CNN CEO Chris Licht “summoned” network media reporter Oliver Darcy into his office after the Donald Trump Town hall and chastised him for making his coverage “too emotional” while also asserting the importance of the appearance of unbiased reporting, according to Puck’s Dylan Byers.
On Friday, Byers, who is the founding partner and senior correspondent at Puck, tweeted that Darcy and his editor had been “summoned” to a meeting with Licht and “top executives in which they told him that his coverage of Trump town hall had been too emotional and stressed the importance of remaining dispassionate.”
Strongly contradicting his own network’s full-throated defense of the event, Darcy slammed the town hall as a “spectacle of lies” that, he implied, did harm to the country.
“It’s hard to see how America was served by the spectacle of lies that aired on CNN Wednesday evening,” Darcy said in his Reliable Sources newsletter, which was released just 15 minutes after CNN released a statement touting the event’s success.
“Trump lied about the 2020 election. He took no responsibility for the January 6 insurrection that those very lies incited. And he mocked E. Jean Carroll’s allegations of sexual assault, which a jury found him liable for on Tuesday,” Darcy wrote. “And CNN aired it all. On and on it went. It felt like 2016 all over again. It was Trump’s unhinged social media feed brought to life on stage. And Collins was put in an uncomfortable position, given the town hall was conducted in front of a Republican audience that applauded Trump, giving a sense of unintended endorsement to his shameful antics.”
In an interview with Financial Times last November, Licht said he aimed to bring journalism front and center, tamping down the amount of opinion talk that grew on the network during the Trump years.
“One of the biggest misconceptions about my vision is that I want to be vanilla, that I want to be centrist. That is bulls—,” Licht told the FT. “You have to be compelling. You have to have edge. In many cases you take a side. Sometimes you just point out uncomfortable questions. But either way you don’t see it through a lens of left or right.”
After taking over as CEO in May 2022, Licht has certainly shaken up the network, most notably canceling Brian Stelter’s Sunday morning show, “Reliable Sources,” and shifting Don Lemon from his primetime gig to co-host “CNN This Morning” alongside Kaitlan Collins and Poppy Harlow (and then giving him the pink slip in April).
In February, Warner Bros. Discovery President and CEO David Zaslav signaled confidence in Licht despite widespread skepticism of the network’s politically centric embrace, stating that he believes the company is “on the right path.”
But the Trump Town Hall has drawn even wider criticism, from its obviously loaded pro-Trump audience to its lack of pushback from moderator Kaitlan Collins on Trump’s blatant lies. But Licht defended the network’s airing of the event. “I absolutely unequivocally believe America was served very well by what we did last night,” Licht said on a call to CNN staff, per Semafor media reporter Max Tani.
Viewership for the town hall lagged behind Biden’s town hall on the network in 2020.