CNN Chief Says ‘Uninformed Vitriol’ from the Left Has Been ‘Stunning’

News & Politics

CNN boss Chris Licht drew a big James Stewart profile on the front of the Sunday Business section of The New York Times. Licht’s public chatter about making CNN less partisan and screamy is drawing bad reviews from partisan and screamy leftists. This went unsaid: CNN hasn’t really changed at all. 

A chorus of media pundits has pounced on every tidbit of bad news. Mr. Licht’s early programming efforts aimed at repositioning the network as broader and less partisan have prompted howls of criticism, with former MSNBC host and former colleague Keith Olbermann publicly calling Mr. Licht a “TV Fascist” after he moved Don Lemon, a liberal host, from a prime-time slot to a revamped morning show.

The uninformed vitriol, especially from the left, has been stunning,” Mr. Licht said in one of several interviews with The New York Times spanning his nearly eight-month tenure. “Which proves my point: so much of what passes for news is name-calling, half-truths and desperation.”

From the beginning, Licht’s preaching about how he took the CNN job to save democracy sounded very self-important. Stephen Colbert didn’t want him to leave his show to run CNN:

But for Mr. Licht, nothing less than democracy itself was at stake. He argued he could make CNN a news channel that people trusted, as opposed to one that monetized partisan combat….

“CNN would be lucky to get you,” Mr. Colbert continued. “But you’re my friend, and I’m telling you not to go.”

“This is a calling,” Mr. Licht countered.

At which point Mr. Colbert stopped trying to dissuade him: “I can’t negotiate with a calling.”

Warner Brothers-Discovery boss David Zaslav played on that self-importance when recruiting Licht to CNN: 

At their first meeting, Mr. Zaslav argued that running CNN would be “a great opportunity to build the No. 1 news brand in the world,” and “the most trusted brand in news where people go every day and in a crisis for the best version of the truth.”

And more than that: “This is important for America. It’s important for a functioning society.”

Stewart lamented “CNN had also become the poster child for the poisoned relationship between former President Donald J. Trump and mainstream media organizations.” But when the so-called “mainstream” is constantly dropping bombs on Trump and the Republicans, is it representing a “mainstream” or the Democrats? No one asked. They played this silly exercise pretending CNN’s somehow “in the middle,” far to the right of MSNBC, which isn’t reality. They’re more like twins than squabbling sisters. 

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This story was all about letting Licht make his case. CNN isn’t “vanilla, centrist or boring.” He used an analogy for the Warner-Discovery brass:

Asked about his efforts to make CNN less partisan, Mr. Licht gave this analogy: Suppose it’s raining outside. CNN plans to have people on who love the rain, and it will have people on who say they don’t like the rain. But it won’t have anyone on who says it’s sunny out.

Mr. Licht said he used the analogy to make clear that a less-partisan CNN did not mean it was any less committed to truth. “This wasn’t to plot a new course but to assure people we would not let up one inch in being truth tellers,” he said. “The change is we will not do Trump 24/7 or let him dictate our agenda.”

Anyone watching CNN — especially on days when it’s overdosing on January 6 committee hype — could be forgiven for thinking they’re not still Trump-obsessed. When you think you’re “saving democracy,” you can guess who they’re “saving democracy” from. 

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