CNN staffer says network focuses on coronavirus for ratings, ‘head of network’ often calls for death tracker
'COVID? Gangbusters with ratings, right? Which is why we constantly have the death toll on the side,' CNN's Charles Chester said
Project Veritas published an explosive, secretly recorded video featuring a CNN employee saying the network relies on the coronavirus pandemic for ratings and the head of the network calls in to force producers to put the death toll on screen when he’s bored by CNN programming.
"COVID? Gangbusters with ratings, right? Which is why we constantly have the death toll on the side, which I have a major problem with, how we’re tallying how many people die every day," a CNN technical director said on secretly recorded video, noting that he finds himself strangely rooting for the death toll to rise to help CNN’s narrative.
Someone off camera said, "Well, I mean, it helps with ratings," but the CNN staffer fired back, "Oh course, yeah, but at what expense? But, I have a job."
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In the second installment of what's billed as a three-part #ExposeCNN campaign from the right-wing guerilla news outlet Project Veritas, network technical director Charles Chester shed light on how the network has milked the pandemic for ratings.
"Fear really drives numbers. It does, you know, the happiest days in news, people, I would imagine, turn it off ... fear is the thing that keeps you tuned in," Chester said in the secretly recorded video.
Chester said "the head of the network" decides how long the death count remains on screen.
"I’ve been in the room many times where my director tells me to take it down, and I take it down, and then we get a phone call, the batphone rings in the back, literally a red phone, like the special red phone rings, and they pick it up and this producer picks it up ... every so often they put it on speaker, and it’s like the head of the network being like, ‘There’s nothing that you’re doing right now that makes me want to stick, put the numbers back up, because that’s the most enticing thing that we had,’" Chester said, presumably referring to hands-on CNN President Jeff Zucker.
The Project Veritas video then cut to another CNN staffer who was secretly recorded.
"It’s most likely a Jeff Zucker call," CNN graphics producer Rachelle Hoffmann said.
CNN did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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While similar videos are sometimes deceptively edited and taken out of context, many comments made by Chester throughout the video are longer clips that feature him speaking in clear sentences.
Chester went on to bash his employer’s "if it bleeds, it leads" programming strategy.
"I think, no one ever says those things out loud, but it’s obvious based on like the amount of stories that we do. Like the fact that we have a segment called ‘The Good Stuff,’ which is a feel good thing, but it’s a dedicated moment at the end to like, almost like be the ice cream to alleviate everything you’ve been through, like something sweet to end it with," Chester said. "Everything else is like doom and gloom."
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The first installment of the secretly recorded footage showed Chester boasting the left-leaning outlet helped defeat former President Donald Trump and even calling his own employer "propaganda."
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"Look at what we did, we got Trump out," Chester said in a celebratory tone. "I am 100 percent going to say it. And I 100 percent believe it that if it wasn't for CNN, I don't know that Trump would have got voted out."
Before it was deleted, Chester’s online profile said his work "played an integral part" in 2020 presidential election coverage.
The often-controversial Project Veritas, which frames itself as a whistleblower watchdog group, has previously released what it claims to be hidden camera footage of network news producers, politicians, and members of private political organizations making statements while unaware they are being recorded.
Fox News’ Joseph A. Wulfsohn contributed to this report.