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CNN showed Licht the door after he spoke truth to woke power

Chris Licht was ousted as CNN CEO this week after an extensive Atlantic magazine profile featured him imprudently offering unvarnished opinions about various left-wing shibboleths at the cable network.

Licht clearly made mistakes in his 13 months on the job, but the real story is progressives think they’ve purged what The Washington Post called the “centrist folly” threatening them at CNN.

CNN’s then-new owner Warner Bros. Discovery fired CEO Jeff Zucker last year for serious ethical violations — such as advising disgraced ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Warner chief David Zaslav hired Licht to move CNN away from Zucker’s leftist partisanship towards the center.

John Malone, chairman of a company with a large stake in Discovery, agreed: “I would 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.”

Those sentiments meant Licht had a target on his back from Day One.

Zucker and his many liberal allies undermined Licht with a nonstop leak campaign.

Jeff Zucker

They claimed his letting go progressives John Harwood, Don Lemon and Brian Stelter was part of an ideological purge.

Licht fed ammunition to his critics, including a shambolic town hall with Donald Trump and ratings that sometimes put CNN in fourth place behind Newsmax.

But his real sin in media circles is that he’s a real centrist and thinks journalism is about reporting not advocacy.

First, he dared question the media’s coverage of the pandemic.

David Zaslav
AFP via Getty Images

“We don’t know how many deaths there were from COVID,” he told a group of journalism students.

The son of a doctor, he believes there are “legitimate conversations” to be had about the death toll attached to COVID-19.

Licht thinks — confirmed by data from locations ranging from New York to Colorado to Italy — some patients had gone to hospitals with life-threatening illnesses before the pandemic began, then died with a positive diagnosis.

“Where we run into trouble is when you say, ‘No. Come on. We’re not even having that conversation,’” he said.

“That goes to trust as much as anything else. If you’re solid on your facts, then you should be able to entertain that discussion.”

Of course, since the media often preferred hysteria to getting COVID facts right, they stifled dissent.

Licht admitted CNN’s emphasis on COVID went off track.

It “got to a place where, ‘Oh wow, we gotta keep getting those ratings. We gotta keep getting the sense of urgency.’”

Chris Licht
Robert Miller

“People walked outside and they go, ‘This is not my life. This is not my reality. You guys are just saying this because you need the ratings, you need the clicks. I don’t trust you,’” he noted.

Indeed, CNN’s own internal polling found that its COVID coverage was viewed as “overly dramatic and sensational.”

Licht also had the audacity to tell The Atlantic he had questions about diversity, the new media state religion:

“Licht recalled a recent dustup with his own diversity, equity, and inclusion staff. . . . I said, ‘A black person, a brown person, and an Asian woman that all graduated the same year from Harvard is not diversity.”

He then told the magazine that the media’s blind spots are more from a lack of diversity in perspective and viewpoints, not merely race and gender.

He wanted to “recruit reporters who are deeply religious and reporters who grew up on food stamps and reporters who own guns.”

He also questioned the unthinking support the media gave Black Lives Matters during the 2020 urban unrest.

“I think ‘Defund the Police’ would’ve been covered differently if newsrooms were filled with people who had lived in public housing,” he said.

“They have a different relationship with their need with the police.”

Progressives were horrified at all of the above.

Washington Post columnist Perry Bacon thundered that Licht’s views “embody an anti-woke centrism” that is “pushing some important U.S. institutions to make bad decisions. By anti-woke, what I mean is skepticism of progressive causes and ideas, especially on issues of gender, race and sexuality.”

It’s clear the Progressive Media Blob just couldn’t handle the “diversity” of having someone in charge of CNN who refused to drink its Kool Aid.

John Fund is a columnist for National Review.