Some people decide to climb out after falling into a hole, and then there’s CNN.
In the aftermath of the disastrous Trump town hall, CNN’s brilliant leadership has decided to dig down and double down in its Sisyphean quest to cater to “both sides” and attract conservative eyeballs that would rather watch paint dry.
Assessing the damage, CNN has decided to embrace masochism and continue bending the knee to an increasingly radicalized MAGA base that views it as “the enemy of the people.” If at first you don’t succeed, fail again and again.
Next week, CNN will host Nikki Haley for a town hall, and on June 7 they’re inviting Mike Pence. Platforming two GOP presidential hopefuls, who voluntarily and proudly served in the Trump administration and have yet to crack double digits in polling, will surely turn around CNN’s fortunes. This means CNN will eventually invite Senator Tim Scott, who just launched his dead-on-arrival campaign with an embarrassing Howard Dean moment. Scott believes the best way for Americans to get to know him is to remove his face from his posters and replace it with a generic Black man without eyes, nose, or a mouth. I wonder if he’ll allow CNN to promote his own face for his town hall.
Learning from its Trump town hall, CNN could alter the format to ensure that the unlucky host is no longer belittled with petty insults or incapable of pushing back against a firehose of lies. Better yet, Licht should listen to veteran CNN journalist Christiana Amanpour, who savaged her own network’s decision to platform Trump during her recent address at the Columbia School of Journalism. She acknowledged she had a “very robust exchange of views” with Licht over CNN’s decision to host a live town hall for Trump in front of fawning acolytes. She further likened the current political situation to McCarthyism and reminded journalism students that newspaper editors in the 1950s made the decision to stop platforming Senator McCarthy’s lies and wild allegations in the interest of truth and facts. She also knocked down “both sides” journalism and instead warned about the dangers of “drawing false, moral or factual equivalence [which] is neither objective or truthful.”
However, none of this seems to have persuaded Licht, who defended the network for making “news” even as the Trump town hall was universally condemned. The backlash has been so severe that even the cool, silver-haired fox, CNN staple Anderson Cooper, was forced to chastise his own viewers for not leaving their “silo” and being open to both sides. This paternalistic lesson was particularly rich coming from Cooper, who is a white multimillionaire living in NYC. Shockingly, it seems Americans don’t like being belittled by hosts and reprimanded for not supporting the behavior of a twice-impeached vulgarian who incited a violent insurrection against his own country.
These CNN viewers might not be leaving their “silo” but they’re definitely leaving CNN, whose ratings have plummeted since the Trump town hall. It’s gotten so bad that CNN has dropped to fourth place, below Newsmax, a right-wing outlet so extreme in its views that it makes Fox look like a paragon of restraint. Speaking of Fox, even they’re learning from CNN’s embarrassing town hall. Fox recently announced that Sean Hannity will moderate an event with Trump, but instead of taking him live, they’re going to pre-tape it. When Fox, which settled a $787 million defamation lawsuit with Dominion, is altering its strategy to avoid making your mistakes, you know you’re in the Sunken Place.
Although Licht deserves much of the blame, he’s merely performing for the audience of his supervillain bosses: John Malone and David Zaslav. Malone, who sits on the board of Warner Bros. Discovery and is a major shareholder, has openly said America needs more cable-news outlets like Fox. He also previously donated $250,000 to Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee. For his part, Zaslav, the CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, defended the town hall and said this is all part of the plan for CNN to rebuild its image from a left-leaning network into a forum for “both sides.” “Republicans are back on the air. Republicans weren’t on the air,” he said with pride, even though his network infamously helped give Donald Trump free on-air real estate leading up to the 2016 election.
Zaslav last week decided to give the commencement speech at Boston University. The graduates responded by booing and chiding him for not paying his writers. At Cannes, he oversaw a lavish Warner Bros. party where he personally hobnobbed with celebrities. While writers continue to strive for a living wage, Zaslav is living his best life. Even if CNN’s own hosts and employees are miserable, it’s good to know at least one person is happy.
This entire spectacle is a damn shame and a self-inflicted disaster. I used to work at CNN as a contributor for a year. I can assure you there are people there, both journalists and staff, who worry about the rising threats of right-wing fascism, disinformation, and stochastic terrorism. They want to do their job and inform the public instead of performing bullshit “both sides” gymnastics. Internationally, CNN still has clout and presence as a respected journalistic entity. Licht and Zaslav are betraying CNN’s own legacy and tarnishing their employees’ credibility, some of whom have at least attempted to do a competent, honest job at reporting on the very real dangers of MAGA.
Ultimately, when I see CNN’s self-immolation, it reminds me of friends who made the mistake of wasting years of their lives chasing a love interest who was never into them. After a while, it just becomes sad and pathetic. Since the emergence of Trump, Republican voters have targeted CNN as a punchline and an enemy. That hasn’t changed. However, by forfeiting its journalistic standards and chasing Trump for the sake of access and non-existent “both sides” objectivity, CNN has not only lost its own viewers but also its reputation.
I hope CNN has learned that when you decide to “make news” by inviting pigs to play in the dirt, you shouldn’t be surprised if you’re the one who ends up covered in mud.