CNN CEO Chris Licht says he has taken a “stunning” level of hate, mostly from the Left, since taking over the top job at CNN earlier this year.
Licht was named CNN’s chief in February and has since overhauled the company, scrapping its online streaming service CNN+ and laying off a slew of its most prominent personalities. Licht has done so in an attempt to remake the network into a more balanced news outlet that hosts a “rational conversation about polarizing issues” rather than largely catering to one side of the political aisle, Licht told The New York Times.
Of the critics Licht has gained in his new post, he says the most “uniformed vitriol” comes from the left, the audience that CNN had tailored its message most for under previous leadership.
“The uninformed vitriol, especially from the left, has been stunning,” Licht told the Times. “Which proves my point: so much of what passes for news is name-calling, half-truths and desperation.”
In his short tenure, Licht has let go of high-profile journalists, columnists, and contributors such as Brian Stelter, John Harwood, Jeffrey Toobin, and Chris Cillizza. Licht has also attempted to balance some of the network’s left-wing slant by bringing on Stephen Gutowski, founder of the firearms reporting site The Reload, as a contributor.
Licht has also moved around some of CNN’s lineup. He moved host Don Lemon out of a prime-time slot and into a morning show with two other cohosts. Licht attempted to move host Jake Tapper into former host Chris Cuomo’s prime-time slot, but Tapper’s tenure there proved to be short lived. Cuomo had been let go by the network months earlier, after an internal investigation reportedly concluded that the host had inappropriately attempted to help his brother, Andrew Cuomo, as the former New York governor was mired in scandal.
Licht said he did not want to make CNN into a “centrist” outlet by bringing on people like Gutowski. Instead, he wants to make the network more interesting through debates between well-informed people.
“This is not vanilla, centrist or boring,” he told the Times. “The change is we will not do Trump 24/7 or let him dictate our agenda.”
He expressed similar sentiments to The Financial Times weeks ago when asked about his moved to cut partisanship out of CNN’s coverage.
“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. He said he is more interested in making an informative and interesting experience for the viewer than focusing on left and right politics.
“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.