Anderson Cooper Finally Spills on CNN’s Chris Licht Era

Mike Blake/Reuters
Mike Blake/Reuters

CNN anchor Anderson Cooper has long sustained a reputation as a journalist solely devoted to the news, a straight newsperson who, in an interview with The New York Times in 2005, is “least of all interested in any TV anchor's opinion, and least of all my own.”

It’s a position he’s held to for his nearly 22 years at CNN, which is what made former CEO Chris Licht’s vision of the network so incomprehensible to him.

“I don’t know what Chris Licht’s analysis was,” he told The New York Times Magazine in a Q&A published over the weekend. “I don’t have much confidence that I actually know what he was thinking.”

When asked if such a lack of communication posed an issue, Cooper seemingly confessed to having been irked. “Yeah, that’s a problem. I mean, I read things in the paper, but I’m not sure what the point of it all was.”

However, as Cooper explained, meeting with Licht wasn’t a top priority, as he believed Licht’s vision for the network—one that sought to position itself as “centrist”—applied solely to CNN’s more opinionated hosts. Licht was eventually fired in June, and the network named former New York Times Company CEO Mark Thompson as his successor last week.

“My sense from Chris was there was not a lot we needed to hash out because I’m not an opinion host,” he said. “I’m talking to people from different sides and trying to be straight down the middle and represent things fairly and accurately. I keep my head down. I just try to do the best I can.”

He later added: “I don’t want to make it sound like I never had meetings with him. I did have meetings with him. I just think the things he viewed as his more immediate concerns did not involve me.”

The answer is not incongruent with Licht’s vision for the network, as the former CNN boss explained his distaste for opinion-heavy news coverage in The Atlantic’s profile that capped his short-lived tenure. “We are not an advocacy network. And if you want to work for an advocacy network, there are other places to go,” Licht said. “You can find any flavor of advocacy in a news organization that suits your need. We are providing something different. And when the shit hits the fan in this world, you’re not gonna have time for that advocacy anymore. You need an unbiased source of truth.”

The vision, however, failed to recognize the modern realities of both politics and media, allowing competitors MSNBC and Fox News to thrive as CNN’s ratings and profits fell. Cooper has often served as a middle ground, pressing subjects for answers while serving as a consummate newsman advocating for truth. That reputation manifested when he defended CNN in May for holding its abysmal town hall with former President Donald Trump.

But in his Times Magazine interview, he did a slight about-face on whether the town hall was appropriate, even as he maintained that there are justifiable times to book Trump for an appearance.

“I personally would not have chosen to do a town hall. The town hall format is a specific format that CNN has done effectively for a lot of candidates,” Cooper said. “I don’t think the first time Donald Trump came back on CNN — I wouldn’t have done a town hall, and if he’d said no, I would have said fine, then he’s not on. But that’s not my choice. I wasn’t involved.”

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