News, Culture & Society

CNN’s Chris Licht slams ‘uninformed’ critics attacking him for making network less partisan

CNN honcho Chris Licht has responded to criticism he’s received for his move to make the network’s historically progressive coverage less partisan, slamming the backlash as ‘uniformed vitriol.’

In an interview Sunday, the network’s chief executive addressed responses to his approach around featured voices on the network – since being tapped to replace ousted predecessor Jeff Zucker last February.

That strategy has since seen a series of sweeping changes enacted by Licht, who has pushed hosts like Don Lemon and Jim Acosta away from opinionated reporting that became especially prevalent during Donald Trump’s campaign and presidency. 

Seeking to the station’s roots as a hard-hitting news source, Licht over the past eight months has revamped the newsroom with a series of hiring, firings, and on-air shuffles – which has seen him condemned by left-wingers such as ex-colleague Keith Olbermann and gun activist Sharron Watts. 

Licht, 51, responded to that disapproval Sunday, addressing decisions like moving Lemon out of primetime and tabbing Jake Tapper to temporarily fill Chris Cuomo’s old slot – a failed experiment that lasted just a month. 

In an interview Sunday, the network’s chief executive addressed responses to his approach around featured voices on the network since being tapped to take it over earlier this year

Ex-CNN staffer Olbermann, along with several others, have been vocal disapproval with Licht, going as far as to label him a 'TV fascist' after his plans to overhaul the struggling network

Licht seemed to be responding to recent criticism he's following hires like Gutowski, by figures such as Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, a grassroots organization dedicated to implementing increased public safety measures to quell gun violence - especially in schools.

Seeking to the station’s roots as a hard-hitting news source, Licht over the past eight months has revamped the newsroom with a series of changes – which has seen him condemned by left-wingers such as ex-colleague Keith Olbermann (left) and gun activist Sharron Watts (right)

Speaking to the New York Times, Licht, who fully took control of the cable network in May, slammed the criticism he’s faced – ‘especially from the left’ – as ‘stunning.’

He said: ‘The uninformed vitriol, especially from the left, has been stunning.’

Licht added of the backlash he’s faced for replacing progressives like Lemon and Cuomo with more centrist figures – as well as hires like Stephen Gutowski, founder and editor of firearms website The Reload – ‘proves my point: so much of what passes for news is name-calling, half-truths and desperation.’

Licht seemed to be responding to recent criticism he’s following hires like Gutowski, by figures such as Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, a grassroots organization dedicated to implementing increased public safety measures to quell gun violence – especially in schools.

Ex-CNN staffer Olbermann, along with several others, have been vocal disapproval with Licht, going as far as to label him a ‘TV fascist’ after his plans to overhaul the struggling network. 

During his interview with the Times, Licht – who also made waves when he canceled Brian Stelter’s ‘Reliable Sources’ amid his attempts to tone down any displays of partisanship by on-air talent – asserted that his mission is to offer a viable information outlet to both conservatives and liberals with his various maneuvers.

‘No one wants a school shooting,’ Licht said. ‘But we have to understand the culture of people who like guns.’ He added: ‘This is not vanilla, centrist or boring.’

The comments echoed those made by Licht to the Financial Times in November, when he proclaimed that ‘one of the biggest misconceptions about my vision is that I want to be vanilla, that I want to be centrist. That is bulls**t. 

‘You have to be compelling. You have to have edge. In many cases, you take a side. Sometimes you just point out uncomfortable questions,’ he added. 

He added of the backlash he's faced for replacing progressive on air talent - as well as hires like Stephen Gutowski (pictured), founder and editor of firearms website The Reload - 'proves my point: so much of what passes for news is name-calling, half-truths and desperation'

He added of the backlash he’s faced for replacing progressive on air talent – as well as hires like Stephen Gutowski (pictured), founder and editor of firearms website The Reload – ‘proves my point: so much of what passes for news is name-calling, half-truths and desperation’

‘But either way, you don’t see it through a lens of left or right.’

Licht has repeated said that his plans for on-air talent at the network are for them to offer ‘a rational conversation about polarizing issues’ and a version of news dedicated to basing polarizing figures such as Trump ’24/7.’

To that avail Licht has made a number of changes at CNN since taking the helm, as he strives to return the station to its roots with hard-hitting, non-partisan journalism free of punditry.

Those moves have turned heads both within the company and externally, and said his vision for CNN is one where journalism takes a front seat to punditry prevalent across much of cable news. 

Last month, in addition to the 9pm shuffle, anchor Alisyn Camerota and legal analyst Laura Coates were moved to man the 10pm through 12am time slot – a post that was left abandoned by Don Lemon, who was moved to head a ‘reimagined’ morning show along with co-anchors Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins.

‘By adding the insights, experience and strong voices of Alisyn and Laura, we will advance and expand on that coverage, creating something complimentary and compelling in primetime,’ Licht said of the decision – one of the biggest made by the boss in recent months amid his nonpartisan overhaul.

Since taking the helm, Licht, has been adamant staff move away from opinionated reporting that became especially prevalent during Donald Trump‘s election campaign and subsequent presidency, with his tenure already seeing marked decreases in partisan panels featuring outspoken anchors such as Alyssa Farah. 

The new CNN boss has worked to tone down the often opinionated and emotional reporting from anchors like Lemon, who also was relieved of hosting duties for the network's underperforming primetime slot

The new CNN boss has worked to tone down the often opinionated and emotional reporting from anchors like Lemon, who also was relieved of hosting duties for the network’s underperforming primetime slot

Licht recently walked back its decision to have Jake Tapper take over Chris Cuomo's old 9pm primetime slot following poor viewership - throwing a hurdle into the network's reported plans for the anchor to become the 'face' of the network as it pulls away from partisan reporting

Licht recently walked back its decision to have Jake Tapper take over Chris Cuomo’s old 9pm primetime slot following poor viewership – throwing a hurdle into the network’s reported plans for the anchor to become the ‘face’ of the network as it pulls away from partisan reporting

Days before tapping Tapper, CNN announced the ‘reimagined’ morning show featuring famously progressive Lemon, another prime-time staple at the network and a famously outspoken critic of former President Trump and the Republican Party. 

The decision saw Lemon sign off his 10 p.m.-midnight block on October 7, trading in the hour for the new morning program.

The production replaced the ‘New Day’ show hosted by John Berman and Brianna Keilar, which had run from 6 to 9am.  

‘There is no stronger combination of talent than Don, Poppy, and Kaitlan to deliver on our promise of a game-changing morning news program,’ Licht wrote in a statement at the time announcing the change.

‘They are uniquely intelligent, reliable and compelling; together they have a rare and palpable chemistry. Combined with CNN’s resources and global newsgathering capabilities, we will offer a smart, bold and refreshing way to start the day.’ 

Lemon has anchored his primetime hour since 2014, and has been with CNN since 2006. 

The change also forced further tweaks to the network’s dayside schedule, where both Tapper – the anchor of the late-afternoon news program The Lead – and Camerota led news hours.

New Day anchors John Berman and Brianna Keilar, meanwhile, were moved from the morning hours to make room for Lemon’s new morning program, and will each fill in during Tapper’s The Lead, which airs from 4-5pm. 

Network fixture Wolf Blitzer, meanwhile, received an extra hour for his longtime program The Situation Room, which now starts at 5 pm to fill the gap.

The shakeup has left only Anderson Cooper and fellow anchor Erin Burnett at their current hours – with CNN saying other fill-in hosts will be named in the coming weeks.

Last month’s announcements served as some of Licht’s most prominent decisions amid his ‘opinion-based’ overhaul, which sources have said is geared at toning down the often divisive rhetoric of anchors who slam the GOP and their ideals. 

Since taking the helm, Licht, who headed Stephen Colbert's Late Show for six years, has demonstrated a desire to move away from opinionated reporting that became especially prevalent during Donald Trump 's election campaign and subsequent presidency

Since taking the helm, Licht, who headed Stephen Colbert’s Late Show for six years, has demonstrated a desire to move away from opinionated reporting that became especially prevalent during Donald Trump ‘s election campaign and subsequent presidency

After being announced as Zucker’s successor, Licht sent a memo to his future staff alluding to the changes to come, seeking to rectify viewership that has diminished starkly over the years, as the network’s personalities have become increasingly outspoken with their political opinions.

‘Our viewers demand the truth from us, and I want to learn the truth from you,’ Licht wrote at the time. ‘Together, we will double-down on what’s working well and quickly eliminate what’s not.’ 

Licht has said his one directive as CNN’s president is to ensure that it ‘remains the global leader in news’ as it adjusts to its recent merger with the Discovery Channel – emphasizing the word ‘news’ in capital letters. 

In February, Zucker resigned after facing pressure from network brass for not disclosing a consensual romance with his second-in-command Allison Gollust, his friend and colleague of over 20 years – violating corporate policy in the process.

Gollust, meanwhile, was forced out of the network almost immediately after – following a third-party investigation into ‘issues associated with Chris Cuomo and former Governor Andrew Cuomo,’ WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar said in a statement.     

At the time, Discovery’s largest shareholder, John Malone – a billionaire businessman who donated $250,000 to Trump’s inauguration in 2017 – openly criticized CNN of its increasingly apparent left-leaning bias, ahead of the companies’ multibillion-dollar merger.

CNN founder Ted Turner reportedly also ‘adamantly’ opposed the direction Zucker had taken with CNN by ‘turning it into an opinion network,’ a decision the billionaire said was done to compete with other partisan stations like Fox – but resulted in ‘losing the concept of hard news.’  

Turner and Malone apparently agreed on their disappointment in the current state of the network, Turner’s biographer Porter Bibb said last year when Zucker was still at the helm. 

‘John Malone is not only speaking his own opinion of what CNN should be doing as an all-news network, but he speaks for Ted,’ Bibb said. 

Malone, 81, has since been credited with the ouster of Zucker, which reportedly came after the exec learned of the ex-president’s affair with Vice President Gollust.  

CNN hopes to move on from drama after the bombshell ousters of host Chris Cuomo and network boss Jeff Zucker (together above in 2014)

CNN hopes to move on from drama after the bombshell ousters of host Chris Cuomo and network boss Jeff Zucker (together above in 2014)

CNN has since sought to purge itself of its reputation of being a ‘woke’ media source – with Licht, who headed Stephen Colbert’s Late Show for six years until it was announced he was replacing Zucker, pledging to make the network reliable to the people again by halting the slander of Republicans.

The new movement has resulted in the termination of several popular and notoriously progressive hosts, including John Harwood and Brian Stelter, along with their shows.  

However, despite these efforts – which have been in motion for the better part of a year – poor ratings have persisted, particularly for the network’s crucial primetime spot.

Upon assuming the CEO spot toward the start of the year, Licht warned staffers that changes were coming to the network that they may ‘not understand’ or ‘like.’ 

The interview serves as the latest saga in Licht's continuing quest to revamp the struggling news network

The interview serves as the latest saga in Licht’s continuing quest to revamp the struggling news network 

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Read more at DailyMail.co.uk



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