Did Trump Save CNN?
Donald Trump and Jeff Zucker attend Sloan Barnett Publication Party for 'Green Goes with Everything' hosted by Caryn and Jeff Zucker at The Loeb Boathouse on October 1, 2008 in New York City. (Nick Hunt/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
By Will Levith / October 31, 2017 9:00 am

At CNN, the question on everybody’s lips seems to be: Will president Jeff Zucker survive an AT&T acquisition? Or is he a goner?

As Vanity Fair reports, there are two reasons why Zucker could potentially lose his job. One is the “culture clash” between AT&T—a company that has never really managed a media empire before—and President Trump, whom we all know has made it his raison d’être to smear CNN, branding it “fake news.” During his campaign, Trump promised not to approve the deal, saying “it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.”

Of course, the Justice Department still has to approve the merger and, so far, it hasn’t indicated much objection to the deal. Still, questions abound. As in, could Zucker be used as a “bargaining chip”? As in, if CNN agrees to fire Zucker (to appease the president), does the merger go through? Despite the president’s rather clear hatred for CNN and Zucker—something that likely stems from Trump’s dealings with Zucker at NBC during his Apprentice days—AT&T has somewhat surprisingly come out on Zucker’s side. A company rep told Vanity Fair for their story: “We don’t comment upon anyone’s employment at a company we don’t yet own. But, as it relates to CNN, it’s clearly a great organization, they are having a great year, and Jeff Zucker is doing a terrific job.”

The true reason why both parties want the merger to happen—regardless of who’s in charge—is that “Time Warner has a deep bench of incredibly valuable programming and content,” and marrying that to AT&T’s hundred million mobile phone users could translate into innumerable dollars signs. All that, and “[the deal] would theoretically make more people want to have a phone that is serviced by AT&T, which also possesses a trove of customer data that the Time Warner properties can use to make advertising more lucrative and efficient.”

Despite the president’s caustic public feelings about Zucker, the exec has been one of—if not the—reason why CNN has flourished over the past five years. With Zucker at its helm, Vanity Fair notes, CNN “has pulled off the highest ratings and revenues in its nearly 40-year history, with its audience and profits (expected to be $1 billion in 2017) doubled from five years ago.”