Undercover Video Reveals Tension Between CNN Staff, Leadership Over Nonstop Trump Focus

By Petr Svab
Petr Svab
Petr Svab
Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.
October 14, 2019 Updated: October 14, 2019

CNN President Jeff Zucker has insisted the cable news network has to maximally focus on pushing the story of Democrats trying to impeach President Donald Trump, despite objections by staffers that the push is harming the organization’s journalistic integrity, according to undercover recordings.

“Impeachment is the story,” Zucker said during a recent 9 a.m. rundown call, according to one of the recordings, which were released on Oct. 14 by investigative journalism nonprofit Project Veritas. “You know, I know we’re going to feel a tendency to think we’re doing too much, but this is the story.”

At least some of the recordings were provided by Cary Poarch, a satellite uplink technician who works as a contractor at CNN’s Washington bureau.

“I just want them to own where they’re at,” he said of CNN. “Like, hey, if we lean left, cool, let’s just say we lean left, if we lean right, let it be known.”

CNN didn’t respond to multiple requests by The Epoch Times for comment.

‘Trump Network’

Several CNN employees told Poarch or other undercover reporters about their dissatisfaction with Zucker’s approach.

“There’s just nothing we can do if Zucker wants impeachment every single day to be the top story,” said Christian Sierra, media coordinator at CNN, in one of the recordings.

Sierra said he “hate[ed] how everything is like all Trump all the time now.

“Everyone at the network complains about it,” he said. “They hate covering Trump every day.”

Epoch Times Photo
CNN Media Coordinator Christian Sierra on Sept. 12, 2019. (Project Veritas)

Mike Brevna, CNN floor manager, expressed a similar sentiment in another recording.

“It’s the Trump Network, dog. It’s like, it’s everything is all Trump. They not even thinking about, they not even thinking about anybody else,” he said. “They sold themselves to the devil. It’s, it’s sad. Because there’s so much news going on out there, but they don’t cover none of it. All they do is, because of sponsors and everything.”

Epoch Times Photo
A man who, according to Project Veritas, is Mike Brevna, CNN floor manager, on Oct. 9, 2019. (Project Veritas)

Nick Neville, a news associate at CNN, said in the recordings that “a lot of people” at CNN are “trying to, like, just do what they think is, like, the best of journalistic integrity.”

“And then you get on the 9 a.m. call and big boss, Jeff Zucker, [expletive] tells you what to do,” he said. “And it’s like you have to like, to a certain extent, you have to follow his verdict.”

During one of the morning rundown calls, one of the call attendees pitched a story about MSNBC’s Oct. 2 gun control town hall with Democratic presidential candidates.

“Guns will be the central topic in the 2020 Democratic nomination race today,” he said. “The Giffords PAC has paired up with MSNBC, they’ve got a guns town hall in Las Vegas, 10 candidates will be showing up there throughout the day.”

“I don’t care about the MSNBC event, okay?” Zucker responded. “I don’t care about them. Let’s just stay very focused on impeachment and everything that happens today because, look, you’re going to be coming on at 3 o’clock. Trump is at two.”

‘Personal Vendetta’

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 show.

“He’s, like, had an ongoing feud with Trump. It’s no surprise,” Neville said. “He’s had an ongoing feud with Trump since ‘The Apprentice.’”

“I’m just surprised CNN hasn’t been able to take down Trump yet,” one undercover reporter said during a car trip with other CNN staffers.

“I mean, I feel like they’re trying,” Neville responded.

He added that “Jeff Zucker can’t really complain” since it was CNN that gave Trump extensive air time during his campaign, thus boosting his candidacy.

In Neville’s view, not only CNN, but other networks have also been stifling people like him, who “want to do just, like, the truth, like, the dogged reporting.” The executives, he said, are chasing ratings and think, “If we just talk about Trump all day, people will watch.”

Epoch Times Photo
CNN News Associate Nick Neville on Oct. 5, 2019. (Project Veritas)

The executives appear to have a point: Trump has indeed been an eyeball magnet buoying news networks’ ratings across the board. Trump has even said that when he eventually leaves office, it will bankrupt the legacy media that have been near-uniformly critical of him.

Hiram Gonzalez, CNN floor director, voiced a similar opinion.

“Between you and I, we created this monster and now, we’re eating him full plate every single day,” he said. “Media created the Trump monster.”

Yet, his comments suggested CNN’s opposition to Trump goes beyond chasing ratings.

“I think we’re just trying every single way to show that we’re on the right side. … I think whatever tools are to our disposal, then that’s what CNN is doing,” he said.

Fox News

Zucker seems to have a particular disdain for Fox News, a major competitor that is outperforming CNN in viewership ratings by more than two to one.

“I think what’s going on in America now is really, fundamentally the result of years of fake news, conspiracy nonsense from Fox News that has taken root in this country,” Zucker said during a 9 a.m. rundown call. “And I’m dead serious about this.”

It didn’t seem to be just a personal observation either.

“Fake conspiracy nonsense that Fox has spread for years is now deeply embedded in American society and at the highest levels of the Republican elected officials, as we’ve seen with [Sen.] Ron Johnson,” Zucker said. “Frankly, that is beyond destructive for America and I do not think we should be scared to say so.”

In what appeared to be another rundown call, Zucker noted that “a lot of people at CNN” were “friendly” with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

“Time to knock that off,” Zucker said. “And it’s time to call him out.”

Graham, Zucker said, was regularly giving interviews to Fox News and it was time to “seriously call out what’s going on here.”

As Poarch saw it, it was the pot calling the kettle black.

“He was calling Fox News fake news and a propaganda machine and, with what I saw, I’m like, ‘That’s pretty much what CNN was,’” he told Project Veritas.


Sierra acknowledged that CNN goes easier on Democrats.

“Our Democratic interviews are like softballs, compared to the Republicans,” he said.

Epoch Times Photo
CNN Media Coordinator Christian Sierra on Sept. 14, 2019. (Project Veritas)

Brevna said “it was like a funeral” when he came to the CNN offices for his night shift on Nov. 8, 2016, right after Trump’s election victory was announced.

“People were like, in shock,” he said. “I wouldn’t say they were in mourning; I would say people were in shock.”

He saw a woman covering her face sobbing. He didn’t know who she was, he said.

Update: The article has been updated with more information about attempts to reach CNN for comment. The article has also been updated to reflect that it’s unclear whether Cary Poarch was the only undercover reporter for Project Veritas.

Petr Svab
Petr Svab
Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.