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warner bros found Chief Executive David Zaslav backed CNN CEO Chris Lichter at an investor conference on Thursday as the network stoked tensions over its decision to air a live Donald Trump town hall packed with supporters.
Zaslav said Licht is “working very hard” to improve CNN’s brand and image, citing a recent YouGov poll that showed trust in CNN had gone down. 11 percentage points higher than last year. For context, trust in Republican-leaning Fox News rose 17 points and trust in Democrat-leaning MSNBC rose 16 points over the same period. Trust in CBS, ABC and NBC also exceeds CNN.
Zaslav highlighted CNN’s desire for more balance on the network, citing a common narrative that he wants to ensure CNN is not a “propaganda network.”
“We need to show both sides of every issue,” Zaslav said.
Zaslav continued to support CNN’s decision to host Trump’s town hall, according to a person familiar with his thinking.trump card lead in early polls Win the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. Zaslav told CNBC earlier this month that Trump continues to lie about being a victim of 2020 election fraud and that he should absolutely be on CNN.
“He’s the frontrunner — he has to be on our network,” Zaslav said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “We are delighted to have him added to our network.”
His comments came a day after senior CNN reporter Christian Amanpour publicly questioned the notion of “both sides” covering the political spectrum if neither side is true.amanpur Speak at Columbia Journalism School’s graduation ceremony on Wednesday.
“Be honest, but not neutral,” Amanpour told the graduates. She said the phrase was “her mantra”.
“Bilateralism is not always objective. It doesn’t get you to the truth. Drawing false moral or factual equivalence is neither objective nor true. Objectivity is our golden rule, and it’s weighing all sides and hearing all evidence, Listen to everyone and report everything, but don’t rush to equate them when there is none.”
Amanpour said she met with Lichter this week to express her dismay at the way Trump’s town halls were aired. She said Licht told her that, as CNBC reported earlier this week, “execution was a bit lacking.” Amanpour pointed out that the live audience should not be allowed to cheer Trump’s every word, calling such behavior “appalling.”
At one point, Trump called town hall host Kaitlan Collins a “nasty person.” Amanpour said that if he did that to her, she would drop the microphone and walk out.
Amanpour said that playing the recording of Trump’s interview would have been a better solution because it would have allowed CNN to better combat Trump’s “disinformation and propaganda machine.” Trump is facing multiple criminal investigations and was found responsible earlier this month for sexually abusing and defaming author E. Jean Carroll. Trump has denied Carroll’s allegations. He was also indicted in New York for allegedly falsifying business records.
Amanpour was the first major CNN reporter to publicly criticize Licht and Zaslav’s decision to air the town hall. Several of her colleagues jumped on Twitter to support her comments, showing the undercurrent of dissent in the CNN ranks.
“Telling the truth to power is a fundamental part of our job, but telling the truth to the power to sign the check?@amanpourto show everyone how it’s done,” tweets CNN chief international investigative reporter Nima Elbagir.
CNN Hong Kong anchor Kristie Lu Stout said Amanpour published “Journalism Master Class.”
Licht inherits CNN’s employee base largely built by former CEO Jeff Zucker and his predecessors. Zach, popular as a leader among many current employees, has taken a hands-on approach to leading the network that Lichter has deliberately avoided.
Zaslav reiterated Thursday that his mission at CNN is to shed its “left-leaning” image and become a more neutral brand. In his comments Thursday, he touted the number of Republicans CNN has interviewed recently.
Those changes didn’t help CNN’s ratings, though.Internet audience At 7:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. ET on Tuesday, it trailed not only Fox and MSNBC, but the much smaller conservative channel Newsmax.
CNN Profit fell below $1 billion last year, It hit a six-year low, according to the New York Times. Slumping ratings won’t help its ad revenue this year. Warner Bros. Discovery held a pre-show for ad buyers this week. Licht spoke at the event.
While business struggled, Zaslav’s comments that CNN was more centrist politically, especially when it came to Trump, angered reporters who didn’t equate fighting lies with partisanship.
It’s unclear whether the displeasure expressed by the CNN staff at Licht and Zaslav’s recent decisions will amount to anything other than a public complaint.
But with the network struggling with declining ratings and millions of Americans canceling traditional TV every year, eating into CNN’s revenue and profits, Zaslav may have an unnecessary distraction on his hands as the U.S. moves closer to 2024. The situation will only get worse as the 2020 presidential election draws closer.
Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of NBC, MSNBC and CNBC.
Watch: CNBC’s full interview with Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav