CNN Will Not Give $5 Million to Charity to Get Donald Trump on Debates

Jeff Zucker CNN Open
Rob Kim/Getty Images

CNN will not give $5 million to charity to ensure Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump appears on the  Republican debate set to air on the Time Warner-owned cable-news outlet on December 15, the network’s top executive said Thursday.

“No,” said CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker, responding to a question about a demand from Trump that CNN donate $5 million to charity or face the chance the candidate might boycott the event. “We do not pay candidates to appear” on the network.  Zucker made his comments at an event held by the Paley Center for Media, as part of a wide-ranging interview with Ben Smith, editor in chief of digital outlet BuzzFeed.

CNN had previously declined to respond to the candidate’s demand that CNN give $5 million to charities associated with U.S. military veterans.

That doesn’t mean the network won’t continue to cover Trump’s various activities. BuzzFeed’s Smith chided Zucker over the amount of time the network has devoted to the real-estate mogul, asking if Zucker felt responsible for the candidate’s popularity. He also asked if Zucker felt CNN should call Trump out for remarks he has made about different races and classes of people. ” I don’t think it’s our role to take a point of view,” Zucker said. “It’s our role to report what he says, what he does, to fact check what he says and what he does. It’s not our role to build up a campaign or take down a campaign.”

Zucker also said he has begun to crack down on over-use of on-air graphics trumpeting “Breaking News” on the network, part of a belief that CNN needs to confirm details about news stories rather than just repeat details viewers are gleaning from social media. “I want to make sure we know what we are doing, and not just calling ‘breaking news,” on air, Zucker said.

As an example, the news chief disclosed that CNN had learned the identity of one of the suspected shooters in yesterday’s mass shootings in San Bernardino, California, by early primetime Wednesday night but actually waited until 11:45 p.m. to put it on air.  The network had “five sources,” Zucker confided to the audience, but “we wanted to flesh it out to make sure we had everything about it.” Viewers hear many details from Twitter or Facebook or friends, he said, “but they came to us because they know when we reported it, it would be right.”

Viewers can also expect a few changes on HLN, a sister network to CNN that Zucker also oversees. That outlet recently parted ways with its top programmer, Albie Hecht, as Zucker has articulated a new strategy that will have HLN rely more heavily on the library of original non-fiction series CNN has built in recent years. Zucker praised HLN’s “Morning Express” morning program and its primetime lineup, so the new focus is likely to be seen more strongly during the network’s daytime and overnight hours.

HLN was once known as “CNN Headline News,” but “anybody can give out the headlines, so that’s not really a strategy,” said Zucker. “We are trying to figure it out. We don’t think there’s room for four cable-news networks in the U.S. I don’t think there’s enough room for three.” The network recently tried to feature programming focused on topics trending in social media, but will now back away from such fare.

Zucker took some time to tout CNN’s resurgence in the ratings since he joined the organization three years ago. CNN he said, now ranks second among U.S. cable-news networks in the ratings, but he hoped to make more progress. Though the company factors in international performance and digital activity in sussing out its operational health, Zucker said he would one day like to unseat 21st Century Fox’s Fox News Channel in TV ratings.

“I believe we can get there,” said Zucker. “I don’t know when.”

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  1. 85wzen says:

    Well it just means that CNN is as Greedy as Mr. Trump. They don’t ‘give’ by the way… rich sources make sure that there is a TAX WRITE OFF first… not like these wealthy people are concerned in any way about the Homeless Population of America… which is growing at a healthy rate. No Presidential Wannabe cares about Grandfathers or Grandmothers of this nation living on the COLD AND UGLY STREETS of this ‘Greatest of Nations’! Even 1 person out there is too many! Not that it matters!

  2. Of COURSE the won’t. They CAN’T. They’re a news organization. They can’t give money to one candidate without giving money to all of them.

  3. Trump2016 says:

    most people have already made up their mind on who they are going to vote for, plus, with Christmas parties and shopping, I think the viewer turnout for this debate will be much lower. If CNN had made the voluntary gesture of donating a flat amount or a percentage of ad revenue to veterans non-profits, it would have been a big boost to to their corporate image. Now the network looks like a bunch of scrooges.

    • PG says:

      Nonsense. No-one should be able to extort or distort “donations” (or non-donations) in such a manner. Trump was essentially blackmailing CNN. I’m glad they stood firm.

  4. Arron says:

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  5. BARBARA. WILDAUER says:

    Well then I sincerely hope Absolutely No One watched the Debate without Trump!! He is the ONLY candidate running that can get this country out of the mess OBAMA has crested. So I take it CNN is to cheap to help a worthy cause. Shame on you! Personally I will NEVER EVER watch CNN again if Trump does not appear at the Debate!!!!

    • S says:

      So if one person chooses to not appear on a network, you won’t watch it again? Well then. You seem like a rational individual. (sarcasm)

      You need to explain what mess Obama created before you start criticizing. Unless you aren’t interested in facts? Maybe you should rant about his name sounding kinda like Osama. Or how his birth certificate was faked by aliens, or whatever else is typical of people who blame Obama for literally everything under the damn sun. Because you’re too sophisticated to say you’re just racist, right?

      • S says:

        I guess calling something a flop makes it one! I don’t know why you say that about Syria, care to explain? You need to back up your accusation, or you end up sounding like someone screaming obscenities about the government under a naked bulb. Show your work.

        I seriously don’t understand why so many people see universal health care as being some sort of socialist plot with death panels. This is unbelievably ignorant. Like, hey the government is trying to fix the fact that it is the only developed country without this health care, which is massively overdue, but they are evil for it!!! Time to get with the times, dear. In some ways, America is literally hundreds of years behind the times. You have been manipulated into believing that a service that can save your life and is provided by every other developed nation is a plot against you, are you not upset at being treated to poorly? Made to look the fool? You don’t want health care, why don’t you move to a country that is too poor to have it? Why not let the government do it’s job? I do not understand at all, the government is there to provide services, but when they do it you despise them.

        I don’t see how America can hold its title as the world’s most powerful nation for much longer. Education is being treated as a plot. Look at every other example in history of education being so hated, and see the result. Haiti, China during the rise of communism, and so forth. It is always a disaster. It doesn’t bode well for your future. But I guess you are too hateful towards the educated to know this. Maybe you should do your research.

      • Gratefultobealive says:

        Dear “Mom”, thank you for telling me that Obamacare is a flop. I would have never known that the healthcare I am getting because the President thought it was important that ALL people, regardless of their status in life, wasn’t serving me. Hmm…I guess I better wake up from the dream of my mammogram and pap test, the fact that I was treated for a serious illness, that I am able to afford to get my eyes checked…

      • Mom says:

        S, how about the mess he’s made of Syria and the flop of Obamacare? Those are a good start.

  6. We want to drop all out gop presidential candidate for good please right now today hurry and quickly faster good Gop will lose fall blasphemy blasphemy BLASPHEMY Donald trump was unfit liar a fool weak and criminal blasphemy Gop will lose fall RIGHT everybody RIGHT good boo boo BOO I hate Donald trump and gop too I hate all just do it please that all good

    • Mom says:

      Another thing, do you think the race card still works eight years after we’ve seen first hand what this idiot is capable of? Seriously. So many more things you could have said than that tired ol’ race card.

  7. Richard Oakley says:

    BRAVO CNN!!!! BRAVO!!!!!

  8. cadavra says:

    I should think the other candidates would be thrilled to not have him sucking all the air out of the room.

  9. if Trump is not on i will not watch.

  10. jfhdsiu says:

    I would like for Trump to boycott that debate just to SEE for myself if people really tune in to see Trump. I bet CNN’s ratings would be abysmal without Trump. I urge Trump to, now, decline their invitation and push the issue. It would prove ONCE AND FOR ALL, one way or the other. That WOULD take away one of the the lsm’s favorite points of division.

  11. Gerald Bostock says:

    The best way forward would be for CNN to simply disinvite Trump to the debate, unless HE donates $5million to Wounded Warriors. Ratings might suffer, but principle should trump profits (pun intended).

    Trump needs to learn a lesson. We’re trying to elect our President, and Trump can take his carnival show and satisfy his need for adulation somewhere else.

  12. Gerald Bostock says:

    The. Best way forward would be for

  13. Trump for President says:

    It just shows how much CNN cares about Veterans. They don’t. Donald Trump 2016!!! Make America Great Again!!!

    • Gratefultobealive says:

      Ugh.

    • Next generous, generous Donald Trump. Willing to donate somebody ELSE’S money.

    • Madison says:

      Hey, here’s an idea. Why doesn’t Trump donate some $5 million of his own? You realize you are falling for the dumbest media ploy Trump set up, right? The real situation is this: Donald Trump demands $5 million for his presence for a debate that is completely free. He’s just saying he’ll donate it to charity so when CNN says “no”, they look like the bad guy. Be smarter than this, please.

      • SJS says:

        Trump is perfectly capable of donating the money himself. What he is doing is blackmailing CNN. He is using the media to make them look bad because he isn’t capable of having a rational debate, so he doesn’t want to show up and hurt his own numbers. He knows he can’t win. But he’s turning it around and making it look like CNN is the bad guy. He’s treating you like an idiot, why are you eating it up?? Please, do not let Trump manipulate you like this.

  14. ~J Dog says:

    I hope The Donald stands up to this liberal drivel of a news network.

    Ratings will suck.

    But it would be a fantastic show of strength.

  15. tucker smoak says:

    How about you include the full quote. “How about we do this for CNN: I won’t do the debate unless they pay me five million dollars, all of which money goes to the wounded warriors or goes to vets.” Typical misleading media. You are all garbage.

  16. flywebguy says:

    ” I don’t think it’s our role to take a point of view.”

    CNN reporter Tweeted for Hillary to bash Ron Paul. They skew anything as long as they don’t get caught.

  17. J says:

    Trump set this up as a win for him either way. CNN folds and he shows off his deal making skills. CNN stands and he calls them stingy and CNN loses viewership.

    He should donate 5 million to stick it to them

  18. Michael Galello says:

    I am not a fan of Trump but why wouldn’t Zucker donate to a great cause anyway? It seams CNN can stand tall and donate to the people who fought and continue to fight for our freedom and CNN wealth rather than not – because Trump asked? Are we looking at this in right light? Or maybe its out of hate?

    • Timeless1 says:

      These debates are to help the American public see what differences there are among candidates. It gives the candidates air time on a major news network. If CNN were to allow Trump to dictate the circumstances of his appearance, other candidates would try to get the same to prove their “worth.” Soon we’d be persuaded to vote for someone by how much money there were able to raise by their tv time. Stupid precedent. CNN is right to say no.

      • madiritz says:

        YES^ thank you. Donald Trump set this up so when CNN says no, they look like the “bad guy” because they won’t donate to charity. But he can’t just demand them to do something (regardless of what it is) for his presence at an otherwise free debate. Why doesn’t Donald Trump donate his own money?

  19. Bill B. says:

    I hope this means that because he didn’t get his way he doesn’t show up for the debate. Maybe it will be a serious debate without having him stir up hatred for others.

  20. Kathy Doud says:

    I don’t know why they can’t donate some charity money for the candidates to debate, they certainly make lots of it having them debate on their station!

  21. Bill B. says:

    Thank you! Honoring this absurd request would have opened such a can of worms. Candidates should be happy and thankful to have the opportunity of being allowed to debate for elections. I know the narcissist probably thinks differently, but this is not a performance to be paid for.

  22. henkelasv says:

    What a bunch of stingy cheapskates. All the candidates should boycott CNN instead of catering to their manipulations. Trump stands up to such nonsense.

  23. John monforte says:

    I don’t see how he can say what he said with a straight face! Just listen to the bias in the questions.and comments of their moderators.

  24. Jon says:

    Good job Trump! CNN is a joke! They are the JUDGE and the PROSECUTOR. They are always critical of what other people do or don’t do. CNN does not do any service to anybody, they can’t even contribute to charity. They cant even provide us with neutral journalism without tinting it with their own stupid views.

  25. Apul Madeeq-Aoud says:

    ” I don’t think it’s our role to take a point of view.”

    LOL ok.

  26. mike says:

    This is a joke, right? It must be because Trump’s a joke! The GOP is spending millions on a presidential candidate,…..and Trump is what they come up with,……Are you F-ing kidding me!

  27. It’s not our role to build up a campaign or take down a campaign.” LMAO um. Obama? Did’n’t your folks piss themselves they were so happy?

    • A candidate’s ability to present themselves well is separate from their ability. The fact that Obama has run better campaigns than his opponents doesn’t make any news source who doesn’t slant their reporting “liberal”. None of this makes the statement itself something that every news organization Should be doing.

      Prior to recent events, I had been planning to vote for a Republican but at the moment none of the Frontrunners appeal to me

  28. Audrey says:

    It becomes interesting – and Variety especially should be aware of this – when one considers that any mention of a candidate (or a celebrity or a show) becomes publicity. Even reporting that the candidate wanted the network to make a charitable contribution is a mention of his name without mentioning his opponents. The days of equal time are long gone. In fact, he has gotten way more than his time, maybe it is just and equitable that he not appear on the debate stage.

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