More changes are coming to CNN, network boss Chris Licht told staffers on Friday—and they may not “like” or “understand” these changes at all.
During a Friday morning editorial meeting, Licht addressed the previous day’s dramatic announcement that CNN is ending its long-running Sunday media analysis show Reliable Sources, and that its star host Brian Stelter will exit the network.
“We will continue covering media stories, including on TV, when warranted,” Licht emphasized, multiple sources said, in response to concerns that CNN may no longer cover media issues. He further explained that the Reliable Sources newsletter will relaunch under reporter Oliver Darcy and “we will be expanding our coverage.” Licht added of Stelter: “I really appreciate all that Brian has done to build the media beat for CNN. He’s a great human being and a good person. I wish him all the best on his new venture.”
Licht acknowledged internal outrage over Stelter’s ouster, telling staffers, “This is a time of change, and I know that it’s unsettling.” However, the CNN boss cautioned: “There will be more changes and you might not understand it or like it all.”
He further asked staffers to withhold judgment on these future changes: “Give us some time, see how things develop, and then give us feedback.”
A CNN spokesperson confirmed Licht’s comments, but added that they do not reflect any specific impending changes. “We’re constantly changing things and making decisions,” the spokesperson added, pointing to Licht’s mention of future changes in past town halls.
Stelter’s exit is just the latest—and perhaps the most headline-grabbing—change at CNN since Licht took over the network after ex-boss Jeff Zucker was fired over an office romance with his top lieutenant Allison Gollust, who also left the company.
Most of Licht’s alterations had been in the form of editorial guidelines: a decreased use of “Breaking News” on-air banners; the use of less partisan terms to describe Trump’s bogus election lies; and a dialing back of partisanship on-air.
Such changes, seen by many as a way to shift CNN into a more moderate voice, have reportedly been met with some internal skepticism, especially considering recent remarks from billionaire mogul John Malone, an influential shareholder in CNN’s owner Warner Bros. Discovery Inc.
Malone, the right-leaning owner of Liberty Media, told CNBC last year that he’d “like to see CNN evolve back to the kind of journalism that it started with, and actually have journalists, which would be unique and refreshing.”
In response, Stelter wrote in his Reliable Sources newsletter that “The people who say the Zucker-era CNN was lacking in real journalism clearly were not watching CNN directly. My best guess is that they were watching talking heads and reading columnists complain about CNN. And yes, I’m including John Malone in this.”
As such, some insiders viewed Stelter’s exit as being connected to Malone. “Everything about this rollout points to John Malone and [Discovery CEO] David Zaslav,” a source familiar with the situation told The Daily Beast on Thursday. “Chris Licht did not want to do this.”
Malone responded to such speculation on Thursday by emailing The New York Times to say he had “nothing to do with” the Stelter firing and that he does want “the ‘news’ portion of CNN to be more centrist, but I am not in control or directly involved.”
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