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Project Veritas tapes reveal CNN chief Zucker calling shots for anti-Trump network's coverage, setting companywide political agenda

Zucker repeatedly directs CNN's editorial coverage in tapes leaked by James O'Keefe.

Mike Coppola/Getty Images for WarnerMedia

Leaked audiotapes of CNN's 9 a.m. editorial calls published by Project Veritas reveal CNN President Jeff Zucker and other top executives and reporters at the network say in private what their coverage suggests: CNN's editorial viewpoint is anti-Trump and directed from the top down by Zucker.

The audiotapes were obtained and released by self-styled "guerrilla journalist" James O'Keefe, who on Tuesday morning announced that Project Veritas had been secretly recording CNN's morning call with Zucker for two months and would soon begin releasing the tapes. O'Keefe made his announcement while livestreaming CNN's Tuesday call, at one point interrupting the call to inform Zucker of what he'd done and ask for comment.

"This is yet another investigation Project Veritas has conducted into CNN, and once again they've demonstrated their partisan political agenda and total disconnect with journalistic ethics," O'Keefe said.

In response, CNN communications said that the company has referred O'Keefe's video to law enforcement, tweeting that "legal experts" say he may have committed a felony.

Project Veritas on Tuesday published several clips from CNN's calls, promising to release more in the coming days. The clips, which have been selectively edited to highlight certain quotes from CNN's editorial team, show Zucker criticizing President Donald Trump's behavior, directing CNN's editorial team to be critical of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and show CNN general counsel David Vigilante call Fox News host Tucker Carlson's program "the white supremacy hour."

The audio shows Zucker guiding CNN's editorial coverage in a way that is typically reserved for editors or an editor-in-chief, not necessarily a company president.

During one 9 a.m. call on Oct. 9, Zucker told CNN staff not to "normalize" Trump's "erratic" behavior as the president was recovering from his bout with the coronavirus, suggesting without evidence that Trump's medical treatment was influencing his mood and actions.

"OK, I just want to re-emphasize that, you know, I think we cannot normalize what has happened here in the last week with Trump and his behavior," Zucker said. "And I go back to what [CNN political Director] David, David Chalian said, that this is a president who knows he's losing, who knows he's in trouble, is sick, maybe is on the after-effects of steroids or not. I don't know, but he is acting erratically and desperately, and we need to, we need to not normalize that. ... He is all over the place and acting erratically. And I think we need to lean into that."

In another conference call on Oct. 16, Zucker appears to suggest to CNN staff that the network shouldn't cover the Hunter Biden email scandal reported by the New York Post days prior, saying, "I don't think that we should be repeating unsubstantiated smears just because the rightwing media suggests that we should." He also dismissed reporting from conservative media on the "unmasking" of President Trump's transition team by Obama administration officials as "completely nonsensical." The day prior on Oct. 15, a Department of Justice probe into the unmasking scandal concluded without any charges filed.

On Nov. 10, during an apparent discussion on Trump's refusal to concede the election and the delayed presidential transition, CNN field producer Stephanie Becker suggested that details from the 9/11 Commission Report about how the 2000 presidential election dispute hampered the presidential transition should be part of CNN's reporting.

"On the issue of why it's important to get the transition going right, the 9/11 report talks about one of the problems was that the trouble that was brewing that [got] lost during the transition," Becker said. "So, if you want a good, concrete example of what happens when you don't have a good transition, well, look at the Twin Towers."

Zucker agreed, encouraging CNN reporters to emphasize that point.

"Yeah, so I think that's an important point," Zucker said. "I think it was just a little bit yesterday in terms of national security. I think it's really important to raise again. ... I would encourage folks to think about that 9/11 Commission Report and the lack of transition."

A week later on a Nov. 17 call, following reports that Sen. Lindsey Graham had pressured Georgia election officials to discard ballots, Zucker said that CNN had made a "mistake" in that "our banners [chyrons] have been too polite, and we need to go well after Lindsey Graham."

"There's a ton going on. Let's stay strong. Let's stay newsy. Let's stay urgent. Let's be smart. There is a lot of news out there, and Lindsey Graham really deserves it," he added.

According to Fox News, CNN several published several articles on Nov. 17 about Graham, including one accusing him of "crossing the line" to defend Trump.

The leaked editorial calls show Zucker having a heavy hand in influencing how CNN covers the news.

In another clip, CNN general counsel David Vigilante accused Tucker Carlson of "naked racism" and said that Fox News gives Carlson a platform to host a white supremacy hour every night on TV.

"Yeah, I was just going to say, if you're going to talk about the story, I think it's unavoidable that you have to talk about the naked racism of Tucker Carlson. Because that's really what drove this anti-diversity push, you know, Trump watches Tucker Carlson's show and then reacts. And just as sort of the white supremacy hour they have on Fox News every night, I think it's the — you can't disconnect the two," Vigilante said.

It is unclear what story he was referring to, but on the night before on Sep. 7, Carlson delivered a monologue criticizing critical race theory in reaction to President Trump's executive order halting the controversial theory's use in diversity training for federal employees.

O'Keefe said the statements made by Zucker and other top executives on CNN's morning calls show "they are simply not interested in being unbiased when reporting on the news."

"Calling Tucker Carlson a racist and demanding CNN employees to attack Lindsey Graham is outrageous and unprofessional behavior," he said.

TheBlaze reached out to CNN for comment but did not hear back before publication.

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