The Bakersfield Californian
CNN needs a new chief — here’s the ideal candidate
The calamitous and widely panned CNN town hall with disgraced former president Donald Trump personified much of what is wrong with the mainstream media: the insatiable desire for sensationalism, the dereliction of duty to pursue the truth, infuriating passivity, and the normalization of lying and political extremism. (Disclaimer: I am an MSNBC contributor.)
Nearly as bad: the expected corporate defensiveness that followed, including CNN chief Chris Licht’s chewing out of media reporter Oliver Darcy for exhibiting the temerity to do his job (i.e. media criticism) in discussing his employer’s errors in providing an uncontrolled forum for Trump’s assault on reality.
Licht’s alleged encouragement of Trump to “have fun” and his refusal to acknowledge the fundamental error in presenting Trump in this fashion should disqualify him from management of a major news outlet. Instead of Licht, the cable news network that created the medium of cable news might consider putting a real journalist at the top of the organization. I’ve got just the person.
At the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism graduation, CNN chief foreign correspondent Christiane Amanpour provided a master class in controlled and graceful yet searing criticism of her employer.
“My management believes they did the right thing as service to the American people,” she said. “I still respectfully disagree with allowing Donald Trump to appear in that particular format.” She chided the naiveté in presenting Trump live with a studio audience. “We know Trump and his tendencies, everyone does,” Amanpour added. “He just seizes the stage and dominates, no matter how much flak the moderator tries to aim at the incoming. It doesn’t often work.”
Amanpour said that when Trump called interviewer Kaitlan Collins a “nasty person,” she would have “dropped the mic” — adding with a twinkle, “but then that’s me.” (She didn’t have to come right out and say that no self-respecting journalist should have to put up with that.) She made two constructive suggestions: Remove the studio audience and don’t put Trump on live. The latter would allow the opportunity to “stop the tape” and interject truth-telling.
More important, she asserted that it’s not the panelists and town halls but actual reporting that should be at the heart of CNN’s mission. “Journalism is about the truth, first and foremost.” Not “balance” and certainly not indulging in moral equivalence. She quoted founder Ted Turner’s initial vision: “To act upon one’s convictions while others wait, to create a positive force in a world where cynics abound, to provide information to people when it wasn’t available before, to offer those who want it, a choice.” Gosh, that sentiment sounds awfully attractive — and scarce.
“To hold the powerful accountable is not just a slogan; it is vital,” Amanpour told the graduates. “And when we do it well, it makes a huge difference. And when we don’t, it makes an equal but opposite difference.” She recalled the decision to not allow Sen. Joseph McCarthy, R-Wis., a platform unless he reached the “basic evidence level required in a court of law.” She continued, “Maybe less is more, maybe live is not always right.” Relevant to the upcoming campaign, she also warned about covering “one man’s well-trodden globally known disinformation and propaganda machine” and someone who is believed to have sought to cause the “overturn and overthrow [of] the legitimately elected government of the United States.”
As someone frustrated with the mainstream media’s lack of candor about Trump, its incessant effort to normalize MAGA radicals and its refusal to report what is so readily apparent (e.g., Trump’s irrational ramblings), I thought this distillation of what the media should be doing was a bracing gust of fresh air. And that got me thinking: Why isn’t someone who was there at CNN’s founding and who understands the true mission of journalism running the show — literally?
Well, Amanpour might not want that thankless job. Who could blame her if she preferred covering wars and grilling foreign leaders over making personnel decisions and dealing with ad revenue? But certainly she — or someone equally well-versed in the purpose and value of journalism, a real reporter — should be at the top of an organization dedicated to journalism.
If you aren’t a practitioner of real journalism, you might wind up hiring former aides of an administration that engaged in nonstop lying and treating MAGA Republicans with kid gloves so as not to lose access.
You find yourself filling hour after hour with panelists regurgitating the news someone else broke rather than bringing new information to your audience. In other words, you wind up with CNN of 2023, a journalistic laughingstock and a ratings loser.
If not Amanpour, CNN — and all news outlets — should be run by a player-turned-coach, someone who played the “game” at a high level and understands truth is the objective of journalism, first and foremost, as Amanpour put it. If we want better journalism, we need respected journalists to run important outlets. I’d pick Amanpour — but then that’s me.