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Can CNN Return to its Roots?

AP Photo/Ron Harris

Is CNN about to return to its roots? Ever since the network sacrificed authentic journalism to embrace a new role as propaganda mill after former President Donald Trump came onto the scene, its ratings and credibility have gone the way of the dodo bird. But now that former president Jeff Zucker has resigned in disgrace, there seem to be indications the activist media outlet has seen the error of its ways.

Axios reported that the network, under Chris Licht, who is replacing Zucker, “will dial down the prime-time partisanship and double down on the networks’ news-gathering muscle.” Sources told the authors that his new position will be announced soon.

Licht has a successful track record, having produced “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and others. Axios noted:

Licht — CBS’ EVP of Special Programming — succeeded with three very different programs: Colbert rose on his watch to become the most-watched network late-night show, with live shows for big news … “CBS This Morning” got a ratings jolt when he was E.P. … and he was co-creator and original E.P. of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

David Zaslav, CEO of Discovery, plans to “push CNN back to hard news, and away from red-hot liberal opining,” according to Axios.

The source told the news site that “Licht and Zaslav share a view that CNN was chasing prime-time ratings at the expense of the brand” and that Zaslav wishes “to move CNN back to the middle.”

From Axios:

CNN at all hours will emphasize the type of indispensable coverage we’ve been seeing from Ukraine — a deployment built on Zucker’s flood-the-zone, own-the story playbook, and hires including Clarissa Ward.

CNN’s footprint includes 11 U.S. bureaus and 28 internationally. Zucker invested heavily in CNN Digital, which boasts 200 million unique visitors globally each month.

This report is not the first indicating CNN’s leadership recognizes the need for change. Last week Mediaite noted that the network has toned down its fixation on competitor Fox News:

Jeff Zucker resigned as president of CNN on Feb. 2 and, following his unceremonious ouster, many were left to wonder what a post-Zucker CNN might look like. While it’s still too early to say anything definitively, there is one indication that CNN could be less focused on covering its competitor Fox News going forward.

Effective coverage of Fox News has always been a conundrum for CNN. During the Donald Trump administration, many opinion hosts on Fox News openly parroted the president’s political rhetoric and conspiracy theories. Some even maintained a close but informal advisory role with Trump.

It seems that under Zucker, CNN believed it necessary to fixate on Fox since they do not have Trump to kick around anymore. However, despite the details of the report, it still seems difficult to imagine that the network will reverse course and give up its progressive activism.

While Zucker seems to have been the driving force behind CNN’s embrace of media activism, the outlet still retains so-called journalists who are adamant about using their platforms to support the Democratic Party and the Biden administration. Unless they are willing to fire people like Don Lemon and Brian Stelter, it seems unlikely they will be able to leave behind their propagandizing ways.

But let’s say Zaslav and Licht are serious about returning to actual journalism. Will it do any good? Or is it too little, too late? CNN’s ratings have taken a hurtling nosedive and trust in the network is at an all-time low. Fox News consistently beats CNN in the ratings. At this point, it is difficult to see how its new leadership will dig the outlet out of this particular hole.

Also, as the campaigns for the midterm elections heat up, is it realistic to assume the people at CNN will be able to resist the temptation to intervene on behalf of the Democrats, who are projected to lose the House and possibly even the Senate? Asking these people not to jump into the fray on behalf of their close friends and allies seeking office is like asking Hunter Biden to stay away from the parmesan cheese.

Chances are, these folks won’t be able to resist the temptation to engage in the type of politicking which we have come to expect. Nevertheless, if Licht and Zaslav are serious about reforming CNN, it would be a welcome change. But, as they say, we probably shouldn’t hold our breath.

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