Before former President Donald Trump took the stage for his televised town hall in May, CNN CEO Chris Licht reportedly told him to “Have fun.” That’s just one of the shocking details that’s emerged from reporter Tim Alberta’s recent profile of the executive for The Atlantic.
According to Alberta’s reporting, Licht knew that the crowd’s makeup skewed more towards MAGA enthusiasts than the “GOP-leaning independents” CNN originally claimed would occupy these seats. Ahead of the town hall, Licht even made a comment to his deputies about the crowd being “extra Trumpy.”
Licht also reportedly told his journalists that “the way to deal with a bully like Trump … was to confront him with facts.”
In May of 2022, Licht made a point of meeting with prominent lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle. According to The Atlantic, he also told employees that the media empire had “lost its way under former president Jeff Zucker” and that CNN’s approach to Trump had “alienated a broader viewership that craved sober, fact-driven coverage.” Trump’s town hall was part of Licht’s attempt to reconnect with Republican voters.
Instead of winning back Republicans after six years of Trump calling the network “fake news,” the divisive town hall infuriated Republicans, Democrats and Licht’s own journalists.
Most of Albert’a reporting paints the picture of an executive with grand plans to reunite both Democrats and Republicans who has been railroaded by the current us vs. them political landscape. As Licht’s employees leak his organization’s failings to other outlets, many on the left have criticized the network’s renewed focus on the right. Meanwhile, many on the right remain skeptical of the network as a whole.
Amidst of all of this infighting and frustration, Licht did share what his mission is for CNN:
“Journalism. Being trusted. Everyone has an agenda, trying to shape events or shape thought. There has to be a source of absolute truth,” Licht said. “There’s good actors, there’s bad actors, there’s a lot of shit in the world. There has to be something that you’re able to look at and go, ‘They have no agenda other than the truth.’”
Despite how controversial it was and the tidal wave of backlash it produced, Donald Trump’s town hall was a ratings win for CNN. At 3.3 million viewers it was CNN’s second most-watched town hall since 2016. At the time, Licht defended the live event, saying that it served America “very well.”