CNN's Lurch To Right Not Unprecedented For CNN

On November 14, 2006, on his very first cable news program, Glenn Beck interviewed then-congressman-elect Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the House of Representatives.

“No offense, and I know Muslims. I like Muslims,” he said, “With that being said, you are a Democrat. You are saying, ‘Let’s cut and run. And I have to tell you, I have been nervous about this interview with you, because what I feel like saying is, ‘Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.’ ”

Any guess what network that happened on? Well, it wasn't Fox News.

It was CNN. Yes, we have CNN to thank for Glenn Beck's transition to cable news. In those days, Beck hosted CNN's "Headline Prime," airing every night at 9 p.m. This was not some one-off. Beck was CNN's primetime guy for three years before leaving for HLN for another two. It also was not a situation where they didn't know exactly what they were getting. Not even a month before he started at CNN, Beck said on his radio show that there were only three reasons why immigrants came to America: "One, they're terrorists; two, they're escaping the law; or three, they're hungry. They can't make a living in their own dirtbag country." His solution: "You put up a giant fence. You stop the people who are coming here because they're criminals or they want to do us harm."

This primetime lineup also included Nancy Grace, badgering the mothers of missing children to the point she was accused of driving one to suicide and had to settle a lawsuit to that effect, and railing against the presumption of innocence. Plus, Lou Dobbs was there in all his xenophobic glory.

Network executives also considered poaching Keith Olbermann from MSNBC, but CNN President Jim Walton rebuffed the idea. “I’m not gonna be the guy who’s gonna turn CNN into an opinion network,” he said.

And that is just the sort of neutral, nonpartisan programming new CNN head Chris Licht is hoping to return to. Last month, he said he wanted anchors to stop using the phrase "The Big Lie" to refer to the lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump, went on what right-wing outlets like the Washington Free Beacon called an "apology tour" to congressional Republicans.

The network boss camped out in mid-July in a room on the first floor of the Senate side of the Capitol, S-120, where he asked GOP lawmakers to come talk with him privately. That arrangement avoided alerting the reporters who stalk the halls of the Capitol, sources said, and accommodated Republican lawmakers who preferred not to be seen hobnobbing with him.

Licht's message, according to one of the lawmakers who sat down with him as well as to several sources briefed on the exchanges: "We want to win back your trust."

The CNN chief spent between 45 minutes and an hour cajoling GOP lawmakers who no longer appear on the network to come back on the air — and assuring them he'd praise producers for inviting them and communicate his displeasure if he doesn't believe they are treated fairly

"I think he does genuinely want that to happen," one Republican lawmaker told the Washington Free Beacon. "Put aside ideology, I think he thinks CNN sucks."

That's so sweet, really.

In pursuit of this "fairness," Licht axed "Reliable Sources" and its host Brian Stelter, who is pretty much a moderate, for being too liberal.

“It is not partisan to stand up for decency and democracy and dialogue,” Stelter said in his final monologue, which he stressed was unvetted by CNN management before he delivered it live. “It is not partisan to stand up to demagogues – it’s required, it’s patriotic.”

He added: “We must make sure we do not give a platform to those who are lying to our faces.”

CNN gave Stelter his marching orders last Wednesday, just four months after the network came under new leadership appointed by its owners, Warner Brothers Discovery. CNN head Chris Licht, who took over after the February departure of Jeff Zucker, has indicated that he wants to tone down the opinion quotient of its shows and “return” to an older, straighter and in his view less overtly leftwing style of reporting.

Perhaps ironically, perhaps on purpose after the last episode of "Reliable Sources" aired, CNN's Jake Tapper allowed Texas GOP Rep. Dan Crenshaw to lie to his face and the faces of his audience members and say, "I still haven’t seen any evidence that Trump was even asked to give [the documents the FBI retrieved in its Mar-a-Lago search] back."

Now, it is entirely possible Crenshaw has not personally seen the subpoena Trump received this past spring, requesting that he hand over those documents, but its existence is relatively Google-able. Heck, there's even an article about it on the Fox News website.

There has been a lot of speculation that John Malone, a major investor in Discovery Networks, which recently merged with CNN and Warner Media, is behind many of these changes, due to his far right political views, though Malone swears he has nothing to do with anything and just wants the news portion of CNN's programming to be more "centrist."

I'm gonna need to point out that even during the Trump years, CNN did not actually "lean left" in any capacity. Hell, they had freaking Rick Santorum as a commentator. There is a very big difference between being left-leaning and simply being institutionalist at a time when the Right is attacking institutions. The fact is, with the Right as far right as it is in this country, those who would be considered not just moderates, but center-right conservatives in other countries, are considered radically left-wing. In order to be "neutral" in the United States, one would have to lean very far to the right. If the neutral position is that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Marjorie Taylor Greene are equally extreme, that is a right-wing position. The halfway point between "We should take care of the planet before it implodes and have socialized healthcare like practically every other nation on earth" and "Jewish Space Lasers" is going to be pretty far to the Right.

#BoycottCNN was trending Sunday, but that may not even be necessary. Because really, who is even going to bother watching? As desperately as the pundit class wants to believe in it, there just isn't some massive untapped audience of Rockefeller Republicans, and those that do exist are probably already watching.

[Washington Free Beacon / Guardian]

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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse


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