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CNN’s Jeff Zucker Talks ‘Political Agenda’ Behind AT&T Lawsuit, DNC’s Relationship with Media at SXSW

CNN president Jeff Zucker delivered a keynote speech at SXSW Saturday that saw him expressing belief that there was political motivation behind the Justice Department’s lawsuit to stop AT&T’s acquisition of his parent company, Time Warner, as well as discussing the Democratic National Convention’s relationship with the media.

Referring to comments Trump said in regard to filing suits against the deal, Zucker stated that he believed there was political motivation to block progress. “I believe that it came from the highest levels of the government,” he said.

Earlier this week members of Congress petitioned the Department of Justice to look into whether or not there was interference with the deal as a report surfaced alleging that Trump ordered Gary Cohn to pressure the DOJ to block the merger.

“There was absolutely no basis for the government doing what they were doing,” he said. “Clearly there was a political agenda at work, and I don’t think it takes being a genius to [see] where that comes from.”

Zucker’s appearance at the Austin, Texas-based entertainment and tech festival came less than a week after taking on both sports and news under WarnerMedia. In discussing his lateral move within the company, Zucker said that although his “two passions in life are news and sports” CNN would remain “fundamentally about
news.”

Zucker equally criticized the relationship between the Trump White House and Fox News, calling the network a “propaganda network” and noting their relationship is “completely symbiotic,” which is detrimental to journalism. Zucker has spoken out about Fox News before and repeated some of his concerns by adding that the network has “done a lot of damage to the political discourse” in the country.

The controversy surrounding new hire, and Trump Administration aide Sarah Isgur Flores was brought up, but laid to rest by Zucker. Noting the similarities and quick transitions for many who work in politics to and from both journalism and entertainment, he stood by the choice citing the diversity in political leanings as healthy for the industry. Before moving on, Zucker mentioned Isgur Flores taking a step back from her role “due to recent personal events.”

Turning an eye towards Fox News and their upset in not being handed a political debate, Zucker was quick to bring up the fact that news is not owed anything. He talked of the news network almost as a petulant child, citing Fox News as ultimately causing, “a lot of damage to the political discourse” both during the election and now Trump’s presidency.

When it came to discussing the DNC’s decision to keep Fox News from hosting a primary debate for the upcoming 2020 presidential election, Zucker said implied that it was the organization’s right to deny such privileges.

“There’s no obligation to give one to Fox,” he said, also noting that the DNC doesn’t have to give one to anyone, CNN included.

The conversation also took a turn towards the future of CNN with Zucker diving into the need for innovation within their digital platform and content. After the closing off their Beam and Snapchat show last summer, there was some concern that the news giant was taking a step backwards. The point being driven home as the moderator brought up controversy over the lack of diversity brought out by the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) this week. Zucker countered with an assurance of the commitment to diversity “on and off the air,” bringing the company forward into the future with a pro-truth stance.

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