Chris Licht Says Primetime for CNN Remains “Open Canvas,” Calls Criticisms of Network’s Repositioning “Uniformed Vitriol”

Chris Licht Says Primetime for CNN Remains “Open Canvas,” Calls Criticisms of Network’s Repositioning “Uniformed Vitriol”

Chris Licht has responded to criticisms of CNN’s changes to news coverage, calling some of it “uniformed vitriol” and declaring that much of what “passes for news is name-calling, half-truths and desperation.”

In a new interview with The New York Times published Sunday, the network’s chief executive opened up about his departure from late night, his relationship with Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav and his (publicly criticized) moves during the first eight months running the media company. That includes revenue losses, the complete reduction of HLN, the shuttering of CNN+ after less than a month and other, more recent layoffs, which he at one point told staffers would not happen as a result of the Warner-Discovery merger — and now have him feeling like “I have to win that credibility back” with staffers.

Related Stories

While talking to the Times, CNN’s chief executive expressed that outside criticism of the company’s many moves in the last eight months — particularly from media pundits such as former colleague and former MSNBC host Keith Olbermann — have been ill-informed. “The uninformed vitriol, especially from the left, has been stunning,” he said, “which proves my point: so much of what passes for news is name-calling, half-truths and desperation.”

Licht was addressing responses to, among other things, his approach around featured voices on the network, which he says is aimed at offering “a rational conversation about polarizing issues” and a version of news not dictated by Trump “24/7.” It’s an approach that has been criticized following hires like Stephen Gutowski, founder and editor of firearms website The Reload, by those like Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, a grassroots organization tied to Everytown that supports public safety measures around gun violence.

“No one wants a school shooting,” the Times said Licht expressed. “But we have to understand the culture of people who like guns,” he said before adding, “this is not vanilla, centrist or boring.”

The comments were similar to those he made to the Financial Times in late November, telling the publication that “one of the biggest misconceptions about my vision is that I want to be vanilla, that I want to be centrist. That is bullshit.”

“You have to be compelling. You have to have edge. In many cases, you take a side. Sometimes you just point out uncomfortable questions,” he added. “But either way you don’t see it through a lens of left or right.”

Licht has also been criticized over or at least seen some questioning his approach to CNN’s primetime, which has seen him moving Don Lemon out of primetime and into a morning show slot with CNN This Morning and Jake Tapper temporarily into primetime to fill Chris Cuomo’s old time slot — an experiment that lasted just a month.

But Licht says despite the misses and criticisms, he views primetime as an “open canvas” and a space where there’s “some leeway for being a little different.” That approach has seen him and his team “throwing things against the wall, looking at off-the-beaten-path opportunities” with figures in entertainment, comedy and sports. “It has to be compelling and entertaining without hurting the news brand.”

Examples of “the kind of people who’d work” are Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart, according to Licht. “I want CNN to be essential to society,” he told the Times. “If you’re essential then the revenue will follow.”