A town-hall discussion was held last week between CNN staffers and Chris Licht, the company’s chairman and CEO. During the meeting, Licht expressed his vision for CNN and some changes that will be made.
One subject that came up was the network’s coverage of its New Year’s Eve celebration. If you’ve ever watched CNN on New Year’s Eve, you know that many of the network’s hosts tend to imbibe some adult beverages throughout the evening’s coverage. Don Lemon springs to mind immediately because he’s had some really memorable segments where he obviously should not have been working on camera. The evening’s main hosts, Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen will still be allowed to drink but the other hosts are being reined in. Licht told employees that on-camera drinking “eroded the credibility of CNN personnel and damaged the “respectability” they may enjoy among viewers.”
The words ‘CNN’ and ‘credibility’ don’t often show up together in my posts but here we are. Everyone knows that CNN’s ratings are in the basement and the new boss is trying to pull them up.
And yet, the site of Lemon and co-hosts like Brooke Baldwin — now departed from CNN — has been something that has gained traction on social media and generates plenty of viral chatter.
CNN’s New Year’s Eve coverage isn’t the most watched thing on TV that night — Ryan Seacrest’s ABC program typically wins bigger TV crowds — but it has become a part of the holiday., Cooper has held his New Year’s Eve duties longer than the ABC host and has been an auld lang syne fixture since 2002, driven initially to embrace the idea by his own ambivalence about the occasion.
New Year’s Eve is often “too difficult, too stressful to go out. There’s something mildly depressing about it. It often ends badly for a lot of people,” the anchor told Variety in 2020. But the Times Square broadcast, he believes, lets audiences celebrate without risking a bad night. “It’s two people standing out in the cold and rain and watching things happen. Funny things happen, and plenty of things happen, and that’s it. It’s a fun night out, and that’s really all you can seek for New Year’s Eve.”
In recent years, Cohen’s influence has helped lighten the mood. The Bravo host isn’t shy about drinking, gesticulating or ranting. He has used the CNN New Year’s Eve platform to rail against former New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio or to cajole Cooper into taking more shots than is probably advisable for a TV anchor hosting a national broadcast.
Cooper and Cohen tend to be more laid-back in their celebration, while an inebriated Don Lemon has done such things as getting his ear pierced on camera and he goes off on rants. Last year he said he is a “grown-a– man” who was “able to share my point of view on television and it freaks people out and you know what,” he said. “You can kiss my behind, I do not care. I don’t care.” He said that while flanked by co-host Alisyn Camerota and comedian Dulce Sloan. Some people are angry drunks and others are not.
So, it looks like Lemon will be either replaced or very limited in how he conducts himself this year, as will be expected of the others, too.
Another change moving forward at CNN will be in how they cover the campaign of Donald Trump. Licht said CNN will not repeat CNN’s coverage of 2016. No more wall-to-wall coverage of just one candidate.
“We have fact-checkers ready to go. We will put things in perspective. We will not let everything [Trump] does consume the news cycle, right? There are other things that are important,” Licht told Kara Swisher, on her new podcast, On with Kara Swisher, in one of the most expansive interviews he’s done since taking the top job. “Which [Jeff] Zucker regretted,” Swisher noted, referring to Licht’s predecessor, who famously gave Trump wall-to-wall coverage—from broadcasting rallies to regularly letting him call in to news programs—during his first bid. (Zucker abruptly resigned as network president earlier this year due to his failure to disclose a romantic relationship with a colleague.)
“One-hundred percent. But look, it’s not just Zucker, it was everybody,” Licht told Swisher. “We let every little thing that he did consume everything, and so you ended up talking about him for eight hours a day.” In covering Trump and his 2024 bid, “We’re going to be very clear and take everything on a case-by-case basis about what level of coverage it should be,” Licht said. “We are not going to be a 24/7 Trump news network.”
“Even if he raises ratings?” asked Swisher. “Correct,” Licht replied.
CNN, like other networks, including Fox, treated Trump as a celebrity candidate because he was one. He was a businessman outsider and he was a candidate who called into cable network shows and was allowed on-air around the clock. He was doing telephone interviews from the early morning shows to the late-night opinion shows on both Fox and CNN. The constant exposure certainly normalized his candidacy and helped him win the GOP primary.
Can CNN do as Licht asks? Limiting drinking on New Year’s Eve for on-air hosts is one thing. Limiting the non-stop stories on Trump is another. Liberal cable outlets like CNN and MSNBC have become dependent on Trump for on-air stories and ratings. They were all about the Russia, Russia, Russia story and nonsensical tropes, as well as falling in with all kinds of conspiracy narratives. Think about the many conversations about using the 25th Amendment on Trump and nothing was off-limits when it came to mocking Trump. There was no hint of professionalism anywhere on CNN when it came to Trump. Can the new CNN at least pretend to treat Trump and other Republican candidates fairly? I don’t see how that can be expected. The culture at CNN would have to be entirely thrown out and start over from the bottom to the top. We’ll see how Licht does with his plans. Can he turn CNN into a professional news outlet, show both sides of stories, and not tilt heavily to the left on every story?