Veteran journalist Ted Koppel said “CNN’s ratings would be in the toilet without Donald Trump” in a 2018 interview, words that appear prescient as the network’s numbers continue to fall without its nemesis in office.
While on stage for a National Press Club panel discussion in October of that year, Koppel said Trump had been “very, very good” for the journalism industry.
“The ratings are up, it means you can’t do without Donald Trump. You would be lost without Donald Trump,” Koppel said, as CNN’s Brian Stelter protested it wasn’t true.
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“CNN’s ratings would be in the toilet without Donald Trump,” Koppel said as the audience laughed.
“You know that’s not true. You’re playing for laughs,” Stelter replied, before saying it would be “OK” if that happened and noting there would be future administrations to cover.
While it’s common for cable ratings to decline after election years, CNN’s decline since President Biden took office has been particularly dramatic. Its total day viewership is down nearly 70 percent since January. Its top-rated host, Chris Cuomo, averaged one million viewers to finish No. 22 overall among cable news, while weathering criticism for previously advising his brother, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D., on sexual harassment allegations.
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Trump and CNN had a mutually contentious relationship when he was in office, bottoming out when the White House pulled correspondent Jim Acosta’s hard pass after he refused to give up the mic at a 2018 press conference. Trump often derided the network as “fake news” and paid it special attention in angry tweets, while the network’s anchors and pundits made attacking his administration a centerpiece of their coverage.
Koppel wasn’t the only journalist to predict CNN would face trouble after Trump left the White House.
Media critics noted CNN’s sharp veer toward editorializing during the Trump era, as the lines increasingly blurred between news and opinion at the channel in the form of dramatic monologues, snarky chyrons, and outright advocacy.
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Stelter addressed the ratings during a spat with liberal journalist Glenn Greenwald on Wednesday, saying the decline was a natural part of the news cycle.
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“Ratings rise, ratings fall, and only crazed partisans read too much into the downslopes,” Stelter wrote in his “Reliable Sources” newsletter Wednesday night.
Fox News’ Brian Flood contributed to this report.