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Will CNN’s Newest CEO Create a Non-Partisan and Balanced News Network?

by | Sep 8, 2023

By Laura Echevarria, NRLC director of Communications and Press Secretary

CNN’s ouster of its Chairman and CEO Chris Licht a few short months ago was just another item the network checked off in a long list of issues troubling CNN and its ratings failures over the years.

After a search lasting a little over two months, the CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, which is the parent company of CNN, announced that CNN’s new CEO will be Mark Thompson, formerly the CEO of The New York Times and, from 2004-2012, the Director-General of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

David Zaslav, CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, said in a statement, “There isn’t a more experienced, respected or capable executive in the news business today than Mark, and we are thrilled to have him join our team and lead CNN Worldwide into the future.”

But what does this mean for CNN and the future of the network and what does it mean for viewers who were hoping for more balanced coverage of the news? Specifically, what does it mean for the pro-life movement and coverage of the abortion issue?

Under Chris Licht, CNN started to move toward a more non-partisan, news-oriented format with less opinion and more straight news. CNN called for comments from National Right to Life several times and NRLC spokespersons were interviewed on camera on issues such as the abortion pill and the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Dobbs.

But Licht may have moved too fast in some ways and not fast enough in others. Licht fired recognized liberals like Don Lemon and Chris Cuomo but failed to establish key anchors viewers could connect with and watch regularly.

What does Mark Thompson bring to the table?

Thompson was the former chief executive of The New York Times and director-general of the BBC and crucially brought The New York Times back from the brink of destruction as it faced the challenges of a print newspaper in a digital world. What is concerning is that Thompson’s tenure at The Times was as late as 2020 when op-ed staff writer Bari Weiss resigned—publicly announcing her departure by posting her resignation letter on her website.

In her resignation letter, Weiss recognized that she was brought on in 2017 “with the goal of bringing in voices that would not otherwise appear in your pages: first-time writers, centrists, conservatives and others who would not naturally think of The Times as their home.”

But, Weiss notes, the honeymoon did not last long. She notes in her resignation, that following the 2016 election,

…lessons that ought to have followed the election—lessons about the importance of understanding other Americans, the necessity of resisting tribalism, and the centrality of the free exchange of ideas to a democratic society—have not been learned. Instead, a new consensus has emerged in the press, but perhaps especially at this paper: that truth isn’t a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else.

…Stories are chosen and told in a way to satisfy the narrowest of audiences, rather than to allow a curious public to read about the world and then draw their own conclusions. I was always taught that journalists were charged with writing the first rough draft of history. Now, history itself is one more ephemeral thing molded to fit the needs of a predetermined narrative.

But was this Thompson’s fault or did the failure lie with news executives? While Thompson served as CEO of The New York Times, his primary goal of bringing it into the future was realized. Under Thompson, the New York Times was the first news outlet to reach over 1 million digital-only subscribers. Today, the paper is primarily digital with over 9 million digital subscribers and less than 700,000 print subscribers.

In 2007, while Thompson was leading the BBC, the British network was rocked by accusations of editorial guideline violations that involved a handful of staff that engaged in lying to the public during promotional viewer call-in competitions. The lies damaged the BBC’s reputation. In an email circulated to BBC staff, Thompson wrote,

Many were, like me, shocked and disturbed to learn that a small number of our colleagues were prepared to risk the reputation we have all fought so hard to build at risk by deceiving the public….

I wanted to underline to you again that I and the BBC’s directors are together taking action because we believe that trust is the cornerstone of the BBC’s brand and heritage across the world. Nothing matters more than that. We cannot, and will not, allow anything to risk our reputation for integrity with our audiences.

Does Thompson’s reaction signal that he willing to control the editorializing by hosts and bring balance to the network or will his sole goal be to bring CNN back from the brink with special programs and by reinstating the streaming service that was shunted aside under Licht?

Only time will tell.

Categories: Media Bias
Tags: CNN