Scott D. Pierce: CNN’s blowhard chief fires back at Fox News’ bombastic boss

First Published      Last Updated Jan 16 2014 04:48 pm

I am not and never have been a Jeff Zucker fan. And he hasn't exactly been humbled by the fact that, when he was running NBC, he drove that network from first to fourth place in the ratings and pretty much destroyed it as a bastion of quality programming.

Now he's the president of CNN, and he's absolutely right about what cable news is and what it should be.

"Obviously, Fox [News] and MSNBC have partisan political viewers," Zucker said. "When you watch those channels, you only hear what you want to hear. But if you only hear what you want to hear, you miss the whole story. And I think that where we can be is providing the whole story."

That's an admirable goal. One that CNN has never entirely lived up to.

But it was absolutely laughable when Fox News chief Roger Ailes recently told The Hollywood Reporter that he is "thrilled" that CNN has "thrown in the towel" and is "out of the news business" because Zucker has added acquired documentaries and travel shows to the CNN lineup.

"I think that that criticism is, obviously, meant to deflect your attention from the book this week and is silly," Zucker said, "as evidenced by the fact that we happen to be in the news business as opposed to some other fair and balanced networks."

Yes, it was one blowhard going after another blowhard. But Zucker was completely correct that Ailes was trying to shift focus from the publication of the unflattering biography "The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News — and Divided a Country." It's true that Ailes, who is a master of media manipulation, "hasn't done an interview in a long time and then does it the week that the book comes out. He's trying to deflect attention."

Of course. Ailes doesn't want people saying things like this:

"[The book] confirms basically what we've known all along," Zucker said. "Which is that the Republican party is being run out of News Corp. headquarters masquerading as a cable channel."

That is what's in author Gabriel Sherman's book.

"[Ailes] said to his senior executives, 'We're going to have to do a lot to get this guy elected,' meaning Mitt Romney," Sherman said on CNN. (Not Fox News, obviously.) "For the first time in American history, a Republican candidate's war room was being run out of the headquarters of a news channel. Mitt Romney's war room was being run out of Sixth Avenue in midtown Manhattan."

Ailes has built Fox News brilliantly. In the process, he has falsely painted less biased cable news channels as more biased.

If the Fox News motto were "The Conservative Alternative," it would be far more accurate. But that probably wouldn't have worked as well as demonizing the competition.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce