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Former CNN exec says ‘for better or worse’ future relevance of network is directly tied to Trump

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A former executive for cable news pioneer CNN says the network’s future “relevance” is directly linked to President Donald Trump, suggesting that if presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden wins in November ratings will crash.

In a story regarding the “Trump Bump” — a reference to the boosted coverage of the president has provided networks and news organizations — the outlet Digiday noted how media adjusted its business and revenue models to account for the increased attention.

Included in the story are interviews with former CNN correspondents and executives who discussed the network’s decision to take a confrontational approach to covering President Trump and how, over the past three-and-a-half years, often that became ‘the story.’

One former CNN executive who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the end of a Trump presidency will most likely usher in a ratings crash as well as a loss of identity in an increasingly crowded cable news media landscape.

“I don’t think it was any more complicated than that Trump was good for ratings,” said the former executive. “Make no mistake, it’s a symbiotic relationship. The dramatic rise and relevance of CNN for better or worse is tied to Donald Trump.”

“It’s not unfair to say the media’s default posture is to be Trump skeptic,” added Peter Hamby, host of “Good Luck America” on Snapchat and a former CNN reporter.

Digiday notes that several political analysts and pundits believe that a Biden presidency will be “boring,” especially compared to the Trump presidency. Former CNN president Jonathan Klein told the outlet that the network’s ratings are likely to dip even further because audiences may no longer feel a similar “urgency” to watch.

“What would go away is the bad guy in the story. There’s no antagonist. So what are we tuning in for?” Klein said. “Grandpa is a nice guy. Everybody might be relieved to not watch as much cable news anymore and go find a book to read, a garden to plant, or a socially-distanced walk to take.”

Still, Klein observed, the ratings may not slide as much given that “you’re still going to be in the midst of an economic calamity, this wrenching social debate over inequality, and have a disease that may be killing tens of thousands of people a week.”

That said, CNN’s “confrontational” approach to covering Trump, as well as its overall political content, doesn’t differ that much from other networks like MSNBC and the broadcast trio of ABC, NBC, and CBS.

And as such, the network has suffered continual ratings declines since the Trump presidency began.

In September 2019, for example, all major cable news networks experienced a loss of viewers but by far, CNN and MSNBC were the biggest losers. Fox News had slipped 5 percent, while the other two were down 26 percent and 31 percent respectively.

And amid the Trump impeachment drama in December, CNN’s prime-time ratings fell to a three-year low, falling in behind ratings king Fox News and even MSNBC, which was a distant second. What’s more, the network has also consistently done poorly with the coveted 25-54 demographic.

The following month, President Trump trolled CNN and its parent company, AT&T, for not replacing top executives for sustained ratings declines.

“Can’t believe [AT&T] keeps the management after yet another CNN ratings dive. Nobody watching, NO CREDIBILITY! Maybe they should make changes at AT&T?” Trump tweeted.

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1212550610429587456

At the same time, Fox News — which generally, but not always, features the president in a more positive light — has been crushing the ratings, especially the network’s evening prime time lineup of Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham.

Regarding the former CNN executive’s observation that without Trump, the network will suffer even more in terms of ratings, he’s not the first one to make that connection.

In an October 2018 back-and-forth with CNN host Brian Stelter at the National Press Club, veteran journalist and former “Nightline” host Ted Koppel said the network needed Trump.

After Koppel said some media executives had already admitted that the president was good for business, Stelter interjected, “That means what? If ratings are up, that means what?”

“The ratings are up, that means you can’t do without Donald Trump,” Koppel replied. “You would be lost without Donald Trump.”

“Ted, you know that’s not true,” Stelter responded.

“CNN’s ratings would be in the toilet without Donald Trump,” Koppel reiterated, which drew some laughter from the audience.

“I reject the premise that these networks are making so much money off of Trump and thus, we benefit from it,” Stelter added.

Jon Dougherty

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