top of page
  • apekary

My newest for CJR: why give CNN credit?

Last week, we witnessed the best and the worst of CNN. One of the best segments was Kyung Lah's heartfelt piece on the rise of evictions amid a pandemic and failing economy. Click to read more about it and why they deserve credit for it. (And you'll also start to understand why such pieces are so rare.)

The worst was when we learned how Jeff Zucker offered Trump help in 2016, a serious lapse of journalistic ethics. Why would CNN offer the then-candidate help in the debate about to be held on his network that night? Why would Zucker try to curry favor with Trump by offering him his own TV show? As the leader of a business, Zucker was likely hedging: win or lose the election, Trump is good for ratings. But as a journalist, he was breaking (what should be*) a hard-and-fast code of ethics.

I'm happy to have taken on a new role as public editor for Columbia Journalism Review with a focus on CNN. But I will repeat this: I'm hesitant to criticize individuals, even the president of the network. It's a difficult job being a news producer. You have to be fast and accurate. And you are dedicated -- the role requires your time and attention around the clock.

That's part of the reason I think it's important to give credit when time and resources are dedicated for, arguably, the right reasons. The other reason to give them credit: those producers are resisting pressure even Zucker is beholden to.

I'm trying to tread a fine line.  I'm sure Jeff Zucker is happy to be paid millions to live a comfortable (i.e., lavish) lifestyle.  In return, there are times he is conflicted as a journalist. Based on what we learned this week from the phone call released between Zucker and Michael Cohen, who was Donald Trump's personal attorney at the time, Zucker could be indicted on several counts for violating journalistic ethics.  But this is the bottom line due to the financial structure of the industry: if it's not him, it would be someone else. CNN would find someone else to do what he's been doing. It's the fault of the financial structure of the industry, not necessarily the people themselves.

The pressure CNN producers feel to dumb down content comes from that structure, not even Jeff Zucker himself, the president of the network. He gets judged (and paid) based on the success of the ratings of the network. So, Zucker doesn't cause that pressure; he's actually a cog in the machine, too, just like the producers beneath him.

It's a point that bears repeating.

My latest on CNN: a tale of two stories

*The industry does not have an adopted set of ethics.

234 views3 comments

Recent Posts

See All


Sep 18, 2020

I totally disagree that it is not the people. And your classic line”if it's not him, it would be someone else.” yes, so true! That is a one of the greatest excuses of all time. So, it is ok for me to sell my soul, sellout my credibility and cause damage to our entire news reporting industry because if not me than someone else. Incredible! The only items of value a journalist possesses is their credibility ...accurate, fair and thorough. It helps to know how to write, but without these principles there is no journalism. If the financial structure is at fault then we have placed blame on the bad guy industry and failed to take responsibility for our own…


Sep 18, 2020

Ms. Pekary - I like your piece on CNN and Jeff Zucker. I think you're right on your comments - especially the part about if Jeff Zucker being a ratings whore like the rest of these leaders in big media organizations. Now, we all know that big media has been lying to the American people for years and years, and because of this, the American people can no longer trust these guys. Stop writing about CNN and any other of these organizations, and start thinking about what we need to do to push the media giants out of the picture once and for all: We must build our own "people's media organizations," and then our own distribution channels so t…


Sep 18, 2020

I am glad you are doing well and are still writing with the integrity you showed in your resignation letter. I said I'd follow you on your journey! Keep up the brave work!

Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page