Big new problems ahead for CNN

CNN, the venerable cable news channel now in its 38th year, is a mess.  While it masquerades as an objective news source, CNN's coverage of President Trump and the Republicans is anything but fair and balanced.  On Wednesday, November 8, news reports suggested that CNN could hamper the mega-billion-dollar sale of its parent company, Time Warner, to AT&T unless Time Warner first divests itself of CNN and separates it from the proposed deal.  And now an attorney is promising to refile federal charges alleging that CNN has systematically discriminated against more than 200 of its past and present employees who are African-American.


Celeslie Henley.

The legal case against CNN alleging racial discrimination was originally filed last December on behalf of two plaintiffs as part of a much larger class action involving as many as 175 CNN personnel.  One of the primary plaintiffs, Celeslie Henley, worked at CNN for seven years but was fired, she alleged in the 2016 suit, after emailing CNN's human resources department to complain about alleged discriminatory treatment by her employer.


Attorney Daniel R. Meachum.

The case that was filed last year, with the plaintiffs represented by Atlanta attorney Daniel R. Meachum, was thrown out of court this past July by Judge William Duffey, Jr.  At the time, the judge cited technical problems with the suit.  Attorney Meachum is now promising to correct the errors that he acknowledges and to refile the lawsuit before the end of this year.  He said this week that he has another 30 plaintiffs to add to the suit for a total of 205.

At the very least, this development is an embarrassment to the news channel at a time when other problems are rearing their heads.  Not least is the situation with CNN's ratings.  Of the three American cable-satellite-internet news outlets, CNN is usually third in the ratings, behind Fox News and MSNBC.

The ratings from a typical day this past week – Wednesday, November 8 – illustrate CNN's dilemma.  Screenshots of the two charts below, courtesy of TVNewser, show (top) the Nielsen cable TV news channel ratings in the so-called demo – the preferred demographic of viewers between the ages of 25-54 – and (bottom) total viewers.  On November 8, CNN was #3 according to both metrics.

The executive responsible for the channel's scheduling, talent, and anti-Trump editorial spin that defines all of its reporting is CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker.  Starting at NBC in 1986 as a 20-year-old researcher, Zucker went on to have an impressive 24-year-long career with the network, eventually rising to president and CEO of the company, NBC Universal.  Along the way, Zucker was credited with invigorating NBC's Today Show and, later on, the network's prime-time schedule.  But Zucker's career at NBC floundered after his disastrous flubbing of the host transition of NBC's crown jewel late-night franchise when Jay Leno was ousted in favor of Conan O'Brien, only to return a year later when O'Brien faltered.  It was "one of the biggest debacles in television history," according to the Los Angeles Times.  Zucker's career at NBC never recovered, and he was asked to leave the company in 2010.


Jeff Zucker.

In 2012, less than two years after his ignominious departure from NBC, Zucker landed the top job at CNN.  Curiously, despite his professional relationship with Donald Trump during the latter's success over the course of a decade at NBC with his highly rated reality show The Apprentice, which Zucker reportedly green-lighted, Zucker turned CNN editorially against Trump when the billionaire real estate developer declared for president in 2015.

And now, two years later, CNN's ratings are stuck in third place, CNN itself may hamper the $84-billion Time Warner-AT&T deal, and another big anti-discrimination lawsuit looms.  How long can Zucker last?  Will CNN keep to its far-left-of-center bias or moderate its coverage?  Stay tuned for developments.

Postscript: On November 9, Matt Drudge, who rarely posts anything on his Twitter account, tweeted:

Jeff Zucker out either way at CNN, primetime ratings abysmal. Feud with President Trump too personal and ridiculous...

Peter Barry Chowka is a veteran reporter and analyst of news on national politics, media, and popular culture.  Follow Peter on Twitter at @pchowka.

CNN, the venerable cable news channel now in its 38th year, is a mess.  While it masquerades as an objective news source, CNN's coverage of President Trump and the Republicans is anything but fair and balanced.  On Wednesday, November 8, news reports suggested that CNN could hamper the mega-billion-dollar sale of its parent company, Time Warner, to AT&T unless Time Warner first divests itself of CNN and separates it from the proposed deal.  And now an attorney is promising to refile federal charges alleging that CNN has systematically discriminated against more than 200 of its past and present employees who are African-American.


Celeslie Henley.

The legal case against CNN alleging racial discrimination was originally filed last December on behalf of two plaintiffs as part of a much larger class action involving as many as 175 CNN personnel.  One of the primary plaintiffs, Celeslie Henley, worked at CNN for seven years but was fired, she alleged in the 2016 suit, after emailing CNN's human resources department to complain about alleged discriminatory treatment by her employer.


Attorney Daniel R. Meachum.

The case that was filed last year, with the plaintiffs represented by Atlanta attorney Daniel R. Meachum, was thrown out of court this past July by Judge William Duffey, Jr.  At the time, the judge cited technical problems with the suit.  Attorney Meachum is now promising to correct the errors that he acknowledges and to refile the lawsuit before the end of this year.  He said this week that he has another 30 plaintiffs to add to the suit for a total of 205.

At the very least, this development is an embarrassment to the news channel at a time when other problems are rearing their heads.  Not least is the situation with CNN's ratings.  Of the three American cable-satellite-internet news outlets, CNN is usually third in the ratings, behind Fox News and MSNBC.

The ratings from a typical day this past week – Wednesday, November 8 – illustrate CNN's dilemma.  Screenshots of the two charts below, courtesy of TVNewser, show (top) the Nielsen cable TV news channel ratings in the so-called demo – the preferred demographic of viewers between the ages of 25-54 – and (bottom) total viewers.  On November 8, CNN was #3 according to both metrics.

The executive responsible for the channel's scheduling, talent, and anti-Trump editorial spin that defines all of its reporting is CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker.  Starting at NBC in 1986 as a 20-year-old researcher, Zucker went on to have an impressive 24-year-long career with the network, eventually rising to president and CEO of the company, NBC Universal.  Along the way, Zucker was credited with invigorating NBC's Today Show and, later on, the network's prime-time schedule.  But Zucker's career at NBC floundered after his disastrous flubbing of the host transition of NBC's crown jewel late-night franchise when Jay Leno was ousted in favor of Conan O'Brien, only to return a year later when O'Brien faltered.  It was "one of the biggest debacles in television history," according to the Los Angeles Times.  Zucker's career at NBC never recovered, and he was asked to leave the company in 2010.


Jeff Zucker.

In 2012, less than two years after his ignominious departure from NBC, Zucker landed the top job at CNN.  Curiously, despite his professional relationship with Donald Trump during the latter's success over the course of a decade at NBC with his highly rated reality show The Apprentice, which Zucker reportedly green-lighted, Zucker turned CNN editorially against Trump when the billionaire real estate developer declared for president in 2015.

And now, two years later, CNN's ratings are stuck in third place, CNN itself may hamper the $84-billion Time Warner-AT&T deal, and another big anti-discrimination lawsuit looms.  How long can Zucker last?  Will CNN keep to its far-left-of-center bias or moderate its coverage?  Stay tuned for developments.

Postscript: On November 9, Matt Drudge, who rarely posts anything on his Twitter account, tweeted:

Jeff Zucker out either way at CNN, primetime ratings abysmal. Feud with President Trump too personal and ridiculous...

Peter Barry Chowka is a veteran reporter and analyst of news on national politics, media, and popular culture.  Follow Peter on Twitter at @pchowka.