Monday, March 20, 2023

CNN’s new leadership promotes more neutral journalism

NEW YORK (AP) — A story like this would have been thoroughly investigated by Brian Stelter if he hadn’t been involved.

CNN’s new leadership suspended Stelter’s show amid efforts to change the network’s image and make it more neutral.

CNN reported last week that it would cancel the “Trusted Sources” program on news media, which had been on the air for 30 years, and terminated Stelter’s contract as part of an initiative by a new leadership, an image that wants to recover what it feels news networks lost during Donald Trump’s presidency.

The network, now under control of Warner Discovery and most recently directed by CNN Worldwide president Chris Licht, promotes a more balanced journalism that doesn’t intimidate Republicans as much. It remains to be seen whether this is possible.

“CNN has to decide what it wants to be,” said Carol Costello, a former host on the network who now teaches journalism at Loyola Marymount University.

Trump considered CNN his enemy and a 2019 Pew Research Center study indicated that 58% of Republicans did not trust the network’s political information, compared to a third in 2014. They rely more on CNN than the New York Times, The Washington Post and MSNBC, which do not inspire much confidence either.

This is without counting Republicans’ unease with the bitter 2020 election campaign and its outcome.

Last year’s dismissal of Chris Cuomo because he helped his brother, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, further tarnished CNN’s image among Republicans, according to Representative Carlos Carbello, a former Republican from Florida.

Trump strongly criticized CNN and the network came under fire. Its big names, led by Jeff Zucker, issued more opinions than ever before. Anderson Cooper likened Trump to “a fat turtle on his back, swaying in the sun, to the feeling that his time has passed.” He later offered an apology for that remark.

“All the major media outlets opposed the rise of Donald Trump,” Costello said. “I think he was mistreated in general, not just CNN. For a moment we all fell into that.”

According to Mark Whitaker, a veteran journalist and former CNN executive, the tone adopted by CNN had a lot to do with the change in the network’s reputation. Under Zucker, CNN had better ratings and made more waves, but Whitaker wondered “if it was worth it, noting how it changed perceptions of the product.”

It’s not a problem for a partisan outlet to be seen as a liberal alternative to Fox News Channel. But it presents a problem for the man who sold himself as an unbiased news source for 40 years.

Since Licht took the reins, Brianna Keeler’s criticism of Fox’s morning coverage has disappeared. Although Licht did not comment publicly on the reasons for Stelter’s departure, he is known to frequently criticize Fox News on “credible sources”.

At the time, few took notice, but in November of last year, executive John Malone, TODAY member of Warner Discovery’s board of directors, said on CNBC that he wanted “CNN to return to the type of journalism that it did in the beginning, That he had real journalists, which would be something unique and fresh.”

For his part, David Zasla, president and CEO of Warner Discovery, said in April that CNN needs to differentiate itself from other news networks dominated by partisan journalism. CNN, he said, has to report the facts, the truth.

“Then we can have a civilized society,” said Zaslav, whose name was Lich. “Without it, if it’s all partisanship, we don’t have a civilized society.”

Licht has offered few interviews since taking over as CNN director, and a spokesperson for the network declined an interview request for this article.

Licht has taken steps to follow the guidelines of his mentors. He wants CNN hosts to know that they underestimate people sometimes. Panelists’ conversations are informative and do not overpower extreme viewpoints. And for real news only use the “Latest News” banner.

Licht wants CNN to interview more Republicans. He recently went to Washington and spoke with top Republican leaders, including House Republican Caucus leaders Mitch McConnell (Senate) and Kevin McCarthy (House of Representatives).

There are already some steps in that direction, and Senators Tim Scott and Rep. Dan Crenshaw have made strides in recent weeks.

“When you can only get people from one party, it shows you don’t have credibility in half the country,” said Carbello, who contributes to NBC News.

Reaching out to Republicans raises some eyebrows, and Democratic strategist Kurt Bardella said in a Los Angeles Times column that CNN was “eager to please” out-of-the-box politicians. NPR’s Eric Degans said he was concerned that the lie stolen in the last presidential election would be acknowledged.

“Journalists are sometimes accused of bias when all they are doing is insisting on reporting the truth and refusing to play with a political party trying to change the truth,” Degans said.

CNN noted that Licht has also contacted Democratic leaders and dismissed the idea that the lie would not be refuted. But he said he wants everyone’s opinion to be heard.

“No matter what they do, they will be criticized,” Whitaker said. “Trump and others will continue to report ‘fake news’ about whatever they don’t like.”

But, he argued, CNN has the best chance of reaching an audience who wants more balanced journalism.

Other developments are anticipated.

Licht wants to make changes to the morning crew and has hired Ryan Kadrow, a former CBS colleague who worked in that time slot. It also has a huge hole in prime time, at 9 p.m., as a replacement for Chris Cuomo hasn’t been named since he was fired in December.


David Bauder is at

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