern of careening from one media dust-up to the next.
Whether the controversy lingers could be up to CNN president Jeff Zucker, who has a past relationship with Trump and could play a role in easing tensions between the two.
Zucker hired Trump for the highly-rated reality program “The Apprentice” back in 2004.
“If there is one thing we know for sure about Donald Trump, it’s that he can hold a grudge. Just ask Rosie O’Donnell or Graydon Carter,” said media analyst Brian Flood.
“It would probably take Jeff Zucker heading to Trump Tower to kiss the ring to squash the whole thing. Citizen Trump would hold a grudge for life, but President-elect Trump has shown he’s willing to meet with anyone under the right circumstances.”