Several CNN staff members were caught on hidden camera reminiscing about the days when they say the cable news network used to “cover news.” Now, they say, it’s all about left-leaning bias, sensationalism, and—above all—an incessant focus on President Donald Trump.
They largely blame their issues with the network on its top leadership, particularly CNN President Jeff Zucker.
“I hate seeing what we were and what we could be and what we’ve become,” Patrick Davis, a manager of CNN field operations and a 25-year veteran of the network, was recorded as saying. “It’s just awful.”
Davis noted that while journalists learn in school that their job is “to be middle of the road,” CNN has failed to acknowledge that this isn’t its business model.
“Doing just regular day-in, day-out telling the news, you’re not gonna compete with Fox or MSNBC,” he said. “Because even though we’re totally left-leaning … we don’t want to admit it.”
“Basically it comes down to Zucker,” Nick Neville, a CNN news associate, was recorded as saying. “It leans left probably because of Zucker.”
He suggested that CNN “could let the news people decide the news and have the executives stay out of it,” but his coworker, Christian Sierra, a CNN media coordinator, responded pessimistically.
“It’s never going to happen,” he said.
Davis said he’s worked under CNN presidents who were “so hands-off that you don’t even hear from them for a month.”
However, he said, that’s not Zucker’s style.
“He’s involved every day, has a plan, whatever—I just don’t agree with it.”
‘Out of Your Mind’
During one of the network’s 9 a.m. rundown calls, a CNN editor mentioned a book by two New York Times writers that claimed that Trump “had often talked about fortifying a border wall with a water-filled trench, stocked with snakes or alligators, prompting aides to seek a cost estimate.”
Trump, at the time, called it “fake news.”
“I may be tough on Border Security, but not that tough,” he said on Twitter.
The editor was about to move on to another story, but Zucker stopped him.
“I know there’s 7,000 impeachment stories, and I’m the one that’s saying we should just stay on impeachment,” he said. “But when, you know, when a story of this magnitude comes up and you can objectively say, ‘[Trump,] you’re out of your mind,’ you should do it and say, ‘You’re out of your mind.’”
“Within minutes from it coming from Jeff’s mouth, it goes across the business,” said Cary Poarch, a satellite uplink technician who works as a contractor at CNN’s Washington bureau and who recorded several of the morning calls in at least some of the videos for Project Veritas.
Davis said he hadn’t listened to the 9 a.m. calls for about 15 years.
“I can’t listen to it. It’s all [expletive]. It’s all just a bunch of [expletive]. I wish that wasn’t the case,” he said.
While Zucker made clear he wants the network to primarily focus on the Democrats’ efforts to impeach the president, Davis scoffed at the story.
“The House [of Representatives] is crazy enough to go through with [impeachment], and they’re starting it,” he said. “Everyone’s trying to do this from a ‘holier than thou’ perspective, like, ‘Oh, he abused his power.’ Those [expletive], those 500 [expletive] up there [in Congress], abuse their freaking power every day. They do this [expletive] every freaking day. What he was doing was nothing compared to what these [expletive] are doing on a daily basis.”
Gerald Sisnette, a CNN field production supervisor, saw no end in sight for CNN’s Trump focus, the video suggests.
“This is a story that’s not gonna go away,” he said, referring to the reporting on Trump. “The only way this will go away is when he dies. Hopefully soon.”
“CNN was nothing like this” 13 years ago when Mike Brevna, CNN floor manager, came aboard, he was recorded as saying.
CNN used to be “really just straight news,” said Asia Jacobs, a technical operations supervisor at CNN’s “The Axe Files.”
“There wasn’t as much opinion and panel [discussions] and the same people.”
While Zucker took over in 2013, “it wasn’t until Trump that we ended up being all Trump all the time,” she said.
In one of the previous videos released by Project Veritas, Neville said that Zucker “has a personal vendetta against Trump,” at least partly going back to when Trump worked with Zucker on “The Apprentice” reality TV show.
Other staff members also reminisced about the “old days.”
“We used to cover news. We used to go out and do stories,” Scott Garber, senior field engineer at CNN, was recorded as saying.
He gave an example of the May 18 small plane crash in Honduras, in which four Americans had died.
In the past, CNN “would’ve sent a crew down there,” he said. Now, “Trump is more important.”
Even when a crew is sent out, Davis didn’t seem to agree with the CNN approach.
He remembered going to Florida some weeks ago to cover Hurricane Dorian.
As the storm approached, it became increasingly clear it would swing north along the coast, resulting in far less damage than previously anticipated.
“Locals are like, ‘Pfff, everyone chill out.’ … They basically were taking a deep breath from the whole thing,” Davis said. “Then you turn on CNN two seconds later, Chad Myers is like, ‘Oh my God, the world is gonna end, get your life rafts.’ It’s like, it was just crazy.”
“It just makes us look like a caricature of ourselves,” he said.