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Speculation on the Possible Sale of CNN Dredges up the Name of the Network’s Demise: Jeff Zucker

With talk of CNN’s future sparking speculation, the fact that Jeff Zucker is regarded as a serious contender has to be viewed as comedy.

As rumors swirl and conflicting industry opinions are tossed around, there is massive intrigue about the future of CNN. The New York Post suggests that insiders are speculating on the prospect that Warners-Discovery could be looking to unload its problematic property. In the guesswork about potential suitors, one name stands out in the parlor guessing game – Jeffrey Zucker.

Now, all of this barely rises above the common practice seen in sports involving trade rumors, in which we see wishcasting from sports journalists running with fed items from the agents looking to leverage teams on behalf of their clients. Here the Post spoke with a number of industry professionals who were across the board with opinions on the matter, but the amusement lies in the prospect of Zucker reacquiring his former network.

There is reason to look at these rumors with at least a small amount of viability. I recently did an overview of the rapid fall from grace of newly appointed network CEO Chris Licht. As other news outlets began covering the drama surrounding his departure, one of the revealing details reported was that there were a number of CNN personalities and staffers turning to Zucker behind the scenes over the course of the past year.

This explained how so many at the flagging network were still beholden to their former boss (and resisting the hoped-for changes Licht wanted to establish). It also revealed that Zucker, in a fashion, was working to undermine Licht and his desire to renovate a severely damaged news outlet. To suggest that Zucker is now poised to take back the controls of his flagship prompts a strong dose of eye-rolling.

A wrinkle in this proposal is how the dispatched leader would be expected to fund this acquisition, should the network be placed on the auction block. Zucker is the head of a company called Red Bird and partners with a company called International Media Investments. It is believed this Abu Dhabi-centered entity could draw the needed billions for a purchase from the country.

CNN would be financed with oil money. This would lead to all manner of speculation about how it covers global events, environmental concerns, and the various conflicts of interest that could arise.

There are a couple of things roundly avoided by those covering CNN’s possible future with Zucker – and certainly ignored by those many current staffers longing for his return. The first being that the network’s current ratings disaster began under Zucker’s watch. When he was dispatched in February 2022, CNN had fallen off the cliff ratings-wise. The network at the time was drawing an average of 550,000 viewers, a loss of well over two million from the 2021 levels, amounting to a -90 percent drop. This is a performance to which many still at the network are craving to return.

Beyond the foundering numbers, there is the track record of ethical lapses from Zucker’s leadership. Zucker pushed the network into a deeply partisan anti-Trump stance for years. He forged a deeply questionable relationship on air with Andrew Cuomo and permitted his brother Chris to commit numerous journalistic failures on air. Zucker gave Don Lemon the freedom to deliver biased rants for two hours in primetime. He encouraged Jim Acosta to be a garrulous distraction at the White House. And Brian Stelter was used as the moral mouthpiece to justify all of this misbehavior.

The Jeff Zucker era paved the avenue for CNN’s current foundering position. For him to be regarded as something of a savior to bring the network back to anything approaching prominence is laughable.

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