The feud between Donald J. Trump and CNN is like an iceberg: There's so much more going on beneath the surface than anyone knows.
At first glance, it would seem completely adversarial, but it's not.
Trump — at his first press conference as President-elect — lashed out at CNN's Jim Acosta, ignoring questions from the correspondent and blasting the network as "fake news" for its coverage of the explosive, unverified dossier alleging close ties between Trump and Russia.
But it goes deeper and begins at the top with the cable news channel's boss, Jeff Zucker — a man to whom Trump owes much of his fame and fortune.
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"It's true I put him on television with 'The Apprentice' in 2004," Zucker told New York magazine this week. "I've never run away from that. But in no way do I think that's why he's the President. You have to give the guy credit. He ran a campaign that worked."
It doesn't hurt that prime-time network television is perhaps the best way to reach millions of people at once — and as Trump would say, his audience was "huge."
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Before "The Apprentice," the 45th President of the United States was a colorful, big shot New York City developer, but hardly a player on the international stage.
Those who know Zucker understand his ego is almost as outsized as Trump's, and given their history, the pair shares a special bond — one that entitles Zucker to a level of access other news executives do not enjoy.
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Zucker told New York Magazine the pair talked at least once a month during Trump's campaign for the White House.
But it's their planet-sized egos that sometimes get in the way and during those calls, sources tell MediaBlast, and the cable-news chief never pulled any punches when it came to criticizing Trump's behavior.
It's a move that likely infuriated Trump, sources close to the President said. That anger is also what might have primed the intensity of Trump's response to CNN's most critical reporting.
It's the kind of love-hate relationship Zucker's rivals at Fox News, ABC and CBS do not enjoy — and maybe they should be thankful.
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That is why in late November, after Trump held his infamous off-the-record "media summit" at Trump Tower — which included about a dozen top news executives and talent like Zucker, ABC News President James Goldston, Fox News co-presidents Bill Shine and Jack Abernethy and NBC News President Deborah Turness — have met with Zucker privately. The meeting came shortly after Trump excoriated Zucker in front of his peers, noting, "I hate your network, everyone at CNN is a liar and you should be ashamed," an eyewitness said.
A source with knowledge of the private after-meeting downplayed its significance, noting it was an impromptu discussion that came about because CNN had a previously scheduled photo shoot with the President-elect at Trump Tower that day.
Zucker stopped by that shoot for a very short while, and spoke cordially with the President-elect.
Trump officials and a rep for CNN declined to comment.
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At a time when there is so much animosity toward media — much of it fanned by Trump — the relationship between Trump and the CNN chief is just one more complicated and conflicted wave. It is unprecedented and further muddies the uncharted waters sweeping through the highest halls of power.Send a Letter to the Editor