Every now and then I post a short piece on this blog just in case the world blows up and the only thing left on what’s left of the Internet is this blog. I want future historians to know who the good guys and bad guys were, at least as far as I’m concerned.
On the day an ultra-reactionary named Neil Gorsuch, forty-nine years old, becomes a life-long justice on the Supreme Court, my in-case-the-world-blows-up entry comes courtesy of The Atlantic in an article by Derek Thompson (“The Donald Trump Show Is Eating Television”). If you are like me, you still can’t believe Donald Tr-mp is pretending to be our president. You still can’t believe a man so unfit for the job, so unfit for the job in so many ways, is nevertheless making decisions, signing orders, shaping policies, and is the face of the United States around the world.
Someone, besides the deluded or misinformed or frustrated or tribalistic voters who put him and his kleptocratic family and cronies in office—via a strange, anachronistic, undemocratic electoral system that has twice rewarded the popular vote loser in the last five elections—has to be responsible for Tr-mp sitting in the White’s House, right? Right. And that someone is a man named Jeff Zucker. Here are the first three paragraphs of Derek Thompson’s enlightening piece for The Atlantic:
In the years before the 2016 election, cable news was approaching a demographic cliff and an existential crisis. Average primetime viewership on Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC had declined by about a third between 2008 and 2014. The median age of each channel’s viewers had crept into the late-60s or early 70s, as younger consumers turned to websites and social-media feeds for their daily news morsels.
But in 2015, Donald Trump descended an escalator, a slow-motion meteorite crashing into the earth with biosphere-altering potential. One cable-news channel immediately recognized how the impact could change the landscape of cable news and politics.
CNN president Jeff Zucker conspicuously transformed his network into the 24-hour Donald Trump Show. Rivals scoffed, but the decision paid off. The network’s primetime viewership rose 38 percent in 2015. Meanwhile in that same period, Fox News’ audience flatlined, and MSNBC’s primetime viewership actually declined. As Jonathan Mahler writes in The New York Times Magazine, Zucker was perfectly positioned for this moment, given his familiarity with Trump’s telegenic antics. As the former president of NBC Entertainment, Zucker had broadcast “The Apprentice,” overseeing a tabloid villain’s journey to boardroom hero.
As you can see, and as you probably already figured out, one of the biggest reasons we have Tr-mp is because of corporate media greed, which spread to other cable news outlets. And, as The Atlantic reminds us for the record, “Zucker was the first executive to run the Trump Show all day, every day.”
Back in 2010, New York Times columnist and Clinton hater Maureen Dowd wrote a column on Jeff Zucker about his failures in the television management business and how he always “failed upwards,” in the words of a TV writer Dowd quoted. Zucker’s gigantic failure as president and CEO of NBC Universal—NBC went from first to last while he was in charge—was a focus of Dowd’s piece. She quoted “a honcho at another network” as saying,
Zucker is a case study in the most destructive media executive ever to exist. You’d have to tell me who else has taken a once-great network and literally destroyed it.
It’s one thing to play a part in destroying a television network. It’s quiet another to play a part in taking a once-great country and turning it into a place that a television-tabloid creature like Tr-mp can rule. If there are history books in the future, and providing we have a future in which those books can exist, Jeff Zucker’s name will appear in the sad chapter written about the 2016 election. His name and Tr-mp’s name are forever linked.