CNN chief Chris Licht is seeking to reassure detractors that his perceived quest to steer the network back to the center won’t devolve into a “24/7 Trump news network” like it was circa 2016.
Defending his recent shake-ups at the network, Licht stressed that he is “not afraid for us to call bulls*** when we need to call bulls***” and argued that he would not let ratings lust poison its coverage of former President Donald Trump, who just announced his 2024 White House bid on Tuesday.
“We have fact-checkers ready to go. We will put things in perspective. We will not let everything he does consume the news cycle, right?” Licht said in an interview with the On with Kara Swisher podcast. “There are other things that are important.”
Licht contended that under prior leadership at CNN, the network and many of its peers “let every little thing that [Trump] did consume everything, and so you ended up talking about him for eight hours a day.”
“And we’re not going to do that,” he said. “We’re going to be very clear and take everything on a case-by-case basis about what level of coverage it should be.”
CNN has elicited criticism both internally and externally for its new direction under him. Some were reportedly irked by the network’s airing of Trump’s 2024 announcement. Licht has also navigated angst over an exodus at the network amid layoffs and firebrand personalities exiting.
Since he took the reins earlier this year after WarnerMedia’s merger with Discovery, the network has seen multiple high-profile departures, such as Brian Stelter, Jeffrey Toobin, and others. The network is also reportedly bracing for more layoffs ahead of the holidays.
“Look, these are my cuts. I own this. This is my strategy, and if I thought that there was a cut that … I thought would be … not in the interest of this company, I would push back hard. And I’ve not had to do that,” Licht said.
The new CNN leader said he wants to mold a “nimble news organization that can weather any storm.” He also contended that “competition for me in cable is not MSNBC or Fox,” but rather “HGTV and Netflix.”
“I was not born yesterday. Come on,” Licht said when asked if he considered Fox News to be a news organization.
Licht succeeded Jeff Zucker as the network boss following revelations that the former had an undisclosed relationship with an executive. Under Licht, the network axed Zucker’s CNN+ pet project.
When asked if he would permit ousted host Chris Cuomo back into the network, Licht was quick to interject, “Absolutely not.” Cuomo is now at NewsNation after being booted from CNN under Zucker following revelations he helped his brother, Andrew Cuomo, navigate a sexual misconduct scandal.