News reports on Chris Licht’s sudden but predictable firing as chairman of CNN make it sound like his relatively brief tenure was marked by a series of blunders that cumulatively led to his demise. It’s nonsense.
Licht was fired for one reason, and it’s that he actually believed CNN was a place he could revert back to something of a major news-gathering operation without a complete overhaul of producers, correspondents, and, most of all, the anchors.
After a year of tinkering with the margins — moving drama queen Don Lemon from nights to mornings, firing the on-camera masturbator — Licht ultimately failed to do anything that would steer CNN away from its current status as a patronizing, angry propaganda outfit toward something less hysterical and more even-handed. That would require terminating Jake Tapper, Anderson Cooper, Erin Burnett, and on and on. But for whatever reason, Licht thought he could get there instead with an endless series of internal memos on word usage and “balance.”
CNN, as a TV product, doesn’t sell journalism or news, and it hasn’t since 2015. CNN, as a TV product, sells made-up reasons for Americans to hate one another. The pandemic death ticker, the deadly BLM riots, “the big lie,” the “violent insurrection” — all of it is promoted and repeated on air at CNN to give half the country a reason to hate their neighbors.
It’s a large part of news journalism to cover political conflict. CNN doesn’t cover political conflict. CNN creates it. CNN foments it. And then CNN tells its audience that violence from one political side is okay in order to resolve that conflict.
Making Don Lemon a morning show host wasn’t going to change it. Getting rid of the on-camera masturbator wasn’t going to change it. The only way to change it is to clean house.
Chris Licht did not clean house. Chris Licht assumed he was working with journalists who had simply made some shortsighted choices for ratings who could be guided back on track. There were no mistakes, and they’re not on the wrong track. This is CNN.
There is no other explanation for the calamity resulting from last month’s Trump “town hall” hosted by CNN. Donald Trump is a former president and is the leading candidate for the Republican nomination to be president again. Hosting such a figure should be seen as both a coveted opportunity and an obligation by any news operation. Licht probably thought he would be celebrated for the production. An article in The Atlantic said it was supposed to be the “win” Licht “needed.” Instead, CNNers denounced their own event.
Because CNN isn’t a news operation. It doesn’t want to be. Licht was hopelessly naive in thinking that it did.