CNN recently announced the hiring of former Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a Republican who became a favorite of Democrats as one of the loudest anti-Trump members of Congress.
Prior to this announcement, much had been written about the changes at CNN since Jeff Zucker was shown the door and Chris Licht replaced him as chief executive officer. Most of the stories have featured a supposed turn to the middle politically. But in fact, very little has actually changed at CNN, and the likeliest explanation for that has to be the political sensibilities of Licht and his boss, David Zaslav, as CNN’s leaders.
Take Zaslav. Before the merger of Discovery (which he headed) and Warner Media, which owned CNN, Zaslav sang the praises of Zucker and CNN, saying the latter was “the greatest news brand in the world with the greatest journalists.” This, despite the widely reported claims that Zucker thinks CNN has gone too far left and that he wanted it to be more agreeable to Republicans.
Adding to doubts about Zaslav’s sincerity regarding moving CNN’s programming to the center is the partisanship shown in his past political contributions. Those contributions skew overwhelmingly to Democrats, with $66,800 to the Hillary Victory Fund in 2016, $100,000 to Nancy Pelosi’s Victory Fund in 2019, and more than $100,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in recent years.
But all of that is nothing compared to Zaslav’s biggest tell, his hiring of Licht in February as CNN’s CEO. Imagine yourself as the head of Warner Bros. Discovery and in a position to hire a new leader to steer CNN away from its biased path. In that circumstance, what would compel you to hire someone whose previous jobs were as the producer of “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” and, before that, with “Morning Joe” on MSNBC?
It would be a joke if it weren’t true. Despite the canning of Brian Stelter, Chris Cuomo, and Jeffrey Toobin, CNN’s roster is still filled to the gunwales with people like Brianna Keilar, Don Lemon, Dana Bash, David Axelrod, and Jim Acosta.
And there are many other left-leaning writers for CNN: people like Jill Filipovic (“Indicting Trump would be incredibly controversial, but it may be the only remedy”), Julian Zelizer (“The January 6 committee’s devastating conclusions”), Kara Alaimo (“Elon Musk is running Twitter like dictators run their states”), and Nicole Hemmer (“The January 6 report is a ‘mirror test’ for the American people”). CNN published all of these pieces just last month.
Licht’s a Joke
The New York Times’ Dec. 18 article “The Education of CNN’s Chris Licht” mentions how Licht opined that Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart “would work” as a successor to Chris Cuomo. In that one statement, Licht demonstrates everything about his own lack of political sophistication, and how hopeless he is as the captain of a CNN that desperately needs to tack to starboard.
There is unavoidable evidence that Licht’s stewardship isn’t working. In a Variety story published at the end of December and sourced to Nielsen, CNN ranked 21st among all TV networks in prime-time viewership, down 34 percent from a year earlier. This while during the same period Warner Bros. Discovery stock sank from $23.54 at the end of 2021 to $9.48 at the end of 2022, a drop of just a hair under 60 percent!
Adding another dimension to CNN’s and Warner Bros. Discovery’s woes, a December report in Yahoo Finance titled “Everything is on the table,” says: “As WBD struggles for direction, many industry insiders believe the embattled company will sell again—making it a possible acquisition target in 2023 and beyond.”
CNN Should Hire a Conservative
Both Zaslav and Licht surely understand that CNN is detested by conservatives and libertarians. After all the Zucker years, marked by raffish name-calling, extreme bias, repulsive reporters, and bald-faced lies, who could blame them? Yet perhaps because they are personally ignorant of right-leaning perspectives, or because they are afraid to make the changes necessary to recruit conservatives as viewers, nothing much has changed.
Though there’s little in their record to suggest that cleaning this mess up is truly important to them, here’s a suggestion to Zaslav and Licht: Hire a conservative who is knowledgeable about policy issues and political and ideological matters, and give him or her real influence over the hire and use of anchors, reporters, and contributors. Given the baggage CNN is holding, it may not work, but it’s better than anything else that’s been tried.