Attention, Shepard Smith: You could have a job waiting for you at CNN.
Jeff Zucker, the president of CNN Worldwide, suggested at an event held by the network Thursday that the AT&T-owned news outlet would be “open” to speaking with the former Fox News Channel anchor when he is allowed to start looking for a new job. Smith left Fox News Channel abruptly earlier this month after clashing publicly with Tucker Carlson, one of the network’s primetime opinion hosts.
Zucker, who also is chairman of the news and sports properties of AT&T’s WarnerMedia unit, said he was not surprised Smith left Fox News Channel, noting that he felt Smith’s continued tenure there had become untenable. “I’ve said before, it’s akin to state run TV. I think it has morphed into conspiracy TV. It’s not a place where someone like Shep Smith could work,” Zucker said. “I don’t think it’s a journalism organization.” He added that he saw little if any difference between Fox News Channel’s opinion programming and news shows.
“I think Shep’s a great journalist,” said Zucker, who took part in a conversation with Brian Stelter, CNN’s chief media correspondent. “I would be open to talking to him.”
A representative for Smith declined to comment.
Fox News declined to respond to Zucker’s remarks. On Twitter, however, a Fox News reporter, Trey Yingst, pointed followers to recent Fox News scoops and said: “If you don’t think Fox News is a ‘journalistic organization,’ I’d encourage you to take a look at the work my colleagues have done over the past year.”
While acknowledging some of the criticism leveled at his own network – the argumentative panels of guests, the over-reliance on use of the phrase “breaking news” in graphics – Zucker said he was proud of CNN’s various “town hall” events in which various candidates took questions on topics such as the environment and equality, sometimes over hours of scheduled programming. “It’s not about the ratings,” he said, but rather about making sure people were informed about important issues.
“We are trying to do a public service,” said Zucker. “It’s about covering the election the way it needs to be covered.”
He also suggested he has been interested in helping people be better informed, which included giving air time on CNN to supporters of President Donald Trump and Republicans, even if some of them used CNN’s facilities to transmit conspiracy theories or incorrect information. A new CNN contributor, former Republican congressman Sean Duffy, recently appeared on the company’s morning program, “New Day,” and repeated unverified information pertaining to the recent probe into President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. Anchor Alisyn Camerota corrected him on air and pushed back on his inaccuracies.
Zucker said he has been focused on building out CNN’s fact-checking capabilities and directing the network toward a future he believes will be increasingly digital and mobile, while still relying on traditional TV.
He also cast some aspersion on Facebook, calling on the social-media giant to forego accepting political advertisements if it wasn’t going to check the veracity of their claims. “If a campaign ad comes along and it is not true, we are not going to take it,” the executive said, suggesting that Facebook should maintain similar standards.
Zucker downplayed a passel of unverified reports that have surfaced in the past that he might run for Mayor of New York City, step down from his job at WarnerMedia, or even become the CEO of the entertainment unit. He admitted that the idea of running for political office in the future held some appeal for him, but noted, “I have no plans to do so at this time.” He added: “I’m just doing my job.”
More to come…