"Criticism of CNBC is way out of line," NBC President Jeff Zucker said at the BusinessWeek media summit at McGraw-Hill's headquarters today. "Just because someone who mocks authority says something doesn't make it so." It sounds as if he's trying to beat up Jon Stewart for bloodying his boy, Cramer. That, or he's angling to get onto The Daily Show.
Zucker's apologia for the financial media continued as he argued that "you're already seeing a backlash" against the backlash against news media "in terms of people saying, 'let's stop beating the press.'" The press didn't cause us to go to war in Iraq, he said; a general did. The press missing the financial crisis didn't cause it. "Both are absurd," he said. (For your commenting convenience, here"s a link to HuffPo on Judy Miller.)
I think Zucker is saying, then, that the press has no importance and no role in public policy. Doesn't matter if we miss the story, he's arguing. It's not our fault. Will he take no responsibility?
Over to you, CNBC bashers.
Later in the interview, he was asked whether MSNBC is tainting NBC News. Zucker's reply: "I'm not worried about it."
He does kind of look like Alfred E. Newman. Without the hair.
He said the answer is that NBC News is "probably in a more dominant position against its competition than it has ever been." It's also smaller than it has ever been.
He said David Gregory on Meet the Press "frankly has done a fantastic job, something we're very proud of, and reasserted his dominance on Sunday Morning." (Over to you, Jay Rosen.)
There's one topic about which I agreed with Zucker: media's nonresponse to the fundamental changes in media economics. "Newspapers didn't face those questions fast enough. And they weren't honest," he said. "We can wish this were 1987 but it's not.... We have to think about the model." He acknowledged that NBC prime time has not had a good three or four years. "Sometimes you see the world more clearly when you're flat on your back." That is making them question the model, "question everything. Too many media organizations, especially newspapers, weren't willing to question the model.... including the local TV news model."
Zucker said if TV networks don't adapt to changing media habits of young people, "we will become the Rocky Mountain News." The Rocky in the coal mine, that is.
In response to his Jay Leno strategy, Zucker acknowledged that NBC will never be No. 1 in prime time. That has the smell of defeat to me. But he said just because Fox programs only two hours a night of original shows, people don't think it's not a network. Zucker also conceded that the advertising upfront buying season will be down this year. We are watching the beginning of the end of the old network model, folks.
"We're in show business and the show is important and the business is important," Zucker said. "It was easier to be in the show when the business was easier. The business is much harder today." Has he been drinking out of Paula Abdul's Coke glass?