The man appointed to rescue CNN from sinking ratings—and the butt of national jokes—has fired off a second broadside to the anchors who he blames for skewing the network’s independence: Jim Acosta, Brian Stelter and Brianna Keilar.
In a tense town hall meeting last week, Chris Licht—the former executive producer of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert—attempted to “quell some of this anxiety” swirling around the cable giant’s newsroom amid reports he’s threatened to fire on-air talent.
Details of the tête-à-tête are slowly leaking, but what we know so far is that it reportedly did little to ease the fears of those most vocal anchors who are in Licht’s bullseye as he attempts to pivot the network back to the center.
“It was clear that he was looking to quell some of this anxiety and he did it in a number of ways,” former CNN reporter Dylan Byers reported on his podcast on Monday during which his co-host Jon Kelly called some CNN talent “showboats.”
“If you were a CNN staffer who was anxious about layoffs, he said there would be no layoffs at CNN. If you were a CNN staffer who felt why am I reading these reports that I am being evaluated based on how partisan I am being, he stressed that this has more to do with fostering respectful conversation and that by the way, this was something that wasn’t just about talent, it was about the guests that came on air.
“He tried to steer the concern away from the idea that this was strictly about partisanship and reiterate this is more about turning down the volume, turning down the heat.
“He also said he is very happy with the tone of the coverage generally. He is happy with the guests that have come on. He feels like there are guests from a broader swath of the political spectrum.”
But Byers was blunt about how Licht views his troubled trio of Acosta, Stelter and Keilar.
“Did people leave that meeting feeling reassured? I think, again, it depends on where you sit in the organization,” said Byers.
“If you are a Jake Tapper or a Wolf Blitzer, you don’t need to be worried about this. Again, those names that have come up—Jim Acosta, Brian Stelter, Brianna Keilar—I don’t know if all of those anxieties have been quelled!”
As this website previously reported, just months after ex-CNN boss Jeff Zucker was forced to resign from the network, Licht laid the hammer down on anchors who grew more partisan and polarizing over the four-year period that Donald Trump was president.
In the past, both Stelter and Don Lemon were criticized for their biased on-air reporting – Stelter for choosing not to cover the Zucker-Gollust affair scandal, and Lemon for failing to cover the Zucker-Gollust story as well as disgraced lawyer Michael Avenatti’s guilty verdict.
While CNN insiders allegedly called for both Stelter and Lemon’s immediate removal, they were seemingly given a second-chance.
But for Stelter, things have gone from bad to worse. As he fights to save his failing career, the CNN Sunday show he hosts, Reliable Sources, pulled in just 580,000 viewers in a recent week, according to FTVLive. That number included only 73,000 viewers among the ages 25 to 54, a key demographic for television executives.