CNN CEO Chris Licht sent a message to staffers this week. Licht claims there’s a frustrating misconception brewing that he hopes to turn CNN into a “centrist” news network. He says he does not.
“One of the biggest [misunderstandings] about my vision is that I want to be vanilla, that I want to be centrist. That is bullshit,” Licht told the Financial Times in an interview this week. “You have to be compelling. You have to have an edge. In many cases you take a side. Sometimes you just point out uncomfortable questions. But either way you don’t see it through a lens of left or right.”
Though Licht says the public has misunderstood his vision, it would appear they are only citing messaging from CNN leadership.
Leaks and statements from the new CNN executive branch, under the Warner Bros. Discovery umbrella, have continuously reaffirmed a plan to pivot the network toward the middle, as in a centrist news agency.
Discovery CEO David Zaslav, Licht’s boss, told reporters on a call in April that CNN would prioritize non-partisan opinions first and foremost.
“U.S. news is largely populated by ‘advocacy networks’ that ‘make a lot of money by generating and supporting an audience, but CNN is in the journalism business and will be ‘journalism first.” Zaslav said.
A report from Axios in February states that Zaslav hired Licht for the precise mission of dialing back the network’s “red-hot liberal opining” and restoring CNN’s reputation as a respectable news organization.
More telling yet, lead Discovery shareholder John Malone, Licht and Zaslav’s de-facto boss, explained his preferred outlook of CNN in August.
“[I’d like] the ‘news’ portion of CNN to be more centrist,” Malone told the New York Times.
His exact wording: “centrist.”
So, it’s not a misconception that Licht hoped to steer the network toward a centrist-lean; CNN management has stated such publicly.
Moreover, Licht’s actions suggest he has followed said edict to this point. He has fired several partisan voices since assuming the role as CEO in May, from Brian Stelter to Jeffrey Toobin to John Harwood.
He then demoted the bombastic, light-on-the-facts character called Don Lemon from solo primetime to a panel program in the morning.
Licht also doubled down on centrist voices — at least “centrist” for CNN standards — by testing Jake Tapper at 9 pm, a traditionally opinion-first time slot. Licht reportedly preferred to name Tapper the permanent anchor for the hour. For whatever reason, Tapper has since returned to 4 pm.
Now, perhaps CNN management plans to change course and abandon its original “centrist” vision. That specific change of course would correlate with recent viewership trends.
See, news-first, low-energy cable news rarely rates well on television. Viewers prefer signature personalities who are honest about their political biases.
Rachel Maddow, for all his dubious reporting, is a ratings juggernaut. Chuck Todd, who claims to be a journalist, is not.
Suffice it to say Licht’s current direction “ain’t’ it.”
(Note #1: no one watched Don Lemon in primetime. Note 21: no one watches Don Lemon in the morning. Should they try lunch-time?)
The network is on pace to drop below $1 billion in profit for the first time in years amid day-long ratings decreases.
CNN impersonated MSNBC’s sensationalized rhetoric during the Donald Trump administration. The network has since relied upon a mixture of whiny elitists purporting as journalists and Zucker holdovers.
Centrist or not, the latter direction serves minimal purpose in the cable news marketplace. Hence the ratings.