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As the pandemic deaths mount, huge sections of the West Coast burn, Trump threatens military action against possible post-election protesters, and the U.S. economy remains stuck in a dire state of decline, it's important to understand how the country came to this crisis under Trump. And it's imperative that the media's role in creating Trump's doomed presidency doesn’t get overlooked or downplayed. The news media's failings in 2016 were legendary and the country today is paying a stunning price. That's why disturbing new revelations about CNN's relationship with Trump during the 2016 campaign are so infuriating.
According to a recently leaked phone call from the height of the Republican primary season, CNN chief Jeff Zucker called Trump's longtime attorney Michael Cohen to butter up team Trump: "You guys have had great instincts, great guts and great understanding of everything." Zucker stressed how "fond" he was of Trump, wished he could talk to him "every day," and then floated the idea of giving Trump a "weekly show" on CNN during the campaign. Zucker ended the call by announcing he was going to call Trump directly and "wish him luck in the debate tonight…He's going to do great."
A weekly show? CNN wanted to hand over airtime exclusively to one of the candidates running for president? Ethically, that's unthinkable. Why would the head of a news organization be trying to broker that kind of deal during a campaign year? It's inconceivable, unless you view American presidential campaigns as nothing more that entertainment, and your job as the head of CNN is to secure pleasing content.
It gets worse for CNN.
On the taped call, Zucker offered up advice on how Trump could best fend off his Republican challengers, and specifically how to deal with claims of Trump being a "conman":
ZUCKER: You know what you should do? Whoever is around him today should just be calling him a con man all day so that he gets so used to it, so that when he hears it from Rubio, it doesn’t matter. 'Hey, conman. Hey, conman. Hey, conman.'
Secretly working as a Trump consultant was an astonishingly misguided move for someone who oversees a news organization with 3,000 employees. But Zucker clearly saw Trump as an instrument to higher CNN ratings, not as a newsmaker who needed to be held accountable.
Zucker won't comment on this taped recording of him offering up deals and compliments to Trump during a campaign in which the candidate was labeling Mexicans as rapists and stacking up relentless, provable lies. Publicly, Zucker has insisted the channel’s 2016 coverage was just right. "We didn’t bend over backward for Trump; we did what we felt was in the best interest of our viewers and readers to understand the story," he announced in January, 2017.
"News is a business, with all the behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing that entails," wrote NBC media reporter Dylan Byers, when news of the Zucker phone call broke. That may be, but I know for a fact Zucker was not making these calls to the Clinton campaign in 2016 — he was not effusively praising the candidate, calling her with debate advice, or offering her a "weekly show."
In fact, CNN only grudgingly covered Clinton campaign speeches. The network famously broadcast an unoccupied Trump campaign lectern while Clinton gave a serious address. At the time, and in an unprecedented campaign move, CNN aired endless Trump rallies live and in their entirety. No explanation was ever given why the events were covered as "news," while no other campaign rallies received that kind of uninterrupted airtime.
CNN wasn't alone in gorging on Trump content. Even as Clinton tried to become the first woman president in U.S. history, which represented a compelling storyline, Trump received three times more press attention — in 2015, Trump landed 327 minutes of network evening news coverage, compared to Clinton's 121 minutes.
Along with primary season debates, cable news town hall forums became big money makers for the outlets during the campaign. These were some of the questions put to Trump at one CNN town hall:
•"What do you eat when you roll up at a McDonald's, what does - what does Donald Trump order?"
•"What's your favorite kind of music?"
•"How many hours a night do you sleep?"
•"What kind of a parent are you?"
•"What is one thing you wish you didn't do?"
Noted Slate's Isaac Chotiner at the time, "It remains shocking that after months of bigoted comments and almost pathological dishonesty, Trump still lands these types of interviews."
It was indeed shocking. And now we know that behind the scenes, CNN's chief was floating a "weekly show" for Trump. The press owes everyone an apology for 2016.
📺 I have mixed feelings about this CNN interview with Trump adviser Peter Navarro from Sunday's "State of the Union." The clip received lots of praise because host Jake Tapper rightfully refused to let Navarro filibuster the straightforward question about why Trump so clearly lied about the threat of the coronavirus last winter.
That's the good news. The bad news is Navarro has been spewing pandemic lies on CNN, and elsewhere, for six months when there's no reason for a charlatan like him to be granted any kind of national platform, let alone respect.
FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK
Caamp, "Fall Fall Fall"
🎙This Ohio trio has quickly emerged as one of my favorite American bands. "Fall Fall Fall" is from the band's forthcoming album, and I think the song is an understated masterpiece. Expanding beyond the band's usual lyrical focus on the personal, "Fall Fall Fall" is unequivocally about the perilous state of the American dream.
"It's a song about change," says lead singer Taylor Meier. "It's about recognizing where we are and what we can do. It's a song about empathy and yearning for togetherness. We're not lost, yet. There's still time for sure."
Bringing the song's urgent plea down to a whisper, and surrounding it with piano, light guitar and banjo, Meier pens a stunning meditation on the power of the possible.
Will you fall, fall, fall for your furies?
Would you die on the blade like your daddy did?
Will you not stop and shake from this worry?
Would you stay on the line while your country died?
The world burns by
You've got smoke in your eyes