Jim Acosta will not exit CNN, an individual very close to CNN’s CEO and chairman, Chris Licht, told TheWrap Sunday — swatting down talk about an imminent exit for the chief domestic correspondent and weekend anchor who has become a lightning rod for network critics, particularly on the political right.
Speculation grew after News Cycle Media president Jon Nicosia tweeted that he had a scoop on the next “big name” to leave CNN, and identified the person as Acosta on Friday. After Mediaite reported Sunday that the rumors were “absolute bulls—,” the source close to CNN leadership confirmed that there are no plans for Acosta to leave the netowrk.
The rumors come two months after the abrupt exits of prize-winning Washington reporter John Harwood and media reporter Brian Stelter along with the cancellation of Stelter’s Sunday morning show, “Reliable Sources.” At the time, TheWrap reported exclusively that Don Lemon and Acosta were expected to stay at the network despite the centrist direction guided by Licht.
While many speculated that billionaire media mogul John Malone, who is a Warner Bros. Discovery stakeholder, was behind the decision to cancel “Reliable Sources” due to his support of former president Donald Trump, Malone denied his involvement to The New York Times, saying that he wants “the ‘news’ portion of CNN to be more centrist, but [he is not] in control or directly involved.”
However, it’s no secret that the network has sought to tamper down inflammatory language and criticism surrounding Trump and the GOP, which Acosta has famously been known for.
As CNN’s White House correspondent at the time, Acosta frequently clashed with Trump before the 2016 election and throughout the Trump administration. In a 2016 news conference, Acosta began to ask the then-candidate about his ability to handle the scrutiny, to which Trump interrupted, “Excuse me, excuse me, I’ve watched you on TV. You’re a real beauty.” After the election, Trump refused to call on him during a press briefing, calling Acosta and CNN “fake news.”
Tension escalated between Trump and Acosta during a White House press conference in 2018 after the reporter asked a question about his rhetoric being called racist, for which Trump called him “a rude, terrible person.” Things came to a head when Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders accused Acosta of “putting his hands” on a White House intern and suspending his White House credentials. Acosta and CNN both filed a lawsuit, which was subsequently dropped.
In September, Harwood exited CNN after attacking Trump as a “dishonest demagogue” in his final on-air appearance and Licht told staffers in June that he prefers they stop using the term “The Big Lie” when referring to Trump’s false claims of election fraud.
While Lemon has since remained at the network, his role was shaken up in September, when he was shifted from his primetime gig to leading the network’s as-yet-untitled new morning show alongside Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins.
Nicosia responded to Mediaite’s report Sunday by maintaining his original scoop. “The PR folks at CNN will defend to the end as they did Stelter,” he tweeted, adding, “try to find a negative post about CNN on this site in the last 5 yrs.”