Greater problems than its inept previous head beset the news network.

Chris Licht

Chris Licht had a brief, catastrophic tenure at CNN, and the kindest thing you can say about it is that he was unfortunate. He may have had little to no influence over a significant portion of what transpired. At a time when curiosity for the news was at an all-time low, Licht became leadership of the cable news network last May. After the Trump era’s high—a time that was extremely profitable for the majority of the media, particularly cable news—everything came tumbling down. After years of white-knuckling it, viewers were ready for a break. At least, there was no longer the overwhelming impression that tuning out, even for a minute or two, let alone a day, was the only option. Things were still hectic, but they had also somewhat returned to normal.Missing important world history events for a few hours might mean being foolish.

However, there was a feeling that was going to change when Licht took control. The midterm elections were quickly approaching. Then comes the 2024 Republican primary, followed by the presidential election and, with both, Donald Trump’s comeback. You get the idea. The network’s post-Trump dip was not particularly unusual, but Licht and his minders had little time to implement the reforms they believed would help. Additionally, throughout his 13 months in office, there hasn’t been any indication that people are becoming excited about the upcoming presidential contest; rather, everyone still appears to be reasonably tired of politics.

Licht’s timing was poor in a number of ways. David Zaslav, who took over CNN when the colossal WarnerBrothers Discovery was founded in April 2022, hired him. In order to replace the well-liked (at least internally) Jeff Zucker, Zaslav needed to cut expenses—really cut costs, as in billions of dollars—and he appointed Licht as his inside man. Licht’s misfortune essentially comes to an end at this point. Licht happily accepted this task. And he performed horribly in almost every situation.

Zaslav desired a new, less expensive CNN. He want a network more sympathetic to conservative viewpoints. He particularly sought one that might win over Republicans who had been disenchanted during the Trump administration. Licht eagerly started acquiring everything. He fired thousands. He fired well-liked newsreaders who infuriated Republicans, especially Donald Trump. He planned a catastrophic town hall with the former president that was meant to be Licht’s greatest achievement and serve as proof that the network had returned to the mainstream and that viewers of all hues could once again trust it. Instead, by lying nonstop and berating the moderator Kaitlin Collins, Trump made a joke of him. To be honest, just about anyone could have predicted it. Everyone, except Chris, it appearsLicht and David Zaslav.

The difficult part of interpreting Licht’s rule at CNN is figuring out where his power ends and Zaslav’s begins. To be honest, Licht made a number of errors. By emulating a fitness-obsessed Brian Clough from the Damned United period, he rapidly alienated the journalists. Even worse than his obvious contempt for the job his staff accomplished was his lack of interest in it. He and Zaslav embraced the right wing’s critique of the network, claiming that it had become too leftist, strident, and above all, too hostile to Donald Trump. Licht and Zaslav just embraced the right-wing narrative hook, line and sinker without ever questioning if any of it was factual. (To be honest, there is a lot to criticise about CNN’s reporting under the Trump administration, butIts main issue wasn’t that it didn’t give MAGA viewpoints enough consideration or respect.)

Oh, and Licht consented to a 15,000-word Atlantic profile; for months, reporter Tim Alberta had unrestricted access to him in order to grasp his innermost beliefs and objectives as well as his daily life. In sum, this profile’s conclusion was that Licht is a d*ck. His termination would have taken place anyhow, but Alberta’s essay accelerated things.

Licht asserted that he was working to make CNN more sober and to turn it into a source of news that people could actually believe. To be fair, he has already performed a variation of this at CBS This Morning, which he assisted in relaunching in 2016. However, serious analysis is not appropriate for television news. It’s a location where people shout. There will be conflict there. It serves as an entertainment area. If Licht really meant it when he declared he intended to make the network more serious, he was doomed from the start. It is conceivable to achieve this while informing its audience—at least to some extent. Perhaps a more true statement would be that he and Zaslav hoped toOnce more, it’s a location in “the middle” where the right and the left may coexist, but this too demonstrates how out of their depth both are. This type of “both sides”-focused journalism is untenable because the post-Trump right is simply incapable of accepting basic facts.

Beyond Licht, CNN faces a host of issues that are unlikely to be resolved by anybody. Cutting the cord is a serious issue. As a result, revenues are dropping and the majority of cable news show viewers are “legally dead.” Look no farther than the terrible CNN+ to see how the streaming business decisions made by these networks’ executives have been catastrophic and made things a thousand times worse. Cable is not attracting new subscribers. The power that cable news had during the Trump administration may never return; it was a curious blip in an otherwise lengthy and gradual decline.

That is, however, being way too generous to Chris Licht. He entered CNN to dismiss employees. He entered CNN with the intention of enticing Donald Trump—and, to a lesser extent, his supporters—to watch the network. He came in bragging about journalism and public confidence in the media before treating his workers with disrespect. He did indeed fail at a very challenging profession. But he also failed as a result of his lack of business knowledge.

 

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