This... is CNN: first on "that ship," first to correct its own egregious "mistake" on the Boston bombing arrest, and the first cable news network to cover "much more" than the politics as usual on Fox News and MSNBC. That was the message from CNN president Jeff Zucker on Wednesday, in his first direct public comments about his network's news coverage — and, yes, that was him doubling down on Boston. "We made a mistake in Boston and we corrected it in 45 minutes. The Boston Globe who I think will win the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of the Marathon bombing, didn’t correct it right away," Zucker said at AllThingsD's D11 conference. From the scene, AllThingsD reporter Jason Del Rey added: "Sounds petty."
If you recall, on the Wednesday following the Boston Marathon bombings — a full day before the FBI released photos of the men we now know as Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, men authorities had not captured — CNN ran an incorrect on-air report from John King claiming that an arrest of a "dark-skinned male" had been made. At the time, CNN contributor Fran Townsend had "confirmed" the news on-air, even though it wasn't close to being true. Yes, there was the half-apology for the "game changer" faulty news based on a whirlwind investigation, but even amidst heavy criticism of CNN, Zucker finished that wild week with an enthusiastic memo: "For journalists like each of us, these are the times that define what we do and why we do it. All of you, across every division of CNN Worldwide, have done exceptional work."
Now Zucker is being forced to define down what that work means to him — and the future of the once and potential future leader in cable news. "Fox is not only incredibly strong, they are incredibly dominant," Zucker said in his only other previous real interview in a half-year on the job, about his new morning show, adding that the network has "miles and miles to go" to catch up in the ratings. Also: "People are going to come to CNN for the news." On Wednesday, however, under direct questioning on a panel discussion with IAC boss Barry Diller, Zucker said CNN's news was, well, more newsy than the competition. Per Deadline:
Those two channels are covering politics. We're covering politics and much more.... News is how you define it, we define it broadly as news and information. We're expanding the audience that is watching CNN. In order to be successful, we need to bring new viewers."
Does he define news, perhaps, as the network's superfluous obsession with the floating tin of human waste known as Carnival's Triumph cruiseliner? "I don't think that hurt the CNN brand," Zucker said at the conference, adding that "we were prescient enough to get to … that ship before anybody else" and that "not all the drama is in Washington."
There was certainly drama in Boston — and ratings. What CNN may not lost to the Globe or NBC's Pete Williams in accuracy it certainly made up for in ratings. As with so many news outlets, viewers turned in droves to CNN in April and May, looking for clarity amidst the confusing terror attack and the ensuing investigation, lockdown and all:
Boston Marathon story was single biggest week in CNN Digital history says Zucker. #D11— Ed Baig (@edbaig) May 29, 2013
Deadline's Dominic Patten has a solid rundown of CNN's relatively good ratings of late: "Zucker's appearance today comes as CNN’s May ratings revealed strong double-digit growth over last year. Granted last May was the cable news network's lowest viewership month in 20 years," Patten explains. "Still CNN primetime viewership was up 70% (660,000) and its pulled in 97% (225,000) more in the 25-54 demo than it had in May 2012." Those numbers were good enough to beat MSNBC for the second month in a row — because, you know, Boston may have faded, but there's always Nancy Grace in a parking lot.
Here's the full video of Zucker and Diller's chat: