The head of Warner Bros. Discovery, David Zaslav, dropped a highly anticipated bomb on the media world Wednesday morning with the announcement that the troubled CNN boss, Chris Licht, had been terminated effective immediately. Zaslav informed his staff and the company via an internal memo that was mostly complimentary toward Licht, but conceded the obvious that “It didn’t work out.”
Licht appeared to make the wrong moves at every juncture of his brief tenure. He began by promising to make CNN “more Republican friendly,” as if that were an appropriate journalistic goal. He sought to “balance” the truth with blatant lies and conspiracy theories. He clearly envied the ratings of Fox News and delusionally believed that he could emulate them. But why would any Fox viewer tune into CNN, the network they were indoctrinated to hate, when they still have Fox?
Licht’s changes only served to prove how poorly he understood the news business. He canceled the popular program, Reliable Sources, one of the only regularly scheduled media analysis programs on television news. And he fired its host, Brian Stelter. Then he moved Don Lemon to a morning show with Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins. Shortly thereafter he fired Lemon.
Perhaps the most brain-dead move by Licht was to tap Donald Trump for a town hall, moderated by Collins, that allowed Trump to lie almost uninterrupted for an hour and a half. Licht packed the audience with Trump supporters, and prohibited any displays of disapproval. It was so badly planned and executed that even CNN insiders were openly appalled.
Following the Trump debacle, Licht promoted Collins, a former correspondent for Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller, to a primetime spot. And through all of this Licht also managed to alienate CNN personnel in front of, and behind, the camera. An extensive article documenting his failures was published with his cooperation by The Atlantic.
Several of Licht’s hand-picked lieutenants were also pink-slipped. But don’t expect much to change at CNN with Licht’s departure. Zaslav is still the corporate head, and right-wingers like John Malone are packed on the company’s board of directors. However, now that Licht is officially gone, his transient reign is being scrutinized by his former colleagues across the mediaverse. And not to be left out, Fox News weighed in with a gleeful obituary that was astonishing for its utter absence of self-awareness. Fox’s media hack, Joe Concha, celebrated the suffering of their competitor saying that…
“It was an internal coup led by on-air talent at the network, even its own media team, that ultimately brought him down. And why? Because many could not accept that Licht was attempting to move the network from being seen by conservatives and many independents as an activist news network, a resistance news network aimed at disparaging, through provocative and personal opinion, those right or right of center and thereby destroying the decent credibility it once had. And remember, he had inherited a network that lost 75% of its audience when you’re comparing early 2021 with the spring of 2022 when he came in. And new leadership there gave him marching orders saying basically, move this network back to the center.”
So Concha believes that Licht was fired because others at CNN “could not accept” his determination to turn CNN into “Fox Lite.” While there were surely those who opposed that boneheaded editorial detour, Licht’s fall from grace was more the result of his failure to advance CNN’s place in the cable news race. CNN’s already declining ratings just got worse as Licht implemented his plans.
Concha correctly noted that CNN’s ratings were awful. However, what he missed was that nearly every criticism he lobbed at CNN could have been aimed at Fox News itself. Concha specifically referred to what he thought CNN needed: “Less provocative reporting. More solid reporting. More Republicans on the air.” That’s coming from the media analyst at Fox News where they have virtually nothing but provocative “reporting” and Republicans on the air. He went on to note what he called “the audacity of hosting Donald Trump.” Which, by the way, Fox News is doing a week from Monday.
Concha also missed that Fox News has suffered a ratings collapse similar to that of CNN’s. It has lost fully 50% of its audience since they fired Tucker Carlson. And that’s on top of a 34% drop going back in 2021.
Consequently, if Concha’s analysis were to be taken seriously, Fox News should fire their brass, Suzanne Scott and/or Lachlan Murdoch. But don’t hold your breath waiting for that. While Concha thinks that CNN was failing because they had not moved “back to the center,” he’s perfectly happy to see Fox News stuck at the far right. Never mind that Fox News is languishing at lows it hasn’t seen in years. It’s losing to MSNBC. And its prospects for the future don’t look any better. But sure, focus on CNN’s problems instead of acknowledging how horrible things are at Fox, Joe.
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