The MRC's Childish War On CNN: The Chris Licht Saga, Part 1
The Media Research Center pestered CNN chief Chris Licht to pull the channel to the right and complained that a town hall it did with Donald Trump wasn't more sycophantic -- then demanded that Licht fire a CNN reporter who criticized the town hall.
By Terry Krepel Posted 10/18/2023
The Media Research Center irrationally hated former CNN chief Jeff Zucker, to the point that it started hurling anti-Semitic "puppet master" slurs at him (he's Jewish). It then pressured his successor, Chris Licht, to pull CNN to the right (even though, as Media Matters' Craig Harrington pointed out, the only people who had a problem with CNN aggressively covering Trump were Republicans). Then again, the MRC is so bizarrelyobsessed with constantly attacking CNN for pretty much any reason that it feels it must manufacture reasons to attack channel. It even bought a poll to bash CNN, as detailed in an anonymously written Jan. 6 post:
A new poll from the Media Research Center, conducted by McLaughlin & Associates, finds a majority (54%) of CNN viewers say they are now watching the network less than they used to, and most of those people (61%) agree that “one of the reasons I find myself watching CNN less often is because of its liberal/left-wing bias.”
CNN’s ratings collapse is well known; this summer, for example, its audience slipped to levels not seen in 22 years. “CNN is in a bad place,” one media executive told The New York Post in September. “The ratings are down really dramatically year over year.”
The Media Research Center poll demonstrates that CNN’s biased political coverage is a likely reason many of these viewers have been driven away.
People who reported watching less were then asked to react to the following statement: “One of the reasons I find myself watching CNN less often is because of its liberal/left-wing bias.” A majority (61%) said they agreed, including a majority of self-identified moderates and liberals (52% for each group), and a whopping 80 percent of conservatives.
The MRC didn't disclose that McLaughlin was Donald Trump's 2020 pollster, meaning that its work is highly biased and its fairness is in question -- as demonstrated further by the biased framing of the question. You might recall that McLaughlin was one of the pollsters the MRC hired to push its conspiracy theory that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.
Alex Christy spent a Jan. 17 post bashing CNN for considering adding a comedian to its late-night coverage:
CNN’s new boss, Chris Licht, is looking to counter the narrative that late night comedy is dying by bringing a comedian to the network’s primetime lineup, Semafor reports.
Max Tani reports that, “CNN executives have floated names including Bill Maher, Trevor Noah, Arsenio Hall, and Jon Stewart, and have looked at other comedic news-focused talk shows for inspiration.”
Tani writes that of these names, Maher is probably the most realistic hire as Noah recently stepped away from The Daily Show, Stewart remains under contract by Apple, and despite having previous late night experience, Hall is not a serious candidate. CNN has already been in talks with Maher to use his Overtime segments. Both CNN and HBO are owned by Warner Bros. Discovery.
Christy then touted how CNN is emulating Fox News while trying to avoid acknowledging the fact that Greg Gutfeld is, in fact, a comedian:
FNC’s Gutfeld! dominating the traditional late night hosts may be another reason why Licht may seek to bring a comedian on board, according to Tani. But hiring simply another liberal would not make CNN stand out against its competitors like Gutfeld does and whether Maher could be accepted by the more politically correct CNN is an open question.
Licht hiring another liberal also challenges Licht’s own stated desire to make the network less partisan because there is no reason to believe CNN’s comedian will be less liberal than ABC, NBC or CBS’s.
In portraying Maher as a "liberal," Christy is ignoring how his employer hasrepeatedlytouted Maher's right-wing leanings.
Over the following months, the MRC continued to mock CNN's moves under Licht as insufficiently right-wing:
Tim Graham complained in a March 19 post that "Nothing CNN CEO Chris Licht has done to revamp CNN programming as helped its ratings woes," noting the failure of the channel adding a repeat of a commentary from Bill Maher's HBO show.
Graham whined about CNN fact-checker Daniel Dale in an April 12 post that began, "It’s amazing that CNN CEO Chris Licht once came to the Capitol to meet with congressional Republicans in an effort to rebuild trust, as if CNN was going to change. It hasn’t." He added, "It’s funny that Licht would fire red-hot Trump haters like Brian Stelter and Chris Cuomo, yet keep Don Lemon and Daniel Dale." (The MRC absolutely loved it when Licht fired Stelter.)
After CNN fired Don Lemon later that month, MRC chief Brent Bozell huffed: “What a trainwreck of a network this is...Licht was brought on to fix a sinking ship and he’s just been poking more holes.”
Curtis Houck mocked in an April 26 post that "The public relations skills of Chris Licht’s CNN were, shall we say, less than adequate" because Lemon's firing overshadowed the announcement of a new CNN late-night show featuring Charles Barkley and Gayle King. Which, of course, caused Houck to rehash old attacks on King for being friends with the Obama and having a purported "record of ultra-liberal punditry masquerading as common sense."
Still, the MRC was rooting for Licht and his efforts to make CNN more right-wing. The MRC also remains loyal to Donald Trump -- almost as much as it hates CNN -- so it was thrilled that Trump was granted airtime on CNN for a live town hall in May. First, it had to bash any critic of it. A May 4 post by Nicholas Fondacaro whined that "On Wednesday’s edition of ABC’s The View a majority of the liberal cast voiced outright disgust or some form of frustration with CNN’s planned town hall with former President Trump next week." He further huffed that one co-host complained that CNN's Kaitlan Collins "wouldn’t make for a good host because Trump would simply talk over her and drown her out. She said this while talking over co-host Alyssa Farah Griffin and drowning her out."
A May 6 post by Tom Olohan touted the head of CNN's parent company defending the town hall, portraying anyone who criticized it as a "leftist":
Despite leftist criticism, the CEO of CNN’s parent company said Trump’s upcoming town hall with the network will not be canceled.
During a Friday appearance on CNBC’s Squawk Box, Warner Bros. CEO David Zaslav, responded to leftist squawking about the Trump town hall. When asked about former President Donald Trump’s May 10th town hall on CNN, Zaslav responded, “He should be.” Later on in the interview, Zaslav added, “He’s the front-runner, he has to be on our network,” before continuing that he was happy to have Trump on the network.
Zaslav is responding to widespread condemnation from other leftist media figures. ABC News’ hosts Sunny Hostin and Whoopi Goldberg both criticized CNN for allowing former President Trump to speak to their audience. Political commentator Keith Olbermann hysterically tweeted that CNN “was committing journalistic suicide.” Journalist Scott Dworkin dubbed the town hall as “trash” and “absolutely ludicrous.” Similarly, leftist MSNBC host Chris Hayes said that inviting Trump on CNN was “hard to defend”.
On May 10, the day of the town hall, Alex Christy complained that a commentator accurately pointed out how young voters hate Trump and don't like Republican transphobia, huffing in response that the commentator "should’ve informed these young people that other people vote too."
For the event itself, Kevin Tober whined that it wasn't sycophantic enough to Trump:
Wednesday night’s CNN Town hall meeting at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire with former President Donald Trump was just as ridiculous as you would have guessed. From the very first moments until the end of the hour and a half long event, CNN’s Kaitlan Collins served not so much as a moderator for the town hall but more as a sparring partner with the former President. The night was so hostile to Trump that NewsBusters could have easily simply uploaded the entire event for you to watch. That would have been much easier than trying to decide the worst moments to bring to you.
After spending over 25 minutes arguing with Trump over the January 6 riots at the Capitol and relitigating the results of the 2020 presidential election, Collins finally got around to asking Trump real questions that normal Americans care about. The first was from a Republican voter about the out of control southern border.
This town hall hosted by CNN was a giant waste of time for all involved. Especially voters in the room and watching at home. Very few substantive questions were asked and instead it essentially became a debate between Trump & Collins.
Hours before this dumpster fire of a town hall began, Puck News published a piece titled “The Kaitlan Era Begins Tonight.” This "era" isn’t off to a good start, if tonight’s performance was any indication.
Afterwards, the MRC's priority was to defend Trump from all criticism and worry less about CNN and Licht. A May 11 post by Alex Christy nitpicked a CNN fact-check of Trump because it "did not accurately portray" Hillary Clinton's beliefs on abortion -- but had to put words into Hillary's mouth to do so:
Washington correspondent Sunlen Serfaty joined Thursday’s CNN This Morning to fact-check some of the claims former President Donald Trump made on Wednesday night’s town hall including the claim that Hillary Clinton supports late third trimester abortions. Serfaty would defend Clinton against the charge, but she did not accurately portray Clinton’s beliefs.
Serfaty claimed that Trump’s “comments were very misleading” for accusing “Democrats and specifically Hillary Clinton of supporting abortion late into the third trimester.”
First, what Roe allowed is not necessarily the same thing as what Clinton supported. Secondly, Serfaty omitted half of Clinton’s position. In 2016, Clinton did indeed say that third trimester abortions should be legal for reasons relating to the health and life of the mother, but she also added:
I have met with women who have, toward the end of their pregnancy, get the worst news one could get. That their health is in jeopardy if they continue to carry to term. Or that something terrible has happened or just been discovered about the pregnancy. I do not think the United States government should be stepping in and making those most personal of decisions. So you can regulate if you are doing so with the life and the health of the mother taken into account.
What is Clinton’s definition of “terrible” and what could be discovered that justify a third trimester abortion? Clinton didn’t say.
Nicholas Fondacaro complained it was pointed out that the town hall audience was too biased in favor of Trump:
The liberal ladies of ABC’s The View were in a tailspin from the get-go during Thursday’s episode, as the majority of them fumed over CNN’s town hall with former President Trump the previous evening. But instead of keeping her animosity trained on Trump, co-host Joy Behar immediately started taking swings at the average Americans in the audience. Their crime? Being Republicans and fans of the former President, or as she called them “not American.”
P.J. Gladnick also groused that Politico (accurately) predicted that Trump would lie:
"Litany of lies."
Is there any way that you would ever hear Politico describe any Democrat, such as Adam Schiff of the fake news Trump-Russia collusion hoax fame, that way? Of course not.
However on Wednesday, just hours ahead of Donald Trump's town hall on CNN, Politico Playbook used another alliteration to brand him as a liar. "Farrago of falsehoods."
Kevin Tober was upset that even other CNN anchors didn't like how the town hall turned out:
Exactly twenty-four hours after CNN’s town hall with former President Donald Trump Wednesday night, CNN host Anderson Cooper responded to the unhinged leftist outrage that immediately spread on Twitter in the immediate aftermath of the town hall. Instead of trying to calm his left-wing audience down, Cooper poured gasoline on the fire during Thursday's AC360 by telling them they'd be right if they wanted to ditch CNN for good.
“Many of you have expressed deep anger and disappointment. Many of you are upset that someone who attempted to destroy our democracy was invited to sit on a stage in front of a crowd of Republican voters to answer questions, and predictably, continued to spew lie after lie after lie,” Cooper opened his show.
Adding: “I get it. It was disturbing. It was disturbing to see and hear that person refer to a black law enforcement officer as a thug, an adjective he used many times to describe black men and called Kaitlan Collins, the moderator nasty, which is what he calls any woman who stands up to him."
Cooper's rant showed that CNN boss Chris Licht had a major problem on his hands as the on-air talent was seemingly attempting something of a mutiny. The Hill's media and politics columnist, Joe Concha urged for heads to roll at CNN once again, and not just Cooper's.
Strange that Tober thought that the problem was with longstanding CNN personnel who understand the network and not with the new guy.
Fondacaro raged at "The View" hosts again, this time for pointing out how CNN host Kaitlan Collins got steamrolled by Trump:
In the opening theme music of ABC’s The View, the lyrics proclaim: “This is for my girls all around the world. Stand up with your head up. Own your power. Speak your truth.” But on Friday’s edition of the show, fill-in moderator Joy Behar and racist co-host Sunny Hostin toss the women empowerment mantra out the window as they lashed out at CNN town hall host Kaitlan Collins for not being imposing enough to stop former President Trump. Hostin went as far as to hint a man would have done a better job.
Fondacaro didn't mention that the reason he seemed to be going easy on Collins is because her background is in right-wing media.
Tim Graham ran to the defense of Trump in his May 12 podcast:
It was a banner week for bias, with a lot of shameless behavior. Media liberals were outraged at CNN's Trump town hall (including CNN liberals), with the constantly interrupting questions and the MAGA-pleasing answers. We predicted Kaitlan Collins could come in with her hair on fire, and we were right. She didn’t shriek, she tried to remain calm. But on many questions, the former president was not really allowed to finish a sentence.
During his last tour of Fox News, Trump was allowed eight-minute answers. CNN didn't want to give him more than eight words.
The CNN town hall with Trump roughly breaks down to three portions. The first 25 minutes obsessed over scandals: Election denial, January 6, the E Jean Carroll rape allegations. Then came a half hour on issues: Inflation, debt ceiling, guns, abortion, immigration, and Ukraine. At the end, there was more election denial, and a squabble over the Mar-a-Lago documents. Collins couldn't mention the federal raid. Then in the aftermath, CNN stars line Anderson Cooper and Jake Tapper whined about all the lies....that they just platformed.
Jeffrey Lord spent his May 13 column complaining about "the fury vented by CNN staffers in the wake of the CNN Town Hall with former President Donald Trump," declaring that "it is, it is very safe to say, representative of the mindset of so many elites not just inside CNN but well beyond into the larger media. It might be said that while this episode appears to be about CNN employees versus America, in reality it is emblematic of the liberal media versus America."
A May 14 post by Tober touted a Fox News talking head coming to Trump's defense (as if that was news):
Fox News Channel’s MediaBuzz host Howard Kurtz used the opening monologue of his show to slam the leftist media for melting down over CNN hosting a town hall for former President Donald Trump. Proving again that those at media outlets like MSNBC, The Washington Post, New York Times and others want total subservience to the radical left-wing agenda, Kurtz even aired a clip of MSNBC’s resident racist demagogue Joy Reid who lashed out at CNN.
He then made the obvious point that it’s not like Trump went unchallenged during the event, in fact, quite the opposite: “This wasn't a rally where he just gets to pop off. And whatever you think of Trump and his stormy tenure, shouldn't journalists question him as part of the campaign?”
“As it turned out, the town hall turned into an absolute train wreck, even many people at CNN being sharply critical. But the alternative, banning Trump from the airwaves, is suppression of speech, and that is not journalism,” Kurtz said.
Tober didn't mention that Kurtz works for a network that wants total subservience to the right-wing agenda, even if it has to lie to viewers to make it happen.
The MRC then shifted to taking shots at a CNN reporter the MRC obsessively hates -- and defending Licht in the process. Fondacaro started things in a May 13 post:
Following the airing of CNN’s town hall with former President Trump Wednesday evening, many bloviating pontificators in the liberal media registered their outrage at the network for daring to give the Republican candidate a platform. A surprising voice to register their disproval came from inside CNN’s house in the form of senior media reporter Oliver Darcy via the so-called “Reliable Sources” Newsletter. According to reporting from Puck News on Friday, CNN boss Chris Licht responded to Darcy’s insubordination by putting “the fear of God into him.”
With the dust still settling from the rowdy event, Darcy clutched his pearls into diamonds as he fired off the newsletter proclaiming this at the top: “It's hard to see how America was served by the spectacle of lies that aired on CNN Wednesday evening.”
He touted the performance of his colleague Kaitlan Collins by calling her “as tough and knowledgable [sic] of an interviewer as they come. She fact-checked Trump throughout the 70-minute town hall.”
Darcy even called Licht out by name. “CNN and new network boss Chris Licht are facing a fury of criticism both internally and externally over the event,” he stated, airing their laundry and leaving it an open-ended question of how Licht would respond to criticism.
Well, according to former CNN media reporter Dylan Byers, Darcy would soon learn how Licht dealt with critics firsthand.
What’s obvious from Puck’s reporting was that the Jeff Zucker weed runs deep and it would require a lot of work from Licht to pluck it out root and branch.
Only an authoritarian-adjacent right-wingers like Fondacaro would think that honest, factual reporting (he cited no inaccuracies in Darcy's work) should be treated as "insubordination."
The MRC's chief Darcy-hater, Curtis Houck -- who loves to smear Darcy as a "Benedict Arnold" because he dared to escape the right-wing media bubble -- doubled down in a May 15 post:
Two days after Puck's Dylan Byers reported that CNN’s Oliver Darcy was shaken by the proverbial call to the principal’s office for insubordination, Darcy defenders pushed back Sunday night and comically tried to downplay the notion that it was bad news for Darcy to have been called to CNN boss Chris Licht’s office to discuss his analysis trashing his own employer for hosting a town hall with former President Trump.
Darcy’s allies and Semafor may try to have you think otherwise, but other than being told you were being promoted, receiving an award, or discussing, say, a loss in the family, receiving a summons to the office of the president of your company with other executives is never a good sign.
Semafor’s Max Tani had the details in co-founder Ben Smith’s weekly media newsletter: “Two people with knowledge of the meeting told Semafor that Darcy was not pleased with the depiction of the meeting, which noted that Licht told Darcy that he was emotional and had ‘put the fear of God’ in the CNN media correspondent.”
Earth to Darcy: How does it feel to perhaps have received a taste of your own medicine? Not so fun having anonymous sources denounce you, is it?
Houck concluded by begging Licht to make an example of Darcy:
Tani did have a kicker in which he shared “Darcy has wondered to colleagues whether he should resign or if he will be fired.”
And there it is. If Darcy were to be fired, it’d be a strong signal to CNN employees, media watchers, and viewers that Licht is intent on materializing calls from his Warner Bros. Discovery bosses to haul CNN back to the center and away from obsessions with Fox News and anti-conservative venom.
Houck, of course, was silent about Fox News' obsession with CNN, and he did not demand that Fox News tone down its anti-liberal venom. Instead, he followed up with a sneering May 18 post headlined "Everyone Point and Laugh at How Much Lefty Journos Now Hate Working at CNN":
A former CNN media reporter, Puck News’s Dylan Byers wrote Wednesday night that CNN is currently “a seismic mess” and in a state of “depleted morale” and “overwhelming sense of frustration and resentment” with employees enraged by boss Chris Licht in general and, specifically, his decision to host a town hall with former President Trump.
The employees remained hellbent on running the asylum as they longed for the days of former boss and puppetmaster, Jeff Zucker, directing their every move and enabling them to be as wildly progressive and hateful toward conservatives as their heart’s desired. Instead, they’ve been beset with someone CNNers see “as Captain Queeg, the antagonist from Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny.”
Byers framed his piece through the lens of a Columbia Journalism commencement address and CNN International/PBS anchor Christiane Amanpour gave that directly lambasted Licht.
Byers conceded that “Licht has a difficult job” consisting of, along with “replac[ing] a legend” in their Dear Leader, “oversee a global news organization during a time of foreign war and a looming presidential election, manage through the exigencies of a fresh corporate merger… oh, and oversee a unit of thousands of journalists, many of whom are world famous, some of whom are prima donnas, and some more of whom are indifferent to managing up, his vision, etcetera.”
Yes, Houck repeated the "puppetmaster" slur of Zucker again. He also complained that "Byers also had [CNN host Christiane] Amanpour take a childish potshot at Kaitlan Collins, who was the Trump town hall moderator and named Wednesday as the new host of CNN’s 9:00 p.m. Eastern hour."
Then it was back to whining that Licht was still allowing criticism of Republicans; Brad Wilmouth complained in a June 1 post about the author of a book noting conservatives' bent toward authoritarianism: "CNN CEO Chris Licht told Republicans it was going to be different....but it's not."
Actually, things were about to become very different for Licht over the next few days -- but not in a way that either Licht or the MRC wanted.