New CNN CEO Chris Licht pushed back — hard — against claims that he wanted the network to be more “centrist” under his leadership, calling the notion “bulls***.”
Licht explained his position during a recent interview with The Financial Times, saying that his goal was not to drive the network straight down the middle — rather, he said, he wanted to get away from the constant five-alarm-fire news alerts that ultimately had the effect of watering down what was real news.
“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 said, arguing that it wasn’t about being Left or Right of center — it was about presenting news in a way that made people want to watch.
“You have to be compelling. You have to have edge. 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,” he added.
Licht’s early moves at the helm of the cable news giant led many to believe that he intended to weed out some of the more heavily partisan programming: he terminated senior media reporter Brian Stelter and canceled his Sunday morning show “Reliable Sources”; he relegated longtime evening anchor Don Lemon to a morning show co-hosting gig; and he fired longtime White House reporter John Harwood.
But Licht, who previously worked for late-night comedian Stephen Colbert, has appeared to struggle to find the right balance — which he says should include lighter content in addition to breaking news.
“If everything is a crisis, if everything is 11, if everything is breaking news, then no one listens when there actually is a crisis,” he explained. “When you say, ‘No, no — really — the house is on fire now.’”
But if the past is prologue, the shake-ups at CNN may be far from over. Licht announced on Monday that programming director Michael Bass, a longtime ally of previous CNN president Jeff Zucker, would be leaving at the end of the year. According to a report from The Los Angeles Times, this move was not entirely unexpected and might be followed by more high-profile exits.