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MONEY & BUSINESS: CNN boss Chris Licht calls ‘bulls–t’ on network criticism

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CNN boss Chris Licht slammed criticism that he’s muting CNN’s opinion-based programming for news-centric coverage, according to a new report.

Licht, who took over as CEO from Jeff Zucker in May, was brought in by execs at parent company Warner Bros. Discovery to tamp down left-leaning punditry at the network — and bring CNN back to its roots.

“One of the biggest misconceptions about my vision is that I want to be vanilla, that I want to be centrist. That is bulls—,” Licht told the Financial Times on Monday. “You have to be compelling. You have to have edge.”

Licht continued: “In many cases you take a side. Sometimes you just point out uncomfortable questions. But either way you don’t see it through a lens of left or right.”

Licht criticized Zucker for how he juiced CNN’s ratings, which included perpetual “breaking news” headlines and left-leaning opinions from on-air talent on politics and then-President Donald Trump.

Licht said he isn’t making CNN “vanilla” by focusing on news, and tamping down punditry.
EPA

But in the years since Trump has been out of office, CNN’s ratings have tanked, causing Licht and Warner Bros. Discovery execs to rethink how the cable news network can get its mojo back. CNN has plunged far below Fox and MSNBC, with none of its shows cracking the top 20 in October, according to Nielsen.

Licht said he hopes to revive CNN by making it “more like a newspaper” with a greater emphasis on breaking news than politics “in the hope that it might keep viewers glued, even on slow news days.”

“If everything is a crisis, if everything is 11, if everything is breaking news, then no one listens when there actually is a crisis,” Licht said. “When you say, ‘No, no — really — the house is on fire now.’”

Since taking the reins, Licht axed opinionated media reporter Brian Stelter, who hosted the now-defunct “Reliable Sources,” White House correspondent John Harwood and dethroned Don Lemon from his ratings-challenged 10 p.m. primetime show. The left-leaning Lemon now co-hosts morning show, “CNN This Morning,” with Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins.

Exterior of CNN's Atlanta HQ
CNN staffers worry about losing their editorial independence under Licht’s mandate.
Getty Images

Licht’s uphill mission comes as the network’s parent company is slashing more than $3 billion in costs through 2024 after the $43 billion merger. CNN is expected to lay off potentially hundreds of staffers by year’s end in order to trim costs by $100 million.

“I hate to say it but when I look ahead, I see problems without end,” a CNN executive told the FT.

Warner Bros. Discovery is also carrying $47.5 billion in debt, the FT noted, as it is “under investor pressure to cut billions of dollars in expenses through a restructuring.”

CNN still brings in significant amounts of cash, with profit for the year estimated to come in at around $700 million to $750 million, the FT said. However, it is almost half a billion dollars down from CNN’s peak profitability under Zucker.



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