Shareholder Critics Warned Time Warner About CNN Bias, and Now Demand Dismissal of CNN President Jeff Zucker
Network's Action on Dubious Anti-Trump Story Indicates Time Warner CEO Took Advice Seriously - But Is It Too Little, Too Late?
Retraction, Apology and Staff Resignations at CNN Serve as Warning to Mainstream Media About Overzealous Pursuit of Damaging Trump Headlines
Washington, D.C. - CNN's retraction of an anonymously-sourced story and the subsequent resignation of three CNN employees suggests that Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes is beginning to make good on a promise he recently made to the National Center for Public Policy Research at his company's recent shareholder meeting to "recommit... to be independent." But it isn't enough. CNN President Jeff Zucker must also go.
"A new video indicates CNN President Jeff Zucker has been leaning on staff to curtail coverage of important topics to pursue the Russia-Trump issue for ratings," said National Center Vice President David W. Almasi. "Zucker has created a culture in which fake news isn't just tolerated, but encouraged. This is the second major retraction in less than a month for its Russia reporting. Time Warner's CEO pledged to us a recommitment to independence, and we feel he must fire Zucker to restore CNN's credibility."
CNN recently retracted and apologized for an article posted on its website that alleged ties between an associate of President Donald Trump who served on the presidential transition and a Russian investment fund reportedly under investigation by a U.S. Senate committee. The article was based on one anonymous source. According to a CNN report about the decision to retract the article, network staff were told "the story wasn't solid enough to publish as-is" and did not follow the network's standard editorial review process. CNN later accepted the resignations of three CNN staff members who were associated with the article. Earlier in June, CNN also corrected reports that falsely claimed fired FBI Director James Comey would refute Trump assertions that Comey told him he was not being investigated.
Additionally, and separate from that incident, a hidden-camera video released this week by Project Veritas features a CNN producer describing the intensity of CNN's focus on Russia-Trump allegations. In the video, recounting a staff meeting with Zucker that touched on network coverage of the June 1 decision by Trump to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord, CNN producer Jon Bonifield said Zucker "said in our internal meeting, he said good job everybody covering the climate accords, but we're done with that, let's get back to Russia." Giving his opinion on CNN's Russia-Trump coverage, Bonifield added: "I just feel like they don't really have it but they want to keep digging."
At Time Warner's June 15 annual shareholder meeting, Almasi – representing the National Center's Free Enterprise Project (FEP) – raised concerns about a strong anti-Trump bias in CNN coverage. He cited a Media Research Center analysis showing overwhelmingly negative coverage of the Trump Administration, and noted that "CNN appears to be a key player in the war against the Trump presidency." He asked Bewkes if he was concerned about a loss of viewers, boycotts of the network and a potential loss of advertising revenue due to concerns about anti-Trump bias. Bewkes said he would "recommit" to "an attempt to be independent." He acknowledged to Almasi that "the decision on whether we've failed - you're right - will be made by the viewer." The audio of the nearly 12-minute exchange between Almasi and Bewkes is available here.
"When higher-ups at CNN realized they were promoting a sensational story that could not withstand scrutiny, they acted decisively. But, despite an assertion by Bewkes at the Time Warner shareholder meeting that Trump's actions guide the news cycle, the Project Veritas video recorded earlier in the month appears to indicate a quest by network president Jeff Zucker for scandalous Trump scoops," noted Almasi. "Let's hope Bewkes' pledge at the shareholder meeting to do better in being independent ushers in a new mindset at CNN and not a one-off thing. Let this also be a warning to the rest of the media that straining the limits of reporting to keep up this Russia-Trump narrative is unsustainable and will not be tolerated by the public that wants policy solutions and not paralyzing scandal."
FEP raised the issue of media bias at CNN during Time Warner shareholder meetings in 2016, 2014 and 2013. Earlier this year, FEP also brought up the potential reputational risk of media bias and its effect on the return on investment at the shareholder meetings of the Walt Disney Company and the Ford Motor Company. After FEP raised the issue of bias at ESPN at the Disney meeting, the network issued new guidelines to try to ensure the network's reporting "is not influenced by political pressures or agenda." Overall, FEP has participated in 19 shareholder meetings this year.
Launched in 2007, the National Center for Public Policy Research's Free Enterprise Project is the nation's preeminent free-market activist group — focusing on shareholder activism and the confluence of big government and big business. Since 2014, its representatives have participated in around 100 shareholder meetings to advance free-market ideals in health care, energy, taxes, subsidies, regulations, religious freedom, food policies, media bias, gun rights, workers' rights and other important public policy issues. FEP's Employee Conscience Protection Project strengthened protections for the political beliefs and activities of over five million workers at 13 major U.S. corporations. FEP's questioning of Boeing's and General Electric's support for the Clinton Foundation helped trigger an FBI investigation into the Foundation's activities. Executives put on the spot by FEP at ABC News (Disney), the Washington Post and CNN (Time Warner) meetings acknowledged media bias.
FEP activity this year has been covered by media outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Variety, the Associated Press, Bloomberg, Drudge Report, Business Insider, National Public Radio and SiriusXM. FEP's work was also featured in Wall Street Journal writer Kimberley Strassel's 2016 book The Intimidation Game: How the Left is Silencing Free Speech (Hachette Book Group).
The National Center for Public Policy Research, founded in 1982, is a non-partisan, free-market, independent conservative think-tank. Ninety-four percent of its support comes from individuals, less than four percent from foundations and less than two percent from corporations. It receives over 350,000 individual contributions a year from over 60,000 active recent contributors. Sign up for email updates here. Follow us on Twitter at @NationalCenter for general announcements. To be alerted to upcoming media appearances by National Center staff, follow our media appearances Twitter account at @NCPPRMedia.