Chris Licht’s ouster from CNN has generated much coverage and commentary. But are we learning the right lessons from his spectacular rise and fall? Based on what I’m seeing so far, I don’t think so.

A growing narrative suggests the “old CNN” was unmitigatedly courageous and financially healthy, and that Licht destroyed all that. It wasn’t, and he didn’t.

I should know. I was a CNN contributor from around 2016-2020. And so long as I was criticizing Trump (which was authentic and natural for me), all was right with the world. When I defended other conservative politicians or ideas, however, it did not always go so well. (To be fair, this is not exclusive to CNN; it’s a constant obstacle for conservatives in the establishment media, which is also a lesson anti-Trump conservative Alyssa Farah Griffin is learning on The View).

Liberal media bias has been a problem for decades, but Trump complicated it. Mainstream media outlets could treat him like a normal politician, which enabled his lies and alienated progressives. Or they could resist him, which only expedited a middle America mass exodus from the MSM.

Ultimately, CNN chose to join the Resistance, which is really where our story starts. The descent into ratings hell began well before Licht was hired. (Disclosure: I have known Licht a bit since his days as MSNBC Morning Joe’s executive producer, and we have enjoyed a cordial relationship.)

In fact, data suggested moving to the center was a shrewd business move.

“Last year, CNN commissioned a survey examining viewer trust and the places where CNN was succeeding and falling short with viewers across the ideological spectrum,” writes Semafor’s Max Tani. The report showed that “CNN’s coverage of COVID-19 was the third leading cause of distrust in the network behind liberal bias and ‘the Chris Cuomo situation.’”

…it seems increasingly likely that Licht’s fall from power will teach everyone in the MSM the wrong lessons.

Licht’s attempts to fix CNN clearly did not work, at least, not in terms of ratings or ad revenue. And some may say that’s the bottom line.

But bad ratings shouldn’t justify Licht’s firing—based on the criteria established by the very people who hired him in the first place.

“Journalism first. America needs a news network where everybody can come and be heard; Republicans [and] Democrats,” Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav said last year. “We’re not going to look at the ratings and, in the long run, it’s going to be worth more.”

The premise for hiring Licht was never based on the notion that he would deliver ratings or profits. Instead, CNN was positioned as “a reputational asset rather than a source of growing profits.”

Now, CNN finds itself without ratings or a reputational asset. And, making matters worse, it seems increasingly likely that Licht’s fall from power will teach everyone in the MSM the wrong lessons.

As David Marcus writes at Fox News, “Whatever his faults might have been…Licht understood what the problem was, and sought, at least modestly, to fix it. Nobody is going to be fool enough to try that again after seeing him pantsed by his employees and employers, alike.”

I’m left thinking that it didn’t have to be this way—that (assuming ratings is not the primary focus) there is still a way to create a cable news network that is trusted by serious people across the political spectrum.

But how could it be done? In hindsight, here are a few things I would have advised:

First, Licht has been criticized by some for firing a few prominent personalities. While there are many decent and highly qualified professionals at CNN, any attempt to seriously rebrand would demand more sweeping changes, both in terms of personnel and aesthetics.

Second, while it is hard to police the degree to which someone’s commentary is biased, it is easier to set a rule that anchors and reporters do not give opinions. Bring in commentators and guests for that express purpose.

Third, the most important decisions involve topic selection and question framing. Hiring philosophically diverse segment producers is more important than booking Trumpy guests who fight with hosts (thereby accentuating the problem).

Lastly, Licht obviously made a big mistake by having Donald Trump in that town hall. CNN presumably hosts these town halls because they generate buzz and ratings. But does that short-term sugar rush equate to creating a long-term brand that inspires conservatives to trust your coverage again? I don’t think so.

Mistakes were made, yes. But let’s not learn the wrong lessons and throw the baby out with the bathwater. Chris Licht is gone, but CNN’s problems are far from solved.

Post source: TDB

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