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The MRC vs. Jeff Zucker

The Media Research Center regularly hurled the anti-Semitic "puppetmaster" slur at the (Jewish) former CNN chief -- then childishly gloated when a personal scandal cost him his job, despite having given Roger Ailes a pass for his behavior.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 8/30/2022

The portrayal of a Jewish leader has a puppet master is an anti-Semitic trope that has been around for centuries. The Media Research Center has invoked it quite literally in attacking George Soros, depicting him as "the media's puppet master" to scare a few bucks out of gullible conservatives. The MRC has even declared Soros to be a Jew conservatives are permitted to hate, pre-emptively absolving them of anti-Semitism in doing so.

But the MRC -- specifically, NewsBusters managing editor Curtis Houck -- has portrayed another prominent Jewish leader as a "puppet master": CNN president Jeff Zucker.

The first time Houck did this was in a March 2018 post, in which he complained that "CNN president and puppet-master Jeff Zucker ripped the Fox News Channel (FNC) as 'state-run TV' and 'pure propaganda machine' that 'does an incredible disservice to this country.'" His purported justification of this was "an April 2017 New York Times Magazine profile of Zucker. In it, Zucker was exposed as a puppet-master choreographing big interviews and feeding questions in the ears of Anderson Cooper and Jake Tapper. Down to the analysts, commentators, and Trump coverage, Zucker has behaved like a ringmaster with political panels and Trump controversies framed like a primetime drama."

It can be argued that, in this respect, Zucker is no different from Fox News founder Roger Ailes, who did much the same thing there (and, yes, was called a puppet master). Yet you'll never hear Houck or anyone else at the MRC describe Ailes in that manner; indeed, a 2015 post by Tim Graham complained that he was described that way.

Yet Houck persisted in tagging Zucker with the epithet:

  • Somehow, CNN and puppetmaster Jeffrey Zucker thought it would be a smart idea to move New Day co-host Chris Cuomo, punishing those of us who stay up late. -- May 11, 2018
  • In nearly 14 minutes, CNN showed why the network run by puppetmaster Jeffrey Zucker was not only hostile to those not willing to endorse the network’s views (snarky chyrons and all) but views them as their enemy and thus must be silenced. -- Aug. 5, 2019
  • Not to be left out, Hannity had a little something for CNN puppetmaster Jeffrey Zucker, wondering if he’s“proud of this political hit job putting a [sic] operative's life in help Obama sycophant, this guy, Jim Sciutto, whoever he is.” -- Sept. 11, 2019
  • After the show’s last commercial break, Carlson brought up one of the many Project Veritas videos released this week which pertained to CNN boss/puppetmaster Jeff Zucker insisting his network would be focused on impeachment no matter what. -- Oct. 17, 2019
  • And even better yet, he live-streamed Tuesday’s meeting and jumped in to reveal himself to CNN boss and puppetmaster Jeff Zucker. -- Dec. 2, 2020
  • As we learned Tuesday in the Project Veritas videos, CNN puppetmaster Jeff Zucker was feeling his oats because, somehow, the network’s sophomoric chyrons need to be nastier. -- Dec. 2, 2020
  • In an email to CNN employees, CNN head, “Dwarf King,” and puppetmaster Jeff Zucker announced the decision, citing a “steep decline in airport traffic because of COVID-19, coupled with all the new ways that people are consuming content on their personal devices.”-- Jan. 13, 2021

Hand in hand with this slur is the MRC's portrayal -- again by Houck, with help from fellow MRC writer Nicholas Fondacaro and others -- dismissing CNN employees as "Zuckerbots," automatons incapable of doing their jobs without constant guidance from their "puppet master":

  • As my colleague Nick Fondacaro likes to suggest, CNN anchors and analysts have morphed into Zuckerbots. To see what he's talking about, check out a New York Times Magazine profile of CNN under Zucker and you'll see why. For CNN under Zucker, so much of their coverage and outbursts is staged and all about theater. -- Houck, Feb. 15, 2018
  • Stelter concluded by stressing that “there are ethical questions about even having this conversation at all.” This Zuckerbot appeared all too eager to throw those “ethical questions” aside as he declared “we can’t tiptoe around it anymore.” -- Ryan Foley, Aug. 26, 2019
  • And in the other case, the Zuckerbots paint all other forms of media criticism as akin to leveling death threats. -- Houck, Oct. 10. 2019
  • Unfortunately, CNN’s Zuckerbots weren’t interested in this point of view.-- Houck, Oct. 21, 2019
  • Earth to Zuckerbots, far and wide: Since when was someone above criticism? And especially skepticism toward those that you cover? -- Houck, Nov. 19, 2019
  • There’s no bottom for CNN and Jeffrey Zucker puppet Brian Stelter. ... Predictably, the Zuckerbot’s insinuation about FNC and its viewers was picked up like clockwork by both Axios and The Daily Beast. -- Houck, Aug. 3, 2020
  • Tuesday afternoon’s CNN Newsroom brought us another example of how personalties on the Jeffrey Zucker-led network and his puppets were anything but civil, fair, mature, serious, and sober. ... So let’s try to get through some of this. After stacking the deck with a lead-in from former conservative journalist-turned-Zuckerbot Kaitlan Collins, Keilar asked Schlapp why Trump trusted Florida’s voter system but not the rest of the country. -- Houck, Aug. 4, 2020
  • Swoon for her “dystopian” vision of America, the Zuckerville collective praised it by calling on violent rhetoric; touting her as going “for the jugular” against President Trump. ... The Zuckerbots were glorifying Obama’s bleak vision of America because that was the narrative they’ve been feeding their viewers for years now, and they needed to capitalize on it during the election. -- Fondacaro, Aug. 18, 2020
  • Of course, chief political correspondent Dana Bash completely agreed like the good Zuckerbot that she was. -- Fondacaro, Oct. 22, 2020
  • With this Zuckerbot refusing to acknowledge the sacrifices that involve serving in law enforcement, McEnany was left to remind him that they help keep him safe[.] -- Houck, Dec. 28, 2020
  • CNN also made a slew of other personnel moves, including the promotion of conservative journalist-turned-Zuckerbot Kaitlan Collins to Acosta’s title, moving Phil Mattingly and Biden suck-up Arlette Saenz to the White House beat, Abby Phillip to host Sunday’s Inside Politics, and “adult” Jake Tapper’s The Lead permanently expanding to two hours (after having been so in the election build-up). -- Houck, Jan. 11, 2021
  • Back when S.E. Cupp wasn’t a glorified Democrat and Zuckerbot, she had an HLN show that didn’t treat conservatives, Republicans, libertarians, and any non-lefty as enemies. -- Houck, Jan. 20, 2021

Houck, Fondacaro and the rest of the MRC crew would never similarly describe Fox News employees as "Ailes-bots." (Or, say, themselves as Bozellbots.)

It says something about Houck's near-pathological hatred for CNN that he is either oblivious or uncaring about depicting Zucker with such an ugly anti-Semitic trope and smearing CNN employees as the victims of a Jewish "puppet master."

When Zucker resigned as CNN chairman in February over an improper relationship with a subordinate, Houck was positively gleeful in response, repeating his immature sniping at CNN's ratings and hurling the "puppetmaster" slur again:

On Wednesday morning, CNN president, longtime overlord, and puppetmaster Jeff Zucker resigned effective immediately from the failing, far-left network after nine years over what he called “a consensual relationship with my closest colleague” with fellow CNN executive Allison Gollust that he had failed “to disclose...when it began.”


It remains to be seen who will take over the network (which has lost ratings battles to the likes of a Hallmark movie, Moonshiners, My 600 Pound Life, and Pepa Pig [sic]) in this surprising move ahead of its merger with Discovery but, almost a year ago, former CNN media reporter Dylan Byers reported Gollust was a frontrunner.

Houck also huffed: "Given CNN's recent track record of alleged and verified allegations of sexual misconduct, one could give them a new slogan offered up by NewsBusters deputy managing editor Nick Fondacaro: This is CNN, the most pervy name in news.

Needless to say, both Houck and Fondacaro memory-holed -- along with the rest of the MRC -- the pervasive sexual misconduct at their favorite channel, Fox News, and its longtime leader, Roger Ailes.

A couple hours later, Houck lashed out at CNN anchor Brian Stelter for praising Zucker's work at CNN, even though Stelter, as a CNN employee, is much more familiar with it than he is:

Playing the role of Baghdad Bob after the 2003 fall of the Iraqi capital to U.S. troops, CNN’s Reliable Sources host and chief media correspondent Brian Stelter crawled out of his shell to spinelessly shill for Jeff Zucker moments after his resignation from CNN and “pioneering figure” and their “rock” who’s left them in “a stunner.”

As if some national hero had passed on, Stelter coached those watching inside CNN to continue covering “the news” as he would want them to do.

CNN has been anything but in Zucker’s nine years and instead a shell of itself, having become one of American’s most hated media organizations and hemorrhaged viewers in both prime time and total day since he took over in January 2013.

By contrast, when the Ailes scandal broke, one NewsBusters blogger insisted that Ailes shouldn't be blamed for the pervasive culture of sexual harassment at Fox News, and another claimed it was "liberal bias" for anyone to even discuss Ailes' sexual harassment issues -- or, for that matter, anything remotely critical about him, no matter how accurate.

Houck's obsessive attack on any CNN employee who praised Zucker continued the next day:

CNN spent Wednesday in mourning as if CNN boss Jeff Zucker had passed away when, in fact, he was pushed out for having carried on an inappropriate relationship with fellow CNN exec Allison Gollust, calling him “incredible,” “remarkable,” “larger than life,” and “singular” person who brought “a clarity of mission” to the network.

In other words, it was something North Korean news reader Ri Chun-hee would have found creepy.

With praise so gushy and reports those inside CNN are some combination of despondent and enraged over Zucker’s ouster, it’s safe to wonder whether CNN can ever be saved as a serious, sober news organization considering their desire to stay the course from what Zucker made them.

Houck again called Zucker a "puppetmaster."

If Houck wants to read obsequiously gushy praise for a terrible person, all he needs to do is go into the MRC archives and read his boss Brent Bozell's sickening tribute to Ailes upon his death in 2018, which fawned that "The good Roger did for America is immeasurable" and censored all the harassment stuff.

Houck entered his third day -- yes, the third day -- of shrieking at CNN employees for praising Zucker in a Feb. 4 post (and, yes, he hurled the "puppetmaster" slur again):

Through a series of stories this week, it was evident CNN’s current staff have no interest in being salvaged as a serious news organization and anything other than a far-left propaganda outlet worthy of being some combination of mocked and ignored. Instead of seeking to move on from their disgraced former boss Jeff Zucker after his Wednesday ouster, they’ve tried to canonize him as a tent pole of American democracy.


To underline the level in which Zucker was some combination of puppetmaster and hand-holder for these sheep, he quoted chief political correspondent Dana Bash as having said “the punishment didn’t fit the crime” and it went against Zucker’s morals in giving people “a second chance.”

Without a sense of irony for how CNN has shown nothing but hate in seeking to treat conservatives as enemies of the state, chief political analyst Gloria Borger lamented Zucker wasn’t given “a lot of dignity” with Kasie Hunt fretting the Zucker news will cloud the launch of CNN+.

Houck is clearly lacking irony for how his obsessive hatred for all things Zucker and CNN makes his rantings look like an unhinged hatchet job and not "media research."

Houck called those who praised Zucker part of a "cult" in the headline of his piece, and that theme was also pushed in Tim Graham's Feb. 4 podcast: "We were all sitting around reading these stories saying, CNN should never again try to talk about somebody else as a cult, whether it's the followers or Trump or anyone else, because these people, when they talk about Zucker, it's just kinda creepy." Of course, Graham and his fellow MRC employees are all cultish followers of Trump -- not to mention cultishly devoted to Ailes despite his disgrace -- so he's a little sensitive on the issue.

Burying the Zucker-Trump link

The MRC's creepily unseemly glee over the demise of Zucker and stunning lack of self-awareness given that his downfall is similar to that of Ailes -- didn't end when Curtis Houck stopped dancing on his professional grave after three days. There were other issues to deal with -- like the fact that Zucker essentially created their beloved Donald Trump when "The Apprentice" was developed under his watch at NBC. Scott Whitlock rushed into whataboutism in a Feb. 3 post:

NBC on Thursday discovered the most disgraceful thing that ex-Today show producer Jeff Zucker did, now that he’s resigned from CNN after a sex scandal: Zucker hired Donald Trump back in the ‘90s.

The fact that Zucker also secured the career success of alleged sex abuser Matt Lauer went unmentioned by the Today show.

You know, perhaps Whitlock shouldn't be mentioning Trump in the same breath as Lauer -- unless he's tacitly conceding that Trump is just as much of a creep as Lauer.

P.J. Gladnick didn't play Whitlock-like whataboutism when he complained about the same issue in a Feb. 5 post, but he insisted that anything he did at CNN was much worse:

She doesn't know precisely why CNN boss Jeff Zucker was forced out, but Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan wrote on Friday that "Jeff Zucker’s legacy is defined by his promotion of Donald Trump." All of CNN's horror-movie coverage was never enough.


So all of CNN's trashing Trump as a Russian tool, an American Hitler, a journalist-endangering dictator (and later a COVID mass murderer) wasn't enough? It's never enough.

Jeffrey Lord, meanwhile, devoted a Feb. 5 column to pondering whether CNN was "imploding" -- a think piece we don't recall Lord doing upon Roger Ailes' ignominious departure from Fox News amid a culture of rampant sexual harassment -- claiming that "with the arrival of Jeff Zucker, it seemed that CNN was slowly heading in a different direction altogether. Which is to say, there was more and more opinion, less and less hard news."Lord appears not to have read the MRC's own study finding that Fox News airs even less "news" than CNN or MSNBC.

The MRC also continued to be upset that CNN employees continued to say nice things about Zucker. Kevin Tober whined in a Feb. 6 post:

Need a good laugh? Well we’ve got you covered here at NewsBusters. On CNN’s Reliable Sources, host Brian Stelter had on Media Studies Professor David Zurawik who made the preposterous claim that CNN was part of the fire wall that has helped “save democracy.”


While he was on the topic of misinformation and disinformation, Zurawik decided to gaslight the CNN audience and suck up to Brian Stelter by ludicrously claiming “CNN is one of the stations of all the television broadcast networks and cable channels it pushed harder from 2016 to 2020 against Trump and it was part of the fire wall that I think has saved democracy this far under Jeff Zucker.”

Fondacaro similarly ranted in a Feb. 7 post:

Jeff Zucker was the venomous boss behind all of CNN’s toxic content poisoning American discourse but he was also everything to primetime host Don Lemon. He made that perfectly clear during Friday’s Don Lemon Tonight when he was so overwhelmed with emotion that he almost broke down crying on-air.


“Jeff Zucker may not have launched this network but he revived it, he made it relevant again. He steadied it for the last decade. He left us with a very good blueprint going forward,” he reassured them.

Ironically, under Zucker, CNN is experiencing their ratings bottom-out across the board; plus, their credibility has been left in tatters because of the extreme liberal bent obvious to any honest observer and their abdication (bordering on contempt) of journalistic ethics.

Houck returned in a Feb. 8 post to attack CNN host Alisyn Camerota for saying Zucker's ouster was affecting her mental health, sneering: "In other words, they're a cult." The next day, Houck yet again hung the "puppetmaster" slur on Zucker:

Monday on his eponymous NewsNation show, longtime TV news personality and legal expert Dan Abrams hammered CNN’s Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter over his behavior regarding the ouster of now-ex-CNN boss and puppetmaster Jeff Zucker, calling Stelter “dishonest” for his defense of CNN as a legitimate news network and “reckless” for targeting John Malone, the top share in CNN’s future parent company Discovery.
We don't recall anyone at the MRC complaining about just how little Fox News covered the scandals of its founder and boss, Roger Ailes.

Fondacaro cheered that "Zucker's lover" -- i.e., the subordinate with whom Zucker was having an undisclosed relationship that was the stated cause of Zucker's departure -- had also left CNN in a Feb. 16 post, going on to hype gossip about Zucker's relationship with Chris Cuomo, who departed CNN a few months before. When Zucker's replacement -- former CBS "Late Show" showrunner Chris Licht -- was named, Fondacaro returned to hurl more darts at CNN in a Feb. 26 post:

In an interesting “scoop” published Saturday, Axios reported that CBS’s EVP of Special Programming Chris Licht, who was tapped to replace ousted CNN boss Jeff Zucker to lead the third-place cable network, wants to get back to CNN being a straight news outlet and cut back on the liberal screeds that dominate prime time and their newscasts in general.

The Axios headline said it all: “CNN to dull its liberal edge.” “Under new chief Chris Licht, CNN will dial down the prime-time partisanship and double down on the network's news-gathering muscle,” reported Mike Allen and Sara Fischer.

According to Axios, Licht was picked by Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav because “[r]atings are secondary to credibility[.]”

Both of which are foreign concepts to CNN currently.

Of course, Fondacaro is perfectly happy to see Fox News throw away its credibility for the sake of ratings, and he has never demanded that Fox News "dull its conservative edge." As a loyal MRC apparatchik, he does not want "middle of the road" coverage, since he has bought into the MRC party line that anything even slightly less right-wing than Fox News is irredeemably "liberal."

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