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CNN management tries to change the perception of the network

NEW YORK (AP) — It was the kind of story media reporter Brian Stelter would normally sink his teeth into, if it didn’t involve him.

CNN said last week that it was canceling “Trusted Sources”, his 30-year show in the media and letting Stelter go, part of a nascent effort by new management to reclaim a brand identity it feels was damaged during the Trump era.

The news network, now under the corporate banner of Warner Discovery and run since the spring by CNN Worldwide President Chris Licht, is trying to inject more balance into his programming and become less radioactive to Republicans. How and if that can be achieved remains a mystery.

“CNN has to figure out what it wants to be,” said Carol Costello, a former anchor there and now a journalism professor at Loyola Marymount University.

Former President Donald Trump portrayed CNN as an enemy and a Pew Research Center Study illustrated the impact he had with his followers. In 2014, Pew found that a third of people who identify or lean Republican said they distrust CNN as a source of political news. By 2019, that number had ballooned to 58 percent, more distrusted than The New York Times, The Washington Post, or MSNBC.

And that was before the overheated 2020 election campaign and the anger over its outcome.

Brian Stelter attends The Hollywood Reporter’s Annual Most Powerful People in Media Celebration on May 17, 2022 in New York. CNN said in August 2022 that it would cancel “Reliable Sources” and let Stelter go, as part of a fledgling effort by new management to reclaim a brand identity that feels damaged during the Trump era.

Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File

Last years firing of CNN anchor Chris Cuomo after he helped his brother, the former Democratic governor of New York. Andrew Cuomo, behind the scenes, also damages CNN’s reputation among Republicans, said Carlos Curbelo, a former Republican congressman from Florida.

When Trump attacked the network, CNN returned fire. Under previous leader Jeff Zucker, CNN figures became more opinionated on the air than ever before. Anderson Cooper once compared Trump to “a fat tortoise on its back, flailing about in the hot sun, realizing his time is up.” a comment for which he later apologized.

“Every major media outlet took a hit with the rise of Donald Trump,” Costello said. “I really think he did a number on journalism in general, not just CNN. For a while, we all played around with it, and our reporting was a bit hysterical.”

CNN’s tone had a lot to do with changes in the network’s reputation, said Mark Whitaker, a veteran journalist and former CNN executive. CNN got higher ratings and more buzz with Zucker, but Whitaker asked, “Was it worth it in terms of how it changed perceptions of the brand?”

Being seen as a liberal alternative to Fox News Channel is not a problem for a news outlet that plays on partisanship. But for a company that has sold itself as an unbiased news source for more than 40 years — to viewers, advertisers, cable or satellite operators — that presents a problem.

Since Licht took office, the occasional takedowns of Fox coverage by morning anchor Brianna Keilar have disappeared. Although Licht has not publicly commented on Stelter’s departure, the media reporter’s criticism of Fox was a regular feature of “Reliable Sources.”

It received little attention at the time, but cable news executive John Malone, now a member of the Warner Discovery board of directors, he said in a CNBC interview last November that “I would like to see CNN evolve into the kind of journalism it started with, and have journalists, which would be unique and refreshing.”

CNN CEO Chris Licht attends the TIME100 Gala Celebrating the World's 100 Most Influential People at Frederick P. Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center on June 8, 2022 in New York.
CNN CEO Chris Licht attends the TIME100 Gala Celebrating the World’s 100 Most Influential People at Frederick P. Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center on June 8, 2022 in New York.

Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

Similarly, Warner Discovery Chairman and CEO David Zaslav said at a company town hall in April that CNN should differentiate itself from a cable news industry dominated by “defense networks.” CNN must focus on information, truth and facts, he said.

“If we get that, we can have a civilized society,” said Zaslav, who named Licht. “And without that, if everything becomes defense, we don’t have a civilized society.”

Licht has granted few interviews to outside journalists since taking office, and a CNN spokesperson declined a request for this article.

Licht has taken steps toward goals that his bosses have made clear. He wants CNN anchors to be aware of the perspective that they sometimes speak ill of people. He wants the panel discussions to be informative, not dominated by extreme viewpoints. He wants to resist “outraged porn.” He ordered that the “breaking news” banner in the air be reserved for actual breaking news.

Licht also traveled to Washington to meet with Republican leaders, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy, his House counterpart.

Licht would like to see more Republicans appear on CNN for meaningful interviews, not necessarily to be used to appear tough on supporters for facing hostility. There have already been small signs of success in recent weeks: appearances by South Carolina Senator Tim Scott and Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw.

“This is true for all three (cable news) networks: When you can only get members of one party to show up, it shows that your news division lacks credibility in practically half the country,” said NBC contributor Curbelo. News. . It’s early days, but Curbelo said he’s liked what he’s seen with Licht so far.

The rapprochement with Republicans has drawn the attention of some, with Democratic strategist Kurt Bardella suggesting in a Los Angeles Times column that CNN was “eager to please” politicians out of touch with reality. And Eric Deggans, a television critic for NPR, said he is concerned about the risk of normalizing lies like that the last presidential election was stolen.

“Journalists have sometimes been accused of being partisan when what they have really been doing is insisting on the truth and refusing to accept a political party that is redefining the truth to serve its own ends,” Deggans said.

New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo appears during a news conference on COVID-19 at the State Capitol in Albany, New York, on December 21, 2019. On December 3, 2020, left, and host CNN’s Chris Cuomo attends the 12th Annual CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute at the American Museum of Natural History in New York on December 3, 2020. January 9, 2018. Chris Cuomo Ha told viewers that he “tried to do the right thing” by balancing his role as a journalist and brother to the outgoing governor of New York. Andrew Cuomo, who announced his resignation following allegations of sexual harassment.

CNN notes that Licht made a similar pitch to aides at President Joe Biden’s White House, showing viewer demographics to illustrate that interviews would be worth showing up for. The network resists suggestions that the lies would go unchallenged, but said all Americans want to feel like their opinions are heard.

“No matter what they do, they will be attacked,” Whitaker said. “Trump and others will continue to shout ‘fake news’ about anything they don’t like about the media.” But, she said, CNN has the best chance of any cable news network to reach an audience seeking more balance in journalism.

Other visible movements are likely to emerge soon. Licht has been watching a shakeup of CNN’s morning hours and recently hired Ryan Kadro, a former CBS News colleague who ran that network’s morning show. CNN also has a slot in prime time: Chris Cuomo hasn’t been replaced since he was fired last December.

But what follows is unclear, which Deggans advised against. He called on CNN leaders to be clear with viewers about what is being done. “The attitude of the new management seems to be: ‘Trust us, we have a plan.'”

David Bauder is the media writer for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at


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