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The expression “go woke, go broke” has picked up steam in recent years as companies that embrace liberal ideology have suffered, but new ownership at CNN and Politico indicate the catchphrase can apply to news organizations, too.
“CNN is learning the hard way that going hard left is bad for ratings and bad for business. Now a new German owner is trying to rid Politico of its liberal excess. Will this increase readers? It’s not working at all at CNN, perhaps because the damage is already done. Politico went all in on anti-Trump behavior, and it will be hard to come back from that,” a longtime media executive told Fox News Digital.
CNN famously drifted from a just-the-facts news organization to a partisan network loaded with liberal opinion hosts under former boss Jeff Zucker. But a long-planned merger put CNN under the control of newly formed Warner Bros. Discovery earlier this year – only a few months after Warner Bros. Discovery John Malone declared CNN should “evolve back to the kind of journalism that it started with, and actually have journalists,” during an interview that sent shock waves through the network’s newsroom.
CEO Chris Licht has made a series of personnel changes since taking over this year. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Warner Bros. Discovery)
The new regime, led by CNN CEO Chris Licht, quickly made it known he wanted to put an emphasis on news and distance itself from the partisan reputation it earned with nonstop attacks on Republican lawmakers and other conservatives. Licht has even met with Republican lawmakers in Washington attempting to salvage relationships, with the hopes that high-profile conservatives will agree to appear on the network when asked, and urged his anchors to use less polarizing rhetoric.
But former President Trump, a frequent target of CNN’s outspoken liberals, isn’t impressed.
“It used to be a very important network. It used to be a very important platform, I think they’ve actually gotten worse… they lost tremendous credibility, and they lost a lot of money in terms of brand value, but I have not seen any sign that they’ve changed,” Trump told Fox News Digital last month.
CNN has ousted left-wing media anchor Brian Stelter, who regularly attacked conservatives and protected liberals despite insisting he was a nonpartisan, and fellow liberals John Harwood and Jeffrey Toobin have been forced out, too. Don Lemon has also been moved from his primetime perch to a soon-to-be launched morning show.
Brian Stelter hosted his final “Reliable Sources” last month on CNN. (Screenshot/CNN/ReliableSources)
However, Trump’s team remains unconvinced that CNN will restore its once-nonpartisan reputation.
“Firing unwatchable anchors like Brian Stelter and demoting Don ‘Low Ratings’ Lemon is just good business — it is not an actual shift towards honesty and truth in their coverage. The network remains plagued by champions of fake news, including the former Hooters spokesperson, Jake Tapper, among others. Until there is an actual shift in reporting and accountability, CNN will remain a cable news disaster,” Trump spokesperson Taylor Budowich told Fox News Digital when asked about the network’s recent moves.
Trump isn’t the only high-profile conservative with doubts about CNN’s future.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., believes “the damage is done” for CNN, telling Fox News Digital at the National Conservatism conference this week in Florida that it’s “hard to forget” how partisan its anchors have gone during the Trump era.”
“How does Don Lemon rehabilitate himself into a straight news person again? How does Anderson Cooper do that after some of the things that they’ve said on the air over the years? That’s just two I think of who are high-profile figures who I’ve done interviews with in the past when they were at least tried to pretend that they were, you know, journalists or commentators that tried to give both sides a fair shake, but now it’s an unwatchable network,” Rubio said.
Rubio also participated in CNN’s famously hostile 2018 town hall hosted by Jake Tapper following the massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School.
“I just don’t watch CNN because you know what you’re going to get, and hopefully that’ll change because I think it’d be good for America to be able to have some accuracy and balance, but they got a long road ahead,” Rubio said.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., whose office has publicly clashed with CNN’s Jake Tapper over the anchor’s apparent ban on “election liars,” is skeptical of the changes the network wants to make.
“I think their brand is pretty much what it is, you know, it just is a far-left group of hacks,” Hawley told Fox News Digital at the conference. “I mean, we’ll see… I wish them well. They have like, what, five viewers or something. So if I were them, I’d try to change too.”
When asked if he doesn’t believe CNN can make its changes, Hawley replied, “I guess we’ll see… I’m not holding my breath.”
Senators Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Josh Hawley, R-Mo., speak at the National Conservatism conference in Aventura, Fla., on September 12, 2022. (Joseph A. Wulfsohn/Fox News Digital)
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., who oversees the National Republican Senatorial Committee spearheading GOP efforts to take back the Senate in the November midterms, revealed to Fox News Digital this week that he had spoken with Licht about getting more Republicans to appear on-air.
Scott refrained from predicting whether the liberal network’s rebranding efforts will sway conservative viewers to tune in, telling Fox News Digital “the proof is in the pudding.”
But even with the changes, the vitriolic liberal commentary on CNN hasn’t necessarily slowed. As recently as Thursday, CNN aired a conversation comparing Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis sending migrants to Martha’s Vineyard to Hitler moving Jewish people during the Holocaust.
CNN isn’t the only news organization, however, with new ownership that believes a nonpartisan approach is essential.
Mathias Döpfner, the CEO of the German media company Axel Springer SE, paid roughly $1 billion for Politico in 2021. He was recently the subject of a Washington Post feature that indicated the foreign mogul has similar thoughts as CNN’s new ownership when it comes to the liberal media.
“We want to prove that being nonpartisan is actually the more successful positioning,” Döpfner said.
Mathias Dopfner, CEO of Axel Springer SE, speaks at the 2017 Business Insider Ignition: Future of Media conference in New York, U.S., November 30, 2017. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)
While CNN has made changes to help shed its liberal label, Politico insists Döpfner’s comment was simply validation of its current format and its audience strategy isn’t changing.
“In an increasingly polarized media environment, POLITICO’s success is built upon the fact that it attracts influential readers from across the ideological spectrum who visit POLITICO.com throughout the day for deeply sourced political reporting,” a Politico spokesperson told Fox News Digital.
Liberal critics do not seem convinced, particularly as they sounded the alarm at a resurfaced email Döpfner sent to close confidants weeks before the 2020 presidential election that signaled support for then-President Trump.
“Do we all want to get together for an hour in the morning on November 3 and pray that Donald Trump will again become President of the United States of America?” Döpfner asked in the email.
The message was in reaction to reporting about the Trump administration aiming to file an antitrust lawsuit against Google.
In a bizarre exchange, Döpfner initially denied to the Post that he had written that email, declaring “That’s intrinsically false… That doesn’t exist. It has never been sent and has never been even imagined.”
However, when shown a printout of the email, Döpfner conceded he may have sent it “as an ironic, provocative statement in the circle of people that hate Donald Trump,” adding, “That is me… That could be.”
Verified liberals on Twitter blasted the Politico owner, panicking that the news outlet would drift to the political right.
06 October 2020, Berlin: Mathias Döpfner, CEO of Axel Springer SE, speaks to the guests at the opening of the new Axel Springer building. Photo: Kay Nietfeld/dpa (Photo by Kay Nietfeld/picture alliance via Getty Images) (Kay Nietfeld/picture alliance via Getty Images)
Porter Bibb, a famed journalist-turned investment banker who wrote the 1993 biography of CNN founder Ted Turner “It Ain’t As Easy As It Looks: Ted Turner’s Amazing Story,” feels Licht is scrambling to return the network to its original stature as a news-centric voice with on-site coverage of critical and breaking news.
“He inherited the CNN job despite significant Warner Bros. Discovery shareholder John Malone’s advocacy of all news, without bias and less talk and opinion. Malone was echoing CNN founder Ted Turner’s strong desire to see CNN return to its roots,” Bibb told Fox News Digital.
Bibb believes CNN has “lacked capable news management since Jeff Zucker began trying to make stars out of lightweights like Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon” and Licht must insist on “less-liberal bias” among its on-air hosts if the network is going to thrive.
“CNN has lost its way,” he said.
As for Politico, Bibb believes Döpfner should mirror Insider – another Axel Springer SE asset — and focus on breaking news instead of worrying about the political perspective of its content.
“What Mathias Döpfner will do with Politico can’t replicate what his German media have or Politico will lose even its high-end subscription business. Insider exists — and thrives — because it breaks business news,” Bibb said. “It is going to be tougher and tougher for any news medium to adhere to a hard news format, but Döpfner has the intellect and ability to keep Politico honest.”
Despite widespread skepticism, Grabien Media founder Tom Elliott is happy people are at least trying to improve the media landscape.
“We’ve been witnessing the mainstream media commit collective suicide for many years now. It’s good to see there are at least a few people out there trying to stage an intervention,” Elliott told Fox News Digital.
Brian Flood is a media reporter for Fox News Digital. Story tips can be sent to [email protected] and on Twitter: @briansflood.