After just a little more than one year in the role, Chris Licht has been fired as head honcho of CNN. “For a number of reasons things didn’t work out and that’s unfortunate… It’s really unfortunate. And ultimately that’s on me. And I take full responsibility for that,” said David Zaslav, CEO of CNN’s parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery. But what was it that didn’t work out? And is there any possible future for a network that is seemingly locked on an ideological collision course with reality?
According to the CNN website, the “final death knell was a devastating 15,000-word profile in The Atlantic that published on Friday [June 2]. The blistering piece… called into serious question Licht’s ability to lead the organization into the future.” And yet this is not quite the case; rather, it was the seemingly unforgivable crime of hosting former President Donald Trump in a widely viewed town hall.
The Trump Factor
An aggregate of polling shows that Trump is 1.8% ahead of President Joe Biden to win the 2024 election should he be the eventual GOP nominee. Coupled with the fact that he is roughly 30 points ahead of his closest Republican rival, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, it seems clear that 45 has at least a notable chance of becoming 47.
CNN has so far hosted Nikki Haley and former VP Mike Pence in a town hall format similar to that of Trump’s contentious showing. Indeed, in the earlier days before the journalism industry jettisoned its prime directive in favor of becoming little more than an advocacy organization, hosting presidential hopefuls was considered both necessary and desirable. And yet the Fourth Estate has become something different; it now sees itself as the gatekeeper of opinion and facts. No matter the various maneuvers by Licht to push the ailing network to the center, the new normal demands it stays in its lane to fight the “good” fight.
He Broke CNN – He Could Also Fix It
After a slew of biased coverage against The Donald in 2016, Trump labeled the outfit “fake news.” It’s a moniker that has become more of a rallying cry among his base. The name stuck, and the ratings began to suffer.
Before joining the cable channel, Licht announced that he was leaving Twitter, saying the platform “can be a great journalistic tool, but it can also skew what’s really important in the world.” And yet it was the skewering of the plain facts that portended the network’s ongoing demise.
In 2016 and 2017, CNN posted its highest-ever ratings. It was glory days ahead, and much of that draw was due to posing as the resistance to Donald Trump. But by the time 2018 rolled around – while Fox News and MSNBC were posting slight increases – the company lost 6% in viewership. 2019 saw Fox make slight gains, while again CNN continued a slow but steady decline of 2%. Election year 2020 provided a boost to the network; in particular, its fourth-quarter viewership (coinciding with the presidential election) skyrocketed. But from there, it was all downhill.
According to Variety’s rankings, CNN lost 38% in 2021 – despite the major boost from the Jan. 6 coverage. The New York Post reported in late 2002:
“In August, Fox News dominated with nine shows making the top 10 highest-rated cable news shows. Only MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow eked out a fifth-place ranking with 2.7 million viewers, lagging behind Fox’s ‘The Five’ (3.4 million), ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight’ (3.3 million), ‘Hannity’ (2.9 million) and ‘Jesse Watters Primetime’ (2.9 million).”
The only CNN show to crack the top 25 was “Anderson Cooper 360” — in 25th place with 950,000 viewers.”
It was at this point in the crumbling of CNN that Licht was brought in to try and plot a course back to sustainability. Oddly enough, it seems that Licht’s decision to host the former president – an act that would ultimately end in his termination – brought the ailing channel back to relevance for one brief moment. Forbes reported, “CNN took a rare ratings victory in prime time Wednesday night, with the network’s town hall featuring former President Donald Trump drawing 3.1 million viewers, according to early overnight Nielsen ratings. From 8 p.m. to 9:15 p.m., CNN was the most-watched cable news network, more than doubling the ratings of Fox News (1.4 million viewers) and MSNBC (1.37 million viewers).”
Trump’s performance pulled in an astonishing 3.3 million viewers (this does not include those who watched on the internet), second only to Joe Biden’s town hall after becoming president in February 2021. It was a winning formula that could have turned CNN’s fortunes around, but apparently Warner Bros. Discovery would rather opt for a managed decline over ratings rebirth if it means staying on message.
The Status Quo Must Remain
Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks show – and also one of the prime movers behind the Justice Democrats organization – weighed in on why Licht was shown the door. He wrote:
“CNN believes that journalists should be neutral. That has two enormous problems. It’s boring – and hence, the terrible ratings. But much more importantly, it’s the wrong standard. Journalists aren’t supposed to advocate for the midpoint between two political parties, they’re supposed to advocate for the truth – which isn’t necessarily on either side of the political debate. You’re supposed to be objective, not neutral. If they were objective, they would harshly criticize both parties. Instead, they do the opposite, where they try to appease both sides. That isn’t journalism, that’s marketing for the powerful. Firing Don Lemon or Chris Licht was never going to solve this core problem.”
Indeed, the high-profile firings and re-shuffling did little to shore up the leaking numbers. But this didn’t stop a prominent Washington, DC newspaper from making the case that it was centrism that killed the formerly golden goose.
The media establishment would rather set “the most trusted name in news” on a kamikaze run to its own demise than give the Republican frontrunner for president airtime. That Chris Licht has been ousted suggests that Warner Bros. Discovery has heeded this call and determined that failure is a small price to pay for the progressive status quo. It is the inherent seed of destruction within that means such news organizations are doomed to become irrelevant.
With independent news media becoming the mainstream, top hosts shifting their shows to places like Twitter, content creators chasing the almost-realizable dream of a censorship-free platform like Rumble, it appears that CNN and others who chase the authority of being the only “reliable source,” – when their bias betrays the veracity of their content – cannot hope to compete in the long term.
Chris Licht was fired without warning, but the left-leaning Fourth Estate has had plenty of omens. That it chooses to ignore them suggests that the agenda is more important than the reality.
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