Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav backed the continued leadership of CNN CEO Chris Licht on Thursday, arguing that he is “rebuilding the network.”
The comments came during the MoffettNathanson Technology, Media, and Telecom Conference — and just days after Licht came under fire for hosting former president Donald Trump for the first town hall of his 2024 reelection campaign.
Zaslav contended that even when CNN’s ratings were good, the news network had a perception problem. “The overall brand,” he said, “the perception of the brand, was left lean.”
In fact, YouGov found last year that CNN was “the most politically polarizing media outlet” in the country.
But things appear to be changing, the CEO continued, pointing to a new survey that found overall trust in the network is growing.
YouGov found that in the first three months of the year, the network’s popularity rose five points compared to the last quarter of 2022.
“That’s what we’re going for,” Zaslav said. “Our view is, there’s advocacy networks on either side, that we have the best journalists in the world. We need to show both sides of every issue. If you went there after Roe v. Wade, you would turn to CNN and there’d be someone to the left, where this was the best day for them in 40 years, but when the moderator turned to the right, it was the worst day in 40 years. But we had both, all the time.”
Zaslav then praised network CEO Licht for continuing to lead the way.
“Licht is working really hard,” he said. “All the leadership at CNN is working hard.”
One success Zaslav pointed to is that “Republicans are back on the air.” He boasted that during the four days of the speakership vote in January, “we had 75 Republicans on the air, 41 went on us before they went on Fox News.”
Zaslav said he and Licht have reminded GOP politicians that “they’re not gonna get one more vote on Fox News.”
“CNN should be the place that people come for the best version of the truth and for journalism, and that’s what we’re building,” Zaslav continued. “Chris is rebuilding the network.”
And while it will take some time to completely restore the brand, he added, “advertisers are interested in CNN again, they don’t want to be part of an advocacy network.”
While CNN earns more from distribution fees than ads, Zaslav said, he’s had “meeting after meeting” where brands have said they support CNN’s efforts to shift its focus.
“They say, ‘We’re with you, America needs this,'” the CEO said. “Advertisers don’t want to be part of an advocacy network. Those are great businesses, but they do want to be part of a news network. So that’s kind of in its own category, and we’re making real progress on that.”