Jul 21, 2022 - Economy

Scoop: CNN boss’ Capitol Hill diplomacy tour

Photo by Arnold Jerocki/Getty Images for Warner Bros. Discovery

CNN CEO Chris Licht met with a handful of senior congressional leaders from both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill on Tuesday in an effort to strengthen the network's relationships with key lawmakers, many of whom have turned sour on cable news, sources familiar with the meetings told Axios.

The big picture: Licht has been vocal about his push to lead CNN away from what critics have described as partisan and alarmist programming in favor of neutral journalism and balanced debate.

Details: The network boss met with a little less than a dozen lawmakers, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Republican Whip John Thune (R-S.D.), Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

  • Sources with knowledge of the meetings, which occurred in the members’ offices, described them as cordial.
  • Licht extended invitations for the lawmakers to join CNN on air and provided data and examples of the network‘s reach and impact.
  • He also urged them to consider CNN’s commitment to respectful dialogue and real conversations.
  • In addition to discussions about booking opportunities, Licht fielded feedback from lawmakers about CNN’s coverage.
  • Some urged CNN to cover the war in Ukraine more. Others wanted to discuss CNN’s coverage of guns in America.

What they’re saying: “I won’t comment on private meetings but Chris has made it clear that his top priority is to make CNN a place for fair and respectful dialogue, analysis and debate,” a CNN spokesperson told Axios.

  • “He believes our audiences deserve to hear from elected officials on both sides of the aisle and will continue to engage a variety of voices.“
  • Sen. Thune's and Speaker Pelosi's offices confirmed the meetings to Axios. Representatives from Sen. McConnell’s office, Rep. McCarthy's office and Sen. Murphy's office did not respond to request for comment.

Be smart: It’s notable that a CEO of a major TV network made an effort to lobby members of Congress to appear on air.

  • Lawmakers used to clamor for cable news hits and would enjoy greenroom run-ins with colleagues and old friends.
  • But now, lawmakers told Licht, cable news is considered too much of a risk, given how polarized the country has become.

What to watch: The midterms will serve as a critical test of whether Licht's D.C. diplomacy pays off with more lawmakers appearing on CNN.

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