From the day Donald Trump shocked the world with his victory in the 2016 presidential election, CNN has been on a single mission to demonize, destroy, and defeat the 45th president of the United States. While Trump may have lost the election to Joe Biden, it was not the result CNN needed to justify their utter abandonment of actual journalism over the past four years. Not only is the presidential election so close that it could not be called for four days and is still in dispute, the GOP picked up a bunch of House seats and currently holds the Senate. Trump may have lost, but he was by no means repudiated.
Prior to Trump’s election, CNN was seen as the down the middle, straight news alternative to the conservative Fox News and the progressive MSNBC. It had its biases — every outlet does — but its modus operandi was to be balanced.
When Trump took residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, that started to change, and fast. Starting early on with the Russian collusion hoax, then moving into impeachment, and finally during the COVID-19 response and 2020 election, CNN made a very conscious choice to be the president’s number one enemy in the news media. There is a reason Trump supporters chanted “CNN sucks” at the press pit at Trump rallies, which made brave Sir Jim Acosta feel unsafe.
CNN made the public and obvious decision that Trump could not be covered like any other president. They believed that his “lies,” many of which were simply outer-borough hyperbole, need to be confronted, not reported. Every time something bad happened, it was evidence of Trump’s malign influence; every time something good happened, it was in spite of Trump, if it was acknowledged at all. They ran smug ads about apples and bananas, portraying themselves as heroes of the truth. The only people who didn’t realize how laughable it all was were those at CNN.
A lot of CNN’s problems started at the top. An embarrassing recent expose on CNN President Jeff Zucker in the Wall Street Journal revealed that his seven-year tenure is likely coming to an end soon. Zucker, like his network, is often derided by both sides. Progressives blame them for giving Trump too much attention in 2016, and conservatives for the reasons laid out above. His relationship with Trump is long and complicated: he was head of entertainment at NBC when “The Apprentice” was racking up big ratings, and even apparently gave him advice on his candidacy.
CNN is still third of the big three in ratings. The secret sauce in the toxic brew of failure that Zucker concocted at CNN over the last four years was turning a news channel into an opinion channel. The network came to see its job not so much as telling people what had happened on a given day, but analyzing events, and coloring all coverage through the lens of Trump being awful.
This attitude metastasized into absurd results, like allowing anchor Chris Cuomo to interview his brother New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo over and over, even after it became clear the latter had made deadly mistakes regarding nursing homes that CNN would barely ever even mention.
Being an opinion network is okay if you admit it, which CNN does not, but even by that measure they were horrible. In 2019 when they hired former GOP Rep. Sean Duffy to represent the ideas of Trump and his supporters, some of their viewers and even some staff threw a hissy fit that got Duffy sidelined. He eventually moved to Fox News.
Even their daytime “news” coverage almost completely overlooked pro-Trump guests even though almost half the country supports the president. Again, this choice was made because they infantilized their audience, who they feared might be harmed by hearing what Trump’s supporters argued. It was their responsibility to protect their viewers and the nation, you see. They saw themselves as the brave 300 at Thermopylae keeping the Trump “lies” at bay, protecting the country.
So why isn’t the country grateful? It’s not grateful, but isn’t actually comprised of children too impressionable to listen to arguments they disagree with.
The question now is what will CNN be if the moving trucks make the journey from Delaware to DC? For four years, they have been all anti-Trump all the time. They are like addicts always focused on a fix. But if their dealer goes back to private life, then what good are they? What will they do?
It would take inspired and remarkable leadership to return the network to its pre-Trump establishment liberal position — that, and a lot of personnel changes. But don’t hold your breath. The far more likely and utterly boring possibility is that it simply becomes a sycophantic sounding board for Joe Biden.
In the war between Trump and CNN, the 45th president has already emerged victorious. He is one of only a few dozen men to ever be president; he has reshaped the Supreme Court, begun a meaningful peace process in the Middle East, reset our relationship with China, and presided, even under the pandemic, over remarkable economic success. That is his legacy.
CNN’s legacy is that of a whiny organization that threw a four-year temper tantrum, a news outlet that stopped practicing actual journalism in favor of a partisan food fight, a once-proud network that is now a punch line. Honestly, it’s a shame. But while I may feel slightly sad, I won’t cry. CNN brought this on themselves, and without some serious soul-searching, their tailspin into irrelevance will only continue to pick up speed.