Warner Bros. Discovery CEO Zaslav backs CNN chief Licht amid fury at Trump town hall

  • Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav is behind CNN’s decision to air a town hall with former president and Republican frontrunner Donald Trump last week.
  • “We need to show both sides of every issue,” Zaslav said at an investor conference on Thursday.
  • Veteran CNN journalist Christiane Amanpour said Wednesday that she told CNN CEO Chris Licht that she disagreed with his decision to have Trump speak in town hall format to screaming fans.

David Zaslav

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Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav backed CNN CEO Chris Licht during an investor conference Thursday as tensions rose at the network over the decision to broadcast live Donald Trump to a town hall packed with his supporters.

Zaslav said Licht is “working hard” to improve CNN’s brand and image, citing a recent YouGov poll that said trust in CNN has improved by 11 percentage points in the past year. In terms of context, trust in Republican-leaning Fox News improved 17 points and trust in Democratic-leaning MSNBC improved 16 points in the same period. Trust in CBS, ABC, and NBC is improved by more than CNN, too.

Zaslav emphasized CNN’s desire for more balance on the network, citing the common refrain that he wants to make sure that CNN is not an “advocacy network”.

“We need to show both sides of every issue,” Zaslav said.

Zaslav continues to support CNN’s decision to host Trump’s town hall, according to a person familiar with his thinking. Trump is leading early polls to win the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. Trump, who continues to falsely claim he was a victim of election fraud in 2020, should absolutely appear on CNN, Zaslav told CNBC earlier this month.

“He’s a frontrunner — he should be on our network,” Zaslav said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “We’re excited that it’s coming on our network.”

His comments came a day after Christiane Amanpour, a veteran CNN journalist, challenged the idea of ​​covering “both sides” of the political spectrum if both sides weren’t realistic. Ammanpour spoke Wednesday at the opening of the Columbia School of Journalism.

“Be honest, but not impartial,” Amanpour told the graduates. She said the phrase was her “mantra”.

“Both sides are not always objective. It does not get you to the truth. Drawing a false moral or factual equivalence is not objective or honest. Objectivity is our golden rule, and it is in weighing all aspects and listening to all evidence, hearing all and reporting everything, but without rushing into Equality them when there is no equality.

Amanpour said she met with Licht this week to tell her of her disappointment with the broadcast of Trump’s town hall the way it happened. She said Licht told her “the execution was a little lacking,” CNBC reported earlier this week. Amanpour noted that the live audience should not have been allowed to express joy at every sentence of Trump, calling the behavior “appalling”.

At one point, Trump called town hall host Caitlan Collins a “bad person.” Amanpour said she would have dropped the mic and walked out if he had done that to her.

Airing a taped interview with Trump, Amanpour said, would have been a better solution, as it would have allowed CNN to fight Trump’s “propaganda and disinformation machine.” Trump faces multiple criminal investigations, and was found responsible earlier this month for sexually assaulting and defaming writer E. Jean Carroll. Trump denied Carroll’s accusations. He was also indicted in New York for falsifying business records.

Amanpour is the first major CNN journalist to publicly criticize Licht and Zaslav’s decision to broadcast the town hall. Several of her colleagues jumped in support of her comments on Twitter, showing an undercurrent of dissent within CNN’s ranks.

Telling the truth to authority is an essential part of our job but telling the truth to the authority that signs your checks?@tweetShow everyone how it’s done.” chirp Nima El-Baqer is CNN’s chief international investigative correspondent.

CNN anchor Sarah Sydner chirp “It’s Fact” About Amanpour, CNN correspondent Erica Hill echo.

Amanpour Delivered Masters in Journalism.

Licht has inherited the CNN staff base largely built up by former chairman Jeff Zucker and his predecessors. Zucker was popular as a leader with several existing employees and led the network in a hands-on style that Licht purposely avoided.

Zaslav confirmed Thursday that Zaslav’s mission with CNN is to shed its “left-leaning” image to a more neutral brand. He talked about how many Republicans CNN has interviewed recently in his comments Thursday.

However, the changes do not help CNN’s rating. Not only was the network’s overall audience behind Fox and MSNBC, but also the much smaller conservative channel Newsmax on Tuesdays at 7 pm ET and 8 pm ET.

The New York Times reported that CNN’s profits fell below $1 billion last year, marking its lowest level in six years. Low ratings won’t help its advertising revenue this year. Warner Bros. held Discovery is offering it up front to ad buyers this week. Licht spoke at the event.

While the business struggles, Zaslav’s comments about CNN being more politically low key, especially when it comes to Trump, have angered journalists who don’t equate the fight with partisanship.

It’s unclear if CNN staff showing displeasure with Licht and Zaslav’s latest decision will amount to anything other than public grumbling.

But as the network grapples with declining ratings and millions of Americans canceling traditional TV each year, denting CNN’s revenue and profits, Zaslav may have an unwanted distraction that could only get worse as the United States approaches the 2024 presidential election.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of NBC, MSNBC, and CNBC.

WATCH: The full CNBC interview with Warner Bros. CEO David Zaslav. Discovery

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