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CNN chief executive Chris Licht says the ‘vitriol’ aimed at him over his efforts to make the network less partisan has been ‘stunning’

Chris LichtCNN chief executive Chris Licht attends the 16th Annual “CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute” at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan on December 11, 2022.

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

  • CNN CEO Chris Licht said the “vitriol” aimed at him over changes at the network has been “stunning.”
  • In an interview with The NYT, Licht said he wanted CNN journalists to be seen as “truth tellers.”
  • “So much of what passes for news is name-calling, half-truths and desperation,” he told the outlet.

When Chris Licht took over the reins at CNN in May, he had a clear vision for reshaping one of the most recognizable news brands in the world.

In late April, days before Licht assumed his new position, the newly-minted chief executive informed staffers that CNN+, the much-hyped streaming service that had just launched, would be shut down. The decision was made after the network had already invested $300 million into the venture, luring big names like former Fox News anchor Chris Wallace and former NPR journalist Audie Cornish to the streaming service.

Hundreds of staffers suddenly found themselves staring at an uncertain future, brought on to a venture that folded less than a month after it had started.

Licht — faced with declining ratings compared to last year — has made big changes at the network, ending the 30-year-old program “Reliable Sources,” moving prime-time anchor Don Lemon to the revamped “CNN This Morning,” nixing live programming on HLN, and laying off a swath of staffers earlier this month amid an ongoing reorganization.

And Licht has been adamant that CNN should be a network that people can trust, with less partisan coverage.

“This wasn’t to plot a new course but to assure people we would not let up one inch in being truth tellers,” he told The New York Times in one of several interviews with the newspaper.

“The change is we will not do Trump 24/7 or let him dictate our agenda,” he continued to say, referencing former President Donald Trump, who has made his distaste for CNN a big part of his political brand.

Licht in previous company town hall meetings has stressed that less partisan coverage did not equate to a move to the “center,” but is a way of delving into controversial subjects from different points of view — without telling viewers “what to think” but “how to think.”

Still, the reaction from some in the media ecosystem has been harsh.

Former MSNBC host Keith Olbermann slammed Licht as a “TV Fascist” after the chief executive moved Lemon to the new morning show, which the veteran journalist now co-anchors with former CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins and former CNN Newsroom stalwart Poppy Harlow.

“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.”

Licht told the newspaper that he knew coming into the position that it would not be an easy role.

While CNN for years had enjoyed profits of over $1 billion, the company’s revenue and profits are slated to fall to roughly $750 million this year, with much of that decline attributable to costs related to CNN+.

“I want CNN to be essential to society,” Licht told The Times. “If you’re essential then the revenue will follow.”

With many households eschewing cable for streaming services, Licht said he wants “rational” conversations on the network to inspire viewers to “take what they’ve heard to the dinner table and have a discussion.”

“That’s a dream of mine,” he told the newspaper.

Read the original article on Business Insider