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CNN boss Chris Licht slams 'uninformed vitriol' from the political left

By Sarah May
|
December 20, 2022

Having taken the reins at CNN back in May, network CEO Chris Licht recently offered some detailed insight into his new role, including the stunning admission on his part that the “uninformed vitriol, especially from the left” has taken him by surprise, as The Hill reports.

Licht's candid revelations came in a series of interviews he granted to the New York Times and provide a close-up look at his vision for the cable news outlet and the challenges he has faced since taking over for former network head Jeff Zucker.

Architect of change

The executive's tenure to date has been marked by a number of major changes in on-air talent and programming, many of which have signaled what many believe is a distinct change in tone from the network's left-leaning, anti-Trump past.

As the Daily Caller reported at the time, one of Licht's first major decisions upon taking control of the beleaguered outlet was to abruptly shut down its fledgling streaming service, CNN+, just three weeks after its launch, a move that led to a significant number of layoffs and a stunning reversal of fortune for veteran journalist Chris Wallace, who left Fox News to join the new endeavor.

In August, Licht oversaw the cancellation of longtime CNN staple, Reliable Sources as well as the ouster of its highly partisan host, Brian Stelter, as the Washington Post reported at the time.

Also caught up in the wave of Licht's attempted transformation of CNN was political journalist Chris Cillizza, who was let go in early December as part of a substantial round of layoffs at the network.

Further evidence of an intentional change in direction came in October, when it was announced that liberal prime time host Don Lemon, who had made headlines over the years for, among other things, declaring white men the “biggest terror threat in America,” would be losing his 10 p.m. time slot and moving to mornings.

“Stunning” response

The approach taken by Licht has prompted much speculation that he is hoping to steer the network ship to a more centrist place, but that is a characterization with which he has taken issue.

Instead, Licht explained to the Times, he wants the network he helms to facilitate a “rational conversation about polarizing issues” so that the audience could “take what they've heard to the dinner table and have a discussion.”

Those endeavors have apparently not always been well-received, according to Licht, but the reactions he has received have only served to bolster his resolve.

“The uninformed vitriol, especially from the left, has been stunning. Which proves my point: so much of what passes for news is name-calling, half-truths and desperation,” Licht said.

Undeterred, Licht is holding fast to the high hopes he has for the company he leads, ambitiously asserting, “I want CNN to be essential to society. If you're essential, then the revenue will follow.”

Ignoring the noise

An apparent optimist, or perhaps a glutton for punishment, Licht has ignored the advice of those within the industry who suggested he ought not tackle something as daunting as the transformation of CNN – including talk show host Stephen Colbert, whose CBS show he produced before joining the cable outlet.

As the Washington Examiner notes, Colbert cautioned Licht about making the leap, telling him, according to the Times, “Definitely don't go do that.”

“CNN would be lucky to get you. But you're my friend, and I'm telling you not to go,” Colbert recalled imploring his colleague.

Responding that the CNN job was akin to a “calling,” Licht brushed off Colbert's advice and moved forward anyhow.

According to Colbert, he speaks with Licht on an almost-weekly basis, beginning every chat with the reminder, “I told you so,” perhaps in reference to the ongoing economic difficulties facing the network, the repeated rounds of layoffs the CEO has had to oversee, and a pattern of disappointing ratings.

Whether Licht's vision of a more “rational conversation” on CNN's airwaves in the coming months comes to fruition is something that remains to be seen, but it appears certain that the network's boss is unwilling to revert to the prior programming formula that frequently yielded controversy and ultimately brought about decline.