CNN’s new president Chris Licht, who replaced Jeff Zucker, is reportedly shifting the network’s direction away from partisan sniping at its competitor Fox News. According to the Daily Beast, Licht “has already begun backchanneling with key figures, including agents and reporters, and, according to two insiders familiar with the matter, making it known to Fox News that he is working towards a cease-fire on his network’s aggressive coverage of them.”
The Daily Beast also notes that lead CNN hall monitor Brian Stelter did not mention Fox News at all on his most recent episode of “Reliable Sources.”
The Washington Post reports that Licht has signaled a return to straight news reporting and away from personalities — or at least away from coverage heavy on emotional pandering to its dwindling audience still pretending to be the #Resistance. That would be newsworthy because on its face, such a direction would mean shedding quite a few of CNN’s online Trump-era personalities.
For example, Jim Acosta rose to fame by grandstanding at White House press briefings. He’s now been punished with a weekend show where he often regurgitates left-wing Twitter punchlines. Where does such a shift leave Brianna Keilar, host of CNN’s waning morning show, which just this week had on Democratic officials to push their line on the so-called “don’t say gay” Florida education bill (the bill, notably, does not say that)?
Jake Tapper helped coordinate and host a Florida town hall with local officials in the wake of the Parkland school shooting, which quickly led to finger-pointing at attendees Marco Rubio and Dana Loesch, who had to be escorted out of the arena for safety. Tapper has also been accused of putting his thumb on the scale in Senate races, in favor of Democratic candidates.
Will Chris Licht opt to keep Don Lemon’s scolding progressivism in primetime? Is the network making a play for current White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki to fill the hole left by Chris Cuomo? If CNN and Licht are to carry through on their vow to return to hard news reporting — the kind that has been on display over the past two weeks from CNN International reporters like Clarissa Ward, who have sidelined much of CNN’s normal lineup — they are going to have to jettison most of Jeff Zucker’s WWE-style commentators who were hired for the sole reason of giving Trump a foil. (Remember Michael Avenatti and Brian Stelter’s promotion of him? What happened there?)
If he keeps CNN’s current on-air infrastructure in place, Licht is not serious about rebranding, and is only trying to hide the blatant bias.
That is the most likely case given Licht’s professional history as executive producer of Stephen Colbert’s late-night show. Colbert over the course of the past three years slowly transformed from political satire and humor to full-blown progressive late-night group therapy. Licht himself tweeted in March of 2020, “I’m finding @NYGovCuomo press availability the most soothing part of my day.”
That’s hardly the musings of a full-blown Young Turks fan. But the mainstream media is a monolith of progressive thought, and Licht appears to be little more than a cog in that machine. Actions will speak louder than words. If all that changes at CNN is the tone and Oliver Darcy’s television being taken away, we’ll know it’s still just a Democratic PR operation.