CNN’s Stelter, Ted Koppel debate whether CNN’s ‘ratings would be in the toilet’ without Trump

CNN "Reliable Sources" host Brian Stelter this week pushed back on former ABC "Nightline" anchor Ted Koppel's argument that CNN's ratings "would be in the toilet" if Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpWarren defends, Buttigieg attacks in debate that shrank the field Five takeaways from the Democratic debate in Ohio Democrats debate in Ohio: Who came out on top? MORE wasn't president.

CNN's media correspondent said he believes the cable news business "is more complex" than Koppel made it seem with the comment.

The back-and-forth stems from Koppel's commentary during an event at the National Press Club on Monday night, when Koppel said Trump "had been wonderful for the industry."

Stelter argued that the press is being targeted as part of a "hate movement" spearheaded by the president, who regularly decries the news media as "fake news" and "the enemy of the people."

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“He has been wonderful for the industry,” said Koppel, who currently serves as a CBS contributor.

“But that means what?” responded Stelter, a staunch critic of the Trump. “If ratings are up, that means what?”

“It means you can’t do without Donald Trump,” Koppel replied. “You would be lost without Donald Trump.”

“Ted, you know that’s not true,” Stelter said.

“CNN’s ratings would be in the toilet without Donald Trump,” Koppel declared.

“You know that’s not true; you’re playing for laughs,” Stelter said. “You’ve lived through enough presidencies to know there will be more presidents.”

After some back-and-forth over what CNN's ratings would look like if Trump hadn't won the presidency, Stelter said he didn't accept the notion that broadcast networks were benefiting from money generated from the additional eyeballs Trump brings to the table.

“I reject the premise that these networks are making so much money off of Trump and thus, we benefit from it,” Stelter said.

Koppel joked that discussing CNN's ratings was "a sensitive subject" for Stelter, and pivoted instead to MSNBC.

“Tell me for a moment if you will — let’s get away from CNN; sensitive subject," he said to laughter from the audience. "Let’s go to MSNBC. Is there a moment of the day when they’re not focusing on Donald Trump, or some intimately related subject?”

Koppel has won multiple Emmy awards in his four-plus decades in the news industry, including a Lifetime Achievement Award at the News and Documentary Emmys in 2007.

On Wednesday after several online publications picked up the Koppel-Stelter exchange, Stelter pushed back on Twitter by stating it was "important to cover Trump" and "important to cover what's next."

The perspective from Koppel echoes what CNN founder Ted Turner said in a recent interview about the network he launched in 1980.

“I think they’re sticking with politics a little too much,” he said about CNN on "CBS Sunday Morning," adding he felt the network would be served better by "a more balanced agenda."

Former CBS, ABC and CNN political and media analyst Jeff Greenfield also criticized CNN programming regarding the current president during an interview on Stelter's "Reliable Sources" on Sunday.

“I have to say this quite bluntly to a CNN anchor,” Greenfield told Stelter. “When I look at CNN, hour after hour after hour I see panels rather than reporting, exchanging opinions, the overwhelming majority of which on this network I regard as quite critical or hostile to Trump.”