In the new Fox News vs. CNN smackdown, CNN is the loser

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
Sean Hannity on Fox News (Photo: Fox News)

On Thursday afternoon, CNN president Jeff Zucker called Fox News “a pure propaganda machine” that “does incredible disservice to this country.” Speaking to a group of media professionals, Zucker compared Fox News to the Russian government-run news service TASS, and added that “the idea that [Fox] is a news channel, I think, is really not the case at all.” It didn’t take long for Fox News to strike back.

On Thursday evening, two of Fox’s primetime shows went after CNN and Zucker. At 8 p.m., Tucker Carlson basically took the juvenile “I know you are, but what am I?” approach, flipping Zucker’s statement and calling CNN “state TV.” Carlson dubbed Zucker “an agent of foreign governments.” At 9 p.m., Sean Hannity went below the belt, as it were. He called Zucker “the king of porn” — this, because of CNN’s coverage of alleged Donald Trump paramours Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal.

And indeed, Hannity had a point here: On Thursday night, Anderson Cooper spent an ungodly long amount of time deposing McDougal, a former Playboy Playmate. Cooper seemed endlessly interested in hearing details about McDougal’s supposed “dates” with the Donald (it was during a time before he was president). Among Cooper’s hard-hitting questions: “Did he have any nicknames for you?” Honestly, what is the news value in this? If CNN’s aim is to prove that Trump behaves boorishly, well, the president proves that himself every single day he spends in the White House. In other words, this ain’t news. And nothing that McDougal alleges is in any way a crime — indeed, she says she loved the guy.

But of course, Hannity had to take things to an extreme — it’s why the Good Lord put him on TV, after all. He roasted CNN retroactively for not covering the alleged sexual misadventures of (you know what I’m about to write, don’t you?) the Clintons, his perennial, eternal targets.

Nevertheless, if Jeff Zucker thinks he’s going to win this war, he’s mistaken. His CNN doesn’t have shows that are pure opinion-asserters the way Fox News has. Fox can drown out Zucker’s objections with ceaseless primetime derision. What Zucker said about Fox as a “propaganda machine” was (intentionally?) an echo of the exact same phrase used by former Fox News analyst Ralph Peters earlier this week, when he resigned from Fox, his conscience too sullied to go on. It almost doesn’t matter that the description of Fox as primarily propaganda is true. These days, whoever can repeat the same message, over and over, to the most viewers, becomes the source of the “truth.”

Anderson Cooper 360 and Tucker Carlson Tonight air weeknights at 8 p.m. on CNN and Fox News, respectively. Hannity airs weeknights at 9 p.m. on Fox News.

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