The boss of CNN’s new parent company said on Friday the network was “the leader in news to the left” – but his communications team soon scrambled to walk back the frank admission, insisting he wasn’t talking about politics.
Discovery CEO David Zaslav, whose media giant is set to close its merger with CNN’s owner WarnerMedia this spring, made the surprise remark during a discussion about the network’s future – days after the abrupt resignation of the network’s president, Jeff Zucker.
“We have this great entertainment menu, which should keep people in the home, from the kids to the grandparents. Why would they go anywhere else? And then we’re the leader in news to the left,” Zaslav told CNBC on Friday.
Zaslav’s comment drew a surprised response from CNBC host Joe Kernan, who wondered aloud if it was a reference to CNN’s ideological bent.
“Definitely to the left. Did you say to the left?” Kernan said, before taking back the question, saying he “probably shouldn’t have said that.”
Zaslav didn’t clarify in response, and it immediately went viral on social media, where users pointed to it as an acknowledgement that CNN leans left politically.
Scrambling to walk back the comments, Discovery’s team said Zaslav often uses the phrases “the left” or “the right” to reference current and future business initiatives. Later in the CNBC interview, Zaslav referred to growth “on the right side of the company,” which he described as including WarnerMedia-owned HBO and a growing portfolio of sports rights.
A Discovery spokesperson told the Post that Zaslav “didn’t finish his thought,” adding that he uses the phrase to organize his conversations around Discovery’s business.
Zaslav made a similar remark during an AT&T and Discovery joint news conference in May 2021, describing the “left side” of the joint company as “everything other than the content.”
CNN’s political stance is a source of frequent scrutiny in the news industry. Under Zucker’s leadership, CNN cultivated an antagonistic relationship with former President Donald Trump and other prominent conservatives.
Last November, Zaslav told Deadline that he would take a “hands-on” approach at CNN and other WarnerMedia properties. Zaslav had a hand in the launch of MSNBC, another left-leaning network, during his time as an NBC executive.
The Discovery CEO also took aim at Fox News, describing the conservative outlet as “much more of an advocacy network than a news network.”
“I think overall we’d probably be better off if we just had news networks in America,” Zaslav said. “But we don’t. Media tends to be a reflection of where the country is. Where the country was when we launched MSNBC was much more fact-based and less divided.”
Zucker abruptly resigned this week after admitting he failed to properly disclose his relationship with another senior executive, CNN chief marketing officer Allison Gollust. Zaslav and other Discovery brass reportedly heard about the resignation just hours before it happened.
Discovery executives are treating Zucker’s unexpected exit as a “fresh start” for CNN, according to the network’s own media reporter, Brian Stelter.
Discovery can’t play any role in CNN’s operations until the deal concludes. Zaslav is expected to name Zucker’s permanent replacement when the merger closes.
For now, a trio of CNN executives will assume Zucker’s responsibilities at the network.