Chris Licht

CNN CEO Chris Licht

Ousted CNN chief executive Chris Licht did exactly what his bosses wanted, ideologically repositioning the network in hopes of attracting Republican viewers. Now the network’s ratings are in the toilet, its reputation is damaged, and Licht is out after a devastating profile in The Atlantic — but there’s little reason to expect the situation to change.

Licht’s run at CNN ended on Wednesday after only 13 months. David Zaslav, the chief executive of CNN’s parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery, reportedly told staff at a meeting announcing the change that Licht “poured his heart and soul into this job” but that ultimately “for a number of reasons things didn’t work out.” Media accounts of Licht’s dismissal invariably point to the impact of a brutal Atlanticprofile published on Friday, which triggered a newsroom revolt.

In that Atlantic profile, staff writer Tim Alberta detailed “the meltdown at CNN” under Licht, who comes across as an underprepared and ineffectual network president, trying to undertake a doomed mission he does not seem to fully understand. Alberta writes:

When he took the helm of CNN, in May 2022, Licht had promised a reset with Republican voters—and with their leader. He had swaggered into the job, telling his employees that the network had lost its way under former President Jeff Zucker, that their hostile approach to Trump had alienated a broader viewership that craved sober, fact-driven coverage. These assertions thrust Licht into a two-front war: fighting to win back Republicans who had written off the network while also fighting to win over his own journalists, many of whom believed that their new boss was scapegoating them to appease his new boss, David Zaslav, who’d hired Licht with a decree to move CNN toward the ideological center.

Zaslav’s desire to remake CNN by moving it toward the ideological right is shared by John Malone, a major Republican donor and Warner Bros. Discovery board member who has said he would like the network to be more like Fox News.

Their shared approach, as implemented by Licht, damaged CNN’s reputation by giving the right what it wanted. Licht fired harsh critics of former President Donald Trump, cozied up to Republican leaders, and made clear that he wanted a return to “both sides” journalism.

His work culminated with last month’s live town hall with Trump, who steamrolled CNN anchor Kaitlan Collins with lies and called her a “nasty person” on-air, as the live audience of his supporters cheered. The event drew devastating reviews from journalists inside CNN and out — but Licht staunchly defended it to his staff, and indeed, it seemed entirely in keeping with Zaslav’s vision for the network.

This version of CNN isn’t just journalistically indefensible — it has also failed to attract an audience. In theory, catering to Republicans was supposed to lure viewers away from more right-wing outlets. In reality, there isn’t an audience for Fox Light: CNN’s viewership withered under Licht as viewers switched to MSNBC or away from cable news altogether. Zaslav and Malone don’t seem to care — they just want CNN to meet their ideological demands.

And that’s why Licht’s departure won’t end CNN’s problems. His successor may be canny enough not to put their office on a separate floor from CNN’s journalists, or to treat a reporter writing a profile like a personal therapist. But that person will likely get the same demands from Zaslav and Malone to move the network toward the right and away from the truth, and try to follow them.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

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Beyond Loony: The Far Right's Moral Panic Is Just Embarrassing

Visitors flock to visit Michelangelo's David after firing of Florida schoolteacher who showed a picture of statue

Tennessee passed a law that bans drag performances anywhere minors might attend. Happily, a federal judge stopped it. Very happily, the judge is a conservative, reminding all that some conservatives value principle over politics.

The assumption underlying the law is that a performance in which a man wears a dress — or a woman pastes on a mustache — is by definition obscene. Therefore, it must be outlawed.

In his 70-page ruling, Judge Thomas Parker called the law "unconstitutionally vague and substantially overbroad." He writes, "If Tennessee wishes to exercise its police power in restricting speech it considers obscene, it must do so within the constraints and framework of the United States Constitution."

Not an original thought but one that needs repeating these days.

The Trump appointee was not defending obscenity, but trying to stop the right wing from defining it downwards. Parker wrote that "no majority of the (U.S.) Supreme Court has held that sexually explicit — but not obscene — speech receives less protection than political, artistic or scientific speech."

As an example, Parker raised the specter of a female performer who wore an Elvis Presley costume and imitated the King. Under the recently passed law, she could be considered a "male impersonator." (Imagine how the jails would fill on Halloween.)

Over the course of my sheltered life, I have seen a few drag shows. They came off as funny and not remotely obscene. I don't doubt that they could be, but so could the routines performed by high school cheerleaders or contestants on Dancing With the Stars.

Meanwhile, anyone who doesn't want to see crossdressing at the Memphis Pride Festival would be well advised to not attend the Memphis Pride Festival. That's how grown-ups handle it.

Over in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis is trying to replace grown-ups with government and portraying drag performances as a dagger at the heart of American greatness. He sent out the apparatus of state government to revoke the Hyatt Regency Miami's alcohol license over a holiday show that featured stars from RuPaul's Drag Race. Set aside a private company's right to run its business as it sees fit, the hotel required that anyone under the age of 18 had to be accompanied by an adult. So where was the problem? Parental control works both ways, you know.

One related thought: If the politicians really want to shield youth from obscenity, they should take away their cellphones.

Elsewhere in DeSantis' Florida, a schoolteacher was fired for showing sixth-graders a picture of Michelangelo's statue of David. As the chair of the school board tried to explain, the issue was not with the marble masterpiece but the "egregious" failure to warn parents that their children would see the "potentially controversial" work of art.

"Teachers are the experts?" the chairman asked bitterly, "Teachers have all the knowledge? Are you kidding me?" Well, teachers aren't perfect, but their judgement on educational matters might be superior to that of a mom repeating right-wing talking points in a grammatically challenged email.

What is controversial about David? He's naked — and, if truth be told, he's also well-endowed. At the same time, a giant copy of the statue stands outside a palazzo in Florence for anyone to see. Seven-year-olds live in Florence.

Heaven knows the left fringe has its share of ludicrous dictates. The difference between the far left and the far right, though, is that the former tend to lose national or statewide elections, whereas the right-wing crazies more often prevail.

Passing a law that would penalize a girl who sings at a bar dressed as Captain Hook? Let's see how they can cook up new ways to waste everyone's time. It's impossible to embarrass these guys.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

Reprinted with permission from Creators.