Let me say at the top that I’m not the most sympathetic person in the world to the plight of CNN and its dwindling ratings and influence. It’s a horrible mess of a network that employs people who hold half the country in contempt, for starters, so it was never going to be easy to turn around with wielding a massive axe. When the new Chairman and CEO, Chris Licht, got the job, it was made abundantly clear that he was not going to take that path, that he was going to fudge around the edges. That was never going to work because the problems of CNN are fundamental, not cosmetic. It needs to be destroyed and remade, or it will die a slow, painful death.
Licht seems to have though he could finesse things that already exist at CNN, which was, quite frankly, a dumb idea. You can’t massage cancer away, you have to remove it. And the culture at CNN is the problem.
CNN has no audience because the part of the country that wants straight news during the day and smart analysis in the evenings know they can get neither from CNN (or anywhere, for that matter).
Before Licht, it was clear they were making a play for MSNBC’s slice of population. Unfortunately for them, MSNBC-lite appeals to about as many people as tofu does to diners at a Fogo de Chäo. And they were never going to out-Fox Fox News, if only because there was literally no one employed at the network, either on air or in management, who could stomach conservatism. They were stuck.
So Licht tried to tone down CNN’s left-wing bent, but only a little. He let a few people go, a couple of Democrat activists with press passes (John Harwood, for one), but he did nothing to fundamentally change the product. Taking Don Lemon from nights to mornings was never going to work – his inability to be interesting, honest or attract and audience was not dependent upon a clock, it’s what he was allowed to do under the old CNN management. You simply part ways and start over.
That should have been what Licht did – cleaned house. Let enough of the opinionated “news” personalities go and you’ve sent a message to the rest that they’d better stop advocating and start reporting.
As for prime time, they’re kind of screwed there. At least in their current way of thinking.
Name three CNN hosts. I’ll wait.
I bet you came up with Jake Tapper, Anderson Cooper and…nothing.
There’s a reason for that: they don’t have anyone. According to reports, Licht had delusions that Kaitlan Collins had a future in prime time, but she has no personality at all and, after watching her host that Trump town hall, no ability to think on her feet or knowledge of the news. If CNN wants to keep hemorrhaging audience, she’d be perfect for prime time.
Collins is the personification of CNN’s problem – they have no bench. For all its flaws, and Lord knows there are a lot of them, MSNBC uses their weekends to develop a bench of personalities. No one who works there is a journalist, they’re all positioning themselves to be the next advocate in an anchor chair, and they use the weekends to give them reps. It may seem impossible to get fired by MSNBC – a willingness to lie is a resume builder and crying racism at every sneeze is now a point of pride – but occasionally, for reasons unknown, people are invited to leave. Whatever the standard is, it has to be floating considering Joy Reid still works there, so not embarrassing the company through incompetence or ignorance is not a punishable offence, they just celebrate a diverse array of stupidity.
When someone does go, they have a group of people ready to plug in there, people who’ve been filling in during vacations, etc.
And they have an audience they keep because of it.
So does Fox, even though they’ve alienated a huge chunk of it when they fired Tucker Carlson. Firing Tucker exposed Fox as having no bench either. Their weekends are filler, with the exception of Mark Levin. No one is trying anything interesting, simply “interviewing” the same guests that litter the network during the week – contributors and other hosts – making for boring TV. It’s like preparing for Major League Baseball by playing t-ball. They have no one, and there really isn’t anyone out there.
CNN needs to be combing local news for anchors who actually deliver the news without any concern for injecting their opinions. As for prime time, they need to think outside the box. The problem for Licht is he’s in the box manufacturing business and lives in one himself. You’ll never get a hammer to help you weld. He either has to hire some people he doesn’t know and isn’t comfortable with, but have a respect for news and let them populate at least some of the network’s air time, or pack his desk.
There’s a lane out there for actual news, no one is doing that. CNN could fill that void and populate prime time with interesting and intelligent people driving discussions. They probably won’t. They’ll likely stick with choir-preachers and familiar faces, meaning boring, predicable and uninformative.
It would take someone willing to make bold, decisive moves to make that first “N” in CNN stand for “news” again, and that person isn’t employed by the company. And it would only take about 6 months to start to show positive results, if they acted boldly now in their hiring. But people like that don’t seem to exist in the news business anymore. Maybe it’s time to hire outside the box, too. David Leavy, Chris Licht’s boss at Warner Bros. Discovery, it is possible to fix that mess, if you have the stones. Call me.
Derek Hunter is the host of a free daily podcast (subscribe!) and author of the book, Outrage, INC., which exposes how liberals use fear and hatred to manipulate the masses, and host of the weekly “Week in F*cking Review” podcast where the news is spoken about the way it deserves to be. Follow him on Twitter at @DerekAHunter.