To say CNN has had a rough few weeks would be an understatement. The cable news channel’s reputation is hovering somewhere between “death spiral” and “just ran over a roadside bomb.”
The most visible damage to CNN’s credibility came from its response to a tweet posted by President Donald Trump last weekend. He shared a video inspired by a meme on the link-sharing website Reddit of him body slamming a person with a CNN logo for a head. The Reddit user, whose handle contains an expletive, faced a barrage of criticism after Trump’s tweet and apologized. CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski got in touch with the user and wrote a story saying, “he is not going to repeat this ugly behavior on social media again.” Kaczynski promised not to publish his name with one caveat: “CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.”
The statement was almost universally perceived as a threat, though channel executives later clarified it wasn’t. Some took it as a dare and started churning out CNN-shaming memes, many of which rose to the main pages of Reddit’s “hot,” “rising,” or “controversial” categories. Others posted their creations on Twitter using the hashtag #CNNMeltdown.
The Trump body-slamming tweet followed a less reported but potentially more damaging blow to CNN’s credibility. Project Veritas, which publishes undercover reports by conservative activist James O’Keefe, released a set of videos showing CNN staff sharing their true feelings about Trump.
“Ninety percent of us are on board with the fact that he’s crazy,” New Day assistant producer Jimmy Carr said of his co-workers. Both Carr and another CNN staffer, health producer John Bonifield, talked about how important negative Trump coverage—especially about Trump’s relationship with Russia—is to CNN’s business model. The videos came out right as CNN retracted a story due to shoddy reporting and fact-checking about allegations Trump had improper ties with Russia.
“It’s decisions made by people higher than me, and if they go, wow, your ratings are soaring right now, keep up what you’re doing. Well, what we’re doing is Russia, ISIS, London terror, Chicago shooting, that’s it,” Carr said. CNN has not given a response to the Carr video, though it expressed support for Bonifield after Project Veritas published hidden camera footage of him.
But there’s a disconnect between what Carr and Bonifield said and reality: CNN’s ratings are terrible. Though executives brag the channel has its highest ratings in years, it still falls way behind the competition. During the week of June 26, Fox News and MSNBC held the top two spots for primetime viewers among all cable channels, not just news stations, while CNN came in 13th place. Investigation Discovery and Nick-at-Nite had more viewers than CNN that week, according to data by TVNewser.