Jun 7, 2022 - Economy

Scoop: CNN evaluating partisan talent

Photo by Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

CNN's new boss, Chris Licht, is evaluating whether personalities and programming that grew polarizing during the Trump era can adapt to the network's new priority to be less partisan.

Why it matters: If talent cannot adjust to a less partisan tone and strategy, they could be ousted, three sources familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Details: Licht wants to give personalities that may appear polarizing a chance to prove they're willing to uphold the network's values so that they don't tarnish CNN's journalism brand.

  • For on-air talent, that includes engaging in respectful interviews that don't feel like PR stunts. For producers and bookers, that includes making programming decisions that are focused on nuance, not noise.

Between the lines: CNN's tone became more partisan and combative during the Trump era and under the leadership of former CNN president Jeff Zucker.

  • To conservative critics, some on-air personalities, like Jim Acosta and Brian Stelter, have become the face of the network's liberal shift.

Be smart: Licht doesn't want to necessarily shy away from personality programming, especially in prime time, but he wants to ensure that partisan voices don't dominate in a way that harms CNN, a source notes.

  • Licht took the helm at CNN last month, shortly after longtime CNN president Jeff Zucker exited the network in scandal.
  • His priorities are widely seen as aligned with the leadership of CNN parent Warner Bros. Discovery.
  • CNN did not comment.

Catch up quick: Licht and Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav haven't been shy about their goal of dialing back on partisan and alarmist programming in favor of traditional journalism.

  • Last week, Licht told employees in a memo that the network has added a "Breaking News” guideline to its stylebook, to address overuse of the breaking news banner across its network and cable news writ large.
  • Licht said he agrees with complaints from "people both inside and outside the organization" that the network overuses the "Breaking News" banner.
  • “We are truth-tellers, focused on informing, not alarming our viewers,” he said in the note obtained by Axios.

The big picture: Zaslav and mentor and investor John Malone have been public about their wish to pull CNN away from progressive commentary.

  • "I would like to see CNN evolve back to the kind of journalism that it started with, and actually have journalists, which would be unique and refreshing,” Malone told CNBC last year.
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