CNN fired its CEO. Here's why the network needs to get it together

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Chris Licht, CNN’s CEO so mired in controversy and bad decisions that the term “embattled” would have sounded like a welcome relief, is gone from the network after little more than a year.


He clearly wasn’t up to the task of running the place. Now maybe they can find someone who can.

“I met with Chris and he will be leaving CNN,” David Zaslav, the chief executive of Warner Bros. Discovery, the company that owns CNN, told employees Wednesday morning, according to the network’s website. It was an ignominious end to a rocky tenure that often seemed doomed from the start.

Read the story: Embattled CNN CEO Chris Licht stepping down after controversial year

Why is Chris Licht leaving CNN?

If you want an idea of how things were going, this is from the network’s own story about Licht’s exit: “Licht’s departure, which came days after a devastating 15,000-word profile in The Atlantic, capped a tumultuous year for CNN, marked by layoffs, historically low ratings, and rock-bottom employee morale.”

It doesn’t get much uglier than that. And it doesn’t even include the network’s disastrous Donald Trump town hall, in which the former president spent more than an hour lying and trying to bully moderator Kaitlan Collins.

According to the brutal Atlantic story, Licht had said the crowd would be “extra Trumpy.” And it played like a Trump rally, not an exercise in journalism.

Of course, ratings are the one truly unforgivable sin in TV. CNN’s are awful under Licht; two days after the town hall temporarily boosted ratings, Newsmax had more viewers in prime time. Newsmax!

It’s a bizarre turn for the original cable news network, which seems to be lost in terms of its mission.

Zaslav’s marching orders for Licht were to push CNN more toward the political middle. It makes some sense — Fox News is a right-wing propaganda machine; MSNBC is basically the same thing for the left. You’d think there would be a fair amount of room right down the center.

But maybe not. Maybe the nation is too polarized, and no longer turns to news outlets for anything other than confirmation of their preexisting beliefs.

If that’s the case it’s tragic — not for TV news, but for democracy.

Licht botched the shift. His entire tenure was marked by bold moves that were at best questioned, often ridiculed. He shut down CNN+ shortly after his arrival. He rebuilt the network’s morning show, with Collins, Poppy Harlow as co-hosts; their chemistry, crucial in morning TV, was non-existent.

Don Lemon was fired not long after saying on-air that Nikki Haley, a Republican presidential candidate, “isn’t in her prime, sorry.” He also said that a woman is “considered to be in her prime in her 20s and 30s and maybe 40s.”

Those are Lemon’s words, not Licht’s, obviously. But it was just another blow to the network’s reputation.

Donald Trump soured Republicans on CNN for years

Licht clearly wanted to mend fences with Republicans. And, after years of Trump bashing the network and calling it “fake news” and an enemy of the people, the thought of appearing on CNN became a form of betrayal for some Republicans.

Licht is right, both sides should be heard — if both sides are dealing with reality. Bringing on election deniers in an attempt to appear fair to both sides of a political argument, as Licht did, is not objective reporting. It’s irresponsible, because for the deniers, reality is not a constraint.

It’s simple: Don’t give liars a platform.

Who will replace Chris Licht as CNN CEO?

Zaslav told employees Wednesday the company was looking for a new CEO, and that it would take some time to find one.

Whoever it is, they would do well to remember that bothsideism isn’t journalism. It’s pandering. It’s weak, and it doesn’t deserve to be rewarded with an audience.

This doesn’t mean you should demonize one side or another — unless it does something that deserves to be demonized. If one side is attacking the structures of democracy, it’s fine to say so. In fact, it’s essential to.

It’s the old adage about journalism, repeated often: If one person tells you it’s raining and another tells you it’s not, it isn’t your job to quote them both. It’s your job to look out the window and report the truth.

Licht uses a form of that analogy often in the Atlantic story. He should have listened to his own advice.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Chris Licht out at CNN after trying to beat Fox News at their own game