I can’t prove it, but after former President Donald Trump announced on Tuesday that he would be making another run for the White House, I suspect that mainstream media outlets threw wild parties celebrating the fact that their favorite boogeyman was returning to the political stage. The return of the one man who made these news outlets relevant and kept their ratings high had to have been more than welcome for organizations like CNN, whose ratings have plummeted since the Orange Man What Is Bad™ left office.
Indeed, Trump is to the activist media what crack cocaine is to Hunter Biden. They cannot quit their addiction to the former president. Nevertheless, CNN’s new CEO, Chris Licht, indicated that this is precisely what the network plans to do this time around.
During a podcast interview with media activist Kara Swisher, he said CNN would be taking a different approach to covering Trump and would not be obsessing over his every word as it did in the past. Early in the interview, Licht noted that the network’s previous programming had been infused with politics, especially in the Trump era. He reiterated his vision of taking “the editorial out of how we report down-the-middle news.”
Licht explained that when covering Trump, the bias in opinion programming “became much more aggressive” and said, “it seeped into [daytime programming] as well.”
When asked how CNN would cover the 2024 race – especially as it pertains to the former president, Licht responded:
“We have fact-checkers ready to go. We will put things in perspective. We will not let everything he does consume the news cycle. There are other things that are important.”
He continued, noting that the media “let every little thing that he did consume everything, and so you ended up talking about him for eight hours a day.”
“We’re not going to do that,” he continued. “We’re going to be very clear and take everything on a case-by-case basis about what level of coverage it should be.”
“We are not going to be a 24/7 Trump news network, Licht concluded.
The CEO even went so far as to say they would take this approach even if covering Trump would boost the network’s ratings, which have been abysmal as of late.
Currently, CNN is hurting for ratings and revenue. This past year, in particular, has been hard on the outlet, which is likely the primary motivator behind Licht’s stated goal of moving the company back to more objective journalism rather than functioning as a propaganda arm of the Democratic Party.
Since taking over the organization, he has fired some high-profile anchors and hosts who were viewed as hyperpartisan. This included Brian Stelter and Chris Cuomo. He moved Don Lemon from his primetime slot to a daytime show. He also recently announced that the network would be doing a series of layoffs this year.
If Licht is sincere, CNN’s transition from propaganda to journalism would be a welcome development. But it is difficult to imagine any activist media outlet making such a shift with Trump back on the scene. If the past seven years are any indication, these companies won’t be able to resist the temptation to obsess over every word, utterance, and sneeze that comes out of the former president’s mouth.
Even with the more virulent ideologues no longer at the network, it is difficult to imagine that they will not once again go full Orange Man Bad. If they did learn their lesson from 2016, it would certainly be nice. But I won’t be holding my breath on this one.