CNN’s Chris Licht says network not interested in ‘partisan hackery’
CNN boss Chris Licht said his third-place cable news network will no longer be home to “partisan hackery” or “idealogical talking points” as continues to revamp the lineup.
Licht vowed the changes he hopes to implement at CNN are meant to “restore trust” to the tarnished brand — which once billed itself as “The Most Trusted Name in News” — in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.
One of Licht’s biggest tasks includes reshaping CNN’s coveted 9 pm slot, which was held by Chris Cuomo before he was fired in late 2021.
The exec addressed reports that he is looking for a comedian to fill that slot to juice the ratings, but he did not give specifics on who the network is interviewing. Names like Bill Maher, Trevor Noah Jon Stewart and Arsenio Hall have been bandied about in recent weeks.
“We are in conversations with culturally relevant individuals from the worlds of entertainment, sports and comedy who can bring fresh and unique perspectives to the news,” Licht said.
When pressed how CNN could remain non-partisan with an opinionated comedian as a host, Licht added: “There is nothing wrong with opinion or perspective, especially in prime time, but it has to be authentic. We are completely uninterested in partisan hackery and ideological talking points.”
On Monday, CNN announced Maher will appear on the network on Friday nights at 11:30 pm as it takes advantage of its partnership with sister channel HBO to air “Overtime,” the post-show segment of “Real Time With Bill Maher.” Both channels are owned by parent company Warner Bros. Discovery.
In his LA Times interview, Licht also discussed traveling to Washington to meet with Republican lawmakers to convince them they’d get a fair interview on CNN, which had been accused of a left-leaning bias under Licht’s predecessor Jeff Zucker.
“It was a very simple message. If you’re looking for a softball interview, then that’s not us,” Licht said. “However, we also want to be a place where we can have an open exchange of ideas no matter where you’re coming from, and that you would be treated with respect. We won’t invite you on to score points on you.”
When asked whether CNN had agreed to not discuss specific topics to get Republicans on, noting that Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT) was not asked about ethics investigations during a recent appearance, Licht gave a muddled answer.
“There are absolutely not deals like that,” he explained. “If he was coming on to promote something that flies in the face of something in his past, then absolutely we would then go, ‘But wait a second, you had to retire,’ or ‘You had to resign because of X, Y and Z.’”
He continued: “But if he’s coming on to talk about a narrow focus, as he did about what was happening on the floor of the House, that is not the appropriate forum. If we’re doing a broad-ranging interview, then of course you’re going to ask those questions.”
Licht also spoke about the tepid ratings for “CNN This Morning,” the revamped program co-hosted by Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins.
“Early days. It’s just finding its footing,” he said before turning to the network’s overall poor ratings.
“What we are doing is fundamentally reformatting the network,” he said. “And it’ll take some time for that to get into a rhythm, and then it’ll take time to market it. And so it will take some time to grow again. I have explicitly been given that time.”