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CNN president says network committed to ‘truth’ after Trump town hall

Despite lower ratings, CNN President Chris Licht says the world needs CNN now more than ever.

Despite lower ratings, CNN President Chris Licht says the world needs CNN now more than ever.

Television executive Chris Licht appears in an undated handout image.
Television executive Chris Licht appears in an undated handout image. (Image courtesy CBS/Paramount Global, Graphic by The Desk)

CNN President Chris Licht says the network is still committed to fact-based journalism, despite a ratings landslide in the days that followed a disastrous town hall-style program with former President Donald Trump that was widely criticized by viewers and media pundits.

Speaking to an audience of potential advertisers as the network’s annual Upfronts presentation, Licht said the Trump town hall event doesn’t change CNN’s commitment to fact-based journalism, which viewers can still count on the channel to deliver.

“When the world needs the truth, they can trust us to deliver it,” Licht promised. “We have doubled down on our commitment to you, the audience, by strengthening the role of journalism in daily life.”

Licht said CNN had unparalleled resources to deliver news and information from most corners of the globe — “we have greater resources, reach, and original reporting than anyone else,” he proclaimed — noting CNN has thousands of journalists across three dozen news bureaus that “supercharge our news-gathering operation to provide reliable news and information.”

“We’ve prioritized reporting over punditry to separate the news from the noise,” Licht claimed.

That wasn’t the case last week, when morning news anchor Kaitlan Collins was tapped to interview Trump in front of a hand-picked audience of hundreds. The town hall event drew 3.1 million viewers, according to Nielsen ratings, but also gave Trump a platform to spout election-related misinformation and other nonsense that went largely unchallenged.

One day after the event, Licht praised the town hall for “making news” at other outlets — specifically, Axios and MSNBC — and claimed CNN had done its job by showing the nation what a second Trump presidency might look like.

“I absolutely, unequivocally believe America was served by what we did last night,” Licht said on a conference call with CNN employees last Thursday. “If one was going to ask tough questions and have that conversation, it damn well better be on CNN.”

CNN viewers were not impressed. On Thursday, CNN’s grabbed an average of 538,000 viewers for its prime-time programming. One day later, the network logged 335,000 viewers in prime-time, putting it behind conservative commentary network Newsmax.

Still, Licht says he has faith in CNN’s ability to deliver good journalism to viewers, and expects the cable news audience turned off by the Trump town hall to eventually come back.

“CNN’s role in society has never been more important and more crucial than it is right now. We are in critical times, and no one can cover those times like CNN can, on every platform, as it happens,” Licht affirmed. “Obviously, all eyes will be on CNN for the upcoming 2024 election…the world relies on those three red letters in times of need and in times of celebration.”

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).