Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law and top adviser, discussed the administration's issues with CNN's coverage in recent weeks with a top executive of the cable network's owner, Time Warner Inc., according to news reports.
"It's no secret that the president and his team have been critical of CNN's dishonest coverage of the president, both during the campaign and since his inauguration, and it's obvious their ratings have suffered as a result," a White House official told The Wall Street Journal.
"On the other hand," the official said, Fox News "provides mostly fair, and more complete coverage of the administration — and their ratings have never been better."
However, a CNN spokeswoman countered: "Once again, the White House has their facts wrong. CNN's ratings are up 50 percent."
According to Nielsen data cited in the report, CNN's total day ratings are up 51 percent so far this year among adults 25 to 54 to 264,000 viewers, on average, while Fox's are up 55 percent to 381,000 in the same age group.
"Our journalism has never been stronger as we continue to hold the administration's feet to the fire," the spokeswoman told the Journal. "Those are the facts."
Kushner, the husband of Ivanka Trump and former owner of The New York Observer, met with Time Warner's Gary Ginsberg, executive vice president of corporate marketing and communications, to complain about CNN's reporting on the administration, the individuals told the Journal.
The meeting, according to officials interviewed by the Journal, was part of a two-pronged effort to influence the network's coverage, with President Trump publicly slamming CNN, while Kushner works behind the scenes.
At a White House news conference Thursday, Trump ripped CNN as "very fake news" — and its commentary as "almost exclusively anti-Trump" — escalating attacks that began almost immediately after he first announced his candidacy in June 2015.
In the meeting, Kushner specifically singled out several CNN contributors, including Van Jones, a Democrat who worked for President Barack Obama, and Ana Navarro, a Republican strategist who supported former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush during the presidential campaign, according to the Journal.
They have long bashed Trump vigorously, the individuals said.
Kushner's meeting also comes amid the backdrop of Time Warner's proposed $85.4 billion sale to AT&T Inc., though the transaction was not discussed with Ginsberg, according to the Journal.
During the campaign, Trump said he would block the deal.
"AT&T is buying Time Warner, and thus CNN, a deal we will not approve in my administration," he told a rally in Gettysburg, Pa., in October.
The transaction would be reviewed by the Justice Department and several other government agencies.
AT&T and Time Warner officials have said they would allow CNN to remain independent.
That Trump's rhetoric was so harsh about the deal, coupled with subsequent the Kushner-Ginsberg meeting, are unusual, said Mark Feldstein, a University of Maryland journalism historian.
"Lord knows that every president has been angered by their news coverage, going back to George Washington," he told the Journal. "But to engage in that kind of bare-knuckled tactics is extraordinary."
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