By Callum Borchers
January 19, 2017

Don’t mess with CNN.

That’s the unvarnished version of a message that the network’s president, Jeff Zucker, delivered to President-elect Donald Trump in an interview published on Thursday by New York magazine.

“One of the things I think this administration hasn’t figured out yet is that there’s only one television network that is seen in Beijing, Moscow, Seoul, Tokyo, Pyongyang, Baghdad, Tehran and Damascus — and that’s CNN,” Zucker said. “The perception of Donald Trump in capitals around the world is shaped, in many ways, by CNN. Continuing to have an adversarial relationship with that network is a mistake.”

Media relations experts — or, really, anyone with an ounce of common sense — would probably agree that Trump doesn’t help his coverage by attacking CNN and its journalists. Reporters, anchors and producers are human, after all, and being called “terrible” or “fake news” or “wannabe journalist” can’t possibly make anyone more sympathetic.

But journalists are called to try as hard as humanly possible to compartmentalize all that stuff and continue to cover Trump fairly. Revenge is not in the job description.

Zucker’s warning that it would be a “mistake” for Trump to keep bashing CNN seems to suggest that the network’s coverage might change if the president-elect doesn’t knock it off. Consider the reverse: If coverage on CNN could not be affected by Trump’s behavior toward it, why would more insulting rhetoric be a mistake? Trump would have nothing to lose.

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