Don Lemon attempted to dispel the notion that CNN was ever “liberal,” as his new boss Chris Licht attempts to rescue the struggling network.
On Monday, “The Late Show” host Stephen Colbert asked Lemon about Licht, who previously served as the executive producer of the CBS late-night program before being tapped as CNN’s CEO following the ousting of Jeff Zucker earlier this year.
“Word on the street is that you guys aren’t allowed to be liberal anymore. Is that the case?” Colbert asked.
“I don’t think we ever were liberal,” Lemon responded.
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CNN’s Don Lemon speaks at Harvard University Kennedy School of Government Institute of Politics in a program titled "Race, Media and Politics" on Feb. 22, 2019 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
(Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images)
“What?” Colbert shockingly reacted. “That’s not me saying that, that’s the people out there saying he’s not letting you be liberal anymore.”
“Well listen, I think what Chris is saying is that he wants Republicans – sensible Republicans, he wants us to hold people to account, but he wants people to come on and feel comfortable with coming on and talking on CNN and appearing on CNN,” Lemon said. “So if you invite someone to your house, you want to make them comfortable but also by the nature of what we do, we have to hold people to account.”
“And so that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going liberal or conservative or whatever, it just means that we are doing what we do and that’s good journalism,” Lemon added.
“So accountable but not confrontational,” Colbert said.
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CNN CEO Chris Licht took control of CNN earlier this year after a long-planned merger that put CNN under control of the newly formed Warner Bros. Discovery.
(Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Warner Bros. Discovery)
“I think sometimes one must be confrontational,” the CNN host pushed back. “Look, I don’t think that a conversation on television should be any different than a conversation in person. Listen, I have confrontational conversations with people I love and I have unconformable conversations with people I love and I think it’s necessary. And I think it’s also necessary to do that on television, on CNN, but you can do that without being vitriolic. I think not being vitriolic is maybe a better way of putting it, but you can do that and not have vitriol. As people say, you can disagree without being disagreeable. And so I think that’s what our mission is.”
Licht has long been vocal about his efforts to rebrand CNN following years of hyper-partisan and extremely liberal coverage during the Trump era.
Several months into his job, Licht has made some high-profile personnel changes with the exits of Brian Stelter, Jeffrey Toobin and John Harwood.
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Licht attempted to place Jake Tapper in the 9 p.m. ET time slot, which had been vacant for nearly a year since the firing of Chris Cuomo. While Tapper was placed in primetime on a temporary basis, Licht reportedly envisioned Tapper as becoming the “new face” of CNN. However, Tapper was met with dismal viewership despite his flashy debut that featured interviews with President Biden and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
The first episode of "CNN This Morning" attracted only 387,000 total viewers.
Licht also pulled Lemon from primetime and made him the co-host of “CNN This Morning,” a newly-launched program that replaced the low-rated “New Day” only to debut with even a smaller audience.
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Lemon has repeatedly insisted his departure from having a solo primetime time slot to having a shared morning show with CNN colleagues Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins was not a demotion.