Twenty-four-hour news networks are taking a lot of heat from outside for their wall-to-wall coverage of Donald Trump. Now some insiders at CNN may be tiring of it as well.
According to The Wrap, the staff who run the network’s shows sounded off to president Jeff Zucker at a CNN town hall meeting Thursday, complaining about the network’s extensive coverage, which has included live feeds of entire Trump campaign rallies as well as various news segments focused on the real estate mogul-cum-politician.
In particular, one staffer reportedly noted the bumping of Anderson Cooper’s special coverage of the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina to air a segment featuring anchor Don Lemon and various guests discussing a campaign rally in Iowa in which Trump proposed that CNN donate $10 million to charity in order to get him to appear on the network’s upcoming Republican primary debate.
In response to the criticism, Zucker reportedly admitted that the network is “not perfect,” and he added that the decision to bump the Anderson Cooper special was due, in part, to the fact that Cooper was on vacation at the time it was scheduled to air.
A spokesperson for CNN tells Fortune that only one staffer questioned the network’s Trump coverage at the meeting and that the complaint “is not the sentiment of the staff at CNN.”
CNN, which is owned by Time Warner (TWX), is often criticized by outsiders for its tendency to zealously focus on one news item at the expense of other stories — the network’s coverage of missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370 comes to mind. But, it’s unlikely that CNN’s extensive Trump coverage will drop off anytime soon, especially with the Sept. 16 Republican debate airing on CNN in what is expected to be a ratings bonanza for the network.
When Trump headlined the party’s August debate on Fox News (FOX), a record 24 million viewers tuned in to the most-watched GOP primary debate in history. Of course, his popularity with viewers is not lost on Trump himself. Advertising Age recently reported that CNN is charging up to $200,000 per 30-second ad spot, which is up from the normal rate for that time slot of $5,000. Trump credited himself for that spike and later proposed that CNN donate all profits from the broadcast to groups supporting veterans.
Frank Sesno, a former CNN anchor and Washington bureau chief who is now a professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University, doesn’t see CNN as alone in the rush to keep viewers apprised of Trump’s every move.
Sesno tells Fortune that “the media are between a rock and a hard place on this” due to the fact that Trump is a fascinating figure who has a lead in the polls that demands the public’s attention. The problem, he says, is that Trump has turned the race into “more of a celebrity sweepstakes” that focuses on one candidate’s personality while ignoring a host of important policy issues, from income inequality and health care to job creation.
“If [the media] were covering Donald Trump’s jobs plan, that would be one thing,” Sesno says. “But Donald Trump doesn’t have a jobs plan.”
The pressure is now on CNN, according to Sesno, to ensure that next week’s debate questions move beyond America’s fascination with Trump’s personality to take a harder look at candidate Trump’s actual political plans, while also giving his rival candidates more time in the spotlight.