Edit, 8:15 AM EDT 9/17: It’s been suggested in the comments that if I’m going to do this, I should probably post links to the podcast that was the source of the original version of the story. This is dreadful and indefensible self-promotion, so, naturally, I’m doing it: The 8.19.22 Countdown Podcast
There was a second point in the comments that I should’ve underscored in the original diary. Several are asking how Licht, Malone, David Zaslav and the rest of Warner Brothers Discovery hopes to make money off a neutered CNN with neither the pizzaz nor propagandist skill of North Korean State Television. The answer is: they don’t. Malone is worth about $9,000,000,000. He did not buy CNN to make money off it. He bought it to mute it.
Anyway, long time no post.
If you hadn’t heard, I’ve resurrected Countdown as a daily podcast (wherever you get your blah blah blah) and it dawned on me that periodically some of the material I write for it might be relevant here — especially where fascism intersects with media. If you’d permit, I’d like to adapt stuff from the pod to the Kos.
So, let’s start here: Meet Chris Licht.
He’s the former MSNBC hatchet-man and CBS News hatchet-man who was brought in by John Malone, the billionaire fascist who’s taken over CNN, to return CNN to that middle road of journalism so perfectly represented by the modern Murrow...Bret Baier? You’ve seen the early results: Licht fired White House correspondent John Harwood. He cancelled “Reliable Sources” — the only such program in mainstream television, and its host Brian Stelter after nine years at the network. Stelter’s stuff on CNN made him such a target from the far right that you would’ve thought he was on the air 17 hours a day rather than once a week. The reason for that was simple: after MSNBC cut its 2009-10-11 deals to stop calling out Fox News, nobody called out Fox News and the rest of the lunatic right propaganda complex. Except Stelter.
Licht let it leak that these were cost-saving maneuvers, apparently unaware that anybody would know that between them, Harwood and Stelter had five contract years left. It’s the opposite of cost-saving: Licht just added five years of dead weight to the CNN salary cap. Other CNN talent got the message and within days, morning anchor Brianna Keilar and Jeff Zeleny tweeted near identical boilerplate GOP talking points about the presence of the Marines in the president’s speech at Philadelphia. Erin Burnett then did five minutes on New York Magazine’s nothingburger on the Hunter Biden computer. Just today ex-Fox propagandist Alisyn Camerota was interviewing Charlie Crist about the Ron DeSantis kidnapping of the 50 immigrants and positing that it couldn’t be kidnapping since the victims were so well treated by the people in Martha’s Vineyard who rescued them.
It will avail them not. Licht has already made the unfortunate Keilar disappear. He’s taken CNN’s most liberal surviving anchor, Don Lemon, and relegated him from primetime to the desert that is CNN mornings (down to an average of 80,000 demo viewers last month). Licht also neutralized Lemon by giving him two co-hosts: one who angrily insisted Biden should apologize to the fascists for calling the fascists “semi-fascists,” and another who CNN hired away from Tucker Carlson’s The Daily Caller. Licht now has two unanchored nighttime shows which he can give to Michael Smerconish or somebody like him capable of pushing GOP points or at best managing to waste 60 minutes at a stretch without saying a damn thing. I read that — as somebody who was virtually a CNN original (I was there, 1981-84, and again as a news anchor and reporter, 2001-02) I was one of Licht’s candidates to do a primetime show. Not true. No contact. It really made me sad that people thought it was possible — that’s not what Licht was brought in to do.
Chris Licht is there to dismantle the liberal parts of CNN. I know this because I worked with him at MSNBC, where he decided part of his job was to try to dismantle the liberal parts of MSNBC. He is a corporate lackey. Worse, he’s a corporate henchman. Here’s the story:
Perhaps the most amazing thing about my ten years at MSNBC was the fact that Joe Scarborough and his producers – especially his chief Henchman – ever got their own show on the air. Because, nobody I have ever worked with, in radio or television, in sports or news, in the 20th Century or the 21st, ever spent more time trying to screw with other programs on the same network, than Joe Scarborough. And until just about the time I left in 2011, the guy he sent in to do most of the sabotage for him, was this henchman. The reason this should matter to you is, Scarborough’s henchman was Chris Licht, and he is the new president of CNN. And if they scoured the nation to find the worst person to run CNN in a time when democracy is threatened by one political party and tepidly defended by another, it’s Chris Licht.
I know, I know. You turn on the TV and see Joe Scarborough and see exactly what I do: a blank, dazed, darting, paranoid, no-soul, stupid, check-engine-light-look. But, if you don’t trust me, trust my scars – my Joey Scars. Behind the vapid face, is a master saboteur. Early in 2008 the late Tim Russert phoned me and warned me that the GOP had upped its pressure on me. He said he had heard somebody in New York was going into office of the president of NBC News saying that Joe Scarborough couldn’t get “his friend” John McCain to come on to his new morning show because I was so critical of McCain. Tim wasn’t sure it was Scarborough, but if it wasn’t – who else could’ve gotten in to SEE the president of NBC News other than Scarborough’s executive producer?
The evidence for the new CNN president Mr. Licht being directly involved in interfering with programming to benefit somebody else’s friends or political cronies, was vague in 2008 – and not at all vague two years later. Early in January, 2010, the Republican candidate to fill the Senate seat of the late Ted Kennedy, Scott Brown, the former nude model, was at a rally, when one of his supporters talked about quote shoving a curling iron up the backside of the Democratic candidate Martha Coakley. Scott Brown clearly heard the remark and responded, quote, “We could do that.” On January 18th, on Countdown, I did a brief commentary about how unsuitable Brown was for public office.
I said he was an “irresponsible, homophobic, racist, reactionary, ex-nude model, tea-bagging supporter of violence against women and against politicians with whom he disagrees.” I had quotes from Brown, and videotape of him disparaging his minority opponent in a local election, to her face, at a debate, to back it up. An hour later Scarborough did a tweetstorm against me. “Olbermann calls Brown a ‘homophobic racist reactionary’ who ‘supports violence against women.’ How reckless and how sad. It is no longer enough to simply disagree with someone…Just as when Beck called the president racist, this sort of rhetorical extremism must be discouraged. It cheapens the debate.” Now there was a standing rule at MSNBC: You want to criticize another MSNBC personality? Go ahead. Have fun. But it must be on the air on MSNBC, and they must have an opportunity to reply, in real time, same show or in some face-to-face way. No hit and run. No tweetstorms. If you criticized them by name or by inference in any other medium? Newspaper interview? Radio? Social media? You were to receive an automatic suspension. The next day, January 19th, I called the president of MSNBC, Phil Griffin and asked how long Scarborough’s suspension would be.
Griffin asked me to come to his office. He said he’d already had a meeting about the tweets that morning… with… Scarborough’s Executive Producer. Chris Licht. Griffin explained that Scarborough considered Scott Brown a friend. More importantly, Licht warned Griffin that if Griffin followed through and enforced the suspension rule, Scarborough would have no other option than to go to the press, and tell reporters – especially reporters at Right Wing websites like Carlson’s The Daily Caller - that he had been suspended because HE was a conservative and I was a liberal, and that I – and not Phil Griffin – ran the network.
Griffin was scared. “What can I do?” I told him he could fire Scarborough and Licht, because they had just blackmailed him, and eventually he was going to have to fire them anyway, but that I knew he wouldn’t, and that I knew he wouldn’t suspend Scarborough, either. Griffin didn’t suspend him. A partial score: Scarborough’s Friends: 2; MSNBC Rules of Conduct: 0. But Griffin DID send out a memo to the entire company insisting that anybody who criticized another MSNBC show or host in another medium would be suspended. Except Scarborough. Who had just done exactly that. And then threatened his employers.On January 25th, Stelter’s old blog “TV Newser” got a copy of the memo. THEY wondered why Scarborough hadn’t been suspended. So they called the MSNBC president. Then they printed: “Griffin responds to TVNewser: ‘An important rule was broken. I spoke to Keith and he said in the spirit of teamwork and the flee flow of ideas, he didn’t think it warranted punishment or suspension. I also talked to Joe and he apologized to me…that’s why I made the decision that this didn’t rise to the level of punishment, but I felt it was necessary to reiterate my long-standing policy.’”
100% bullcrap. Totally fabricated. Licht and Scarborough had blackmailed their own boss, with a threat to smear them in the right wing echo chamber. They should’ve been fired on the spot.
In May, 2010, Scarborough said something on the air about a Democrat getting away with not being investigated for something. Markos Moulitsas (you may have heard of him) was not just a regular contributor to Countdown but somebody who had been promoting the MSNBC brand on that website for five years, sent a snarky but legitimate tweet questioning Scarborough’s credentials to criticize others who weren’t investigated. Markos invoked the staffer who died in an accident in Joe’s office. Scarborough then attacked Moulitsas on Twitter, inaccurately claiming Moulitsas had accused Scarborough of murder.
A few days later I got a phone call from MSNBC president Griffin. He told me: Chris Licht has been in to see me. Joe won’t put up with having Markos Moulitsas on his network any more. Not only that, but Licht says many of Joe’s friends who also appear in Dayside and prime time won’t come on if Markos Moulitsas is permitted to continue here. Chris is insisting Markos be banned from MSNBC immediately. Chris says he’s afraid that if we don’t, Joe won’t come in to work tomorrow. I laughed and congratulated Phil Griffin on the clear win-win.
Phil Griffin was very bad at enforcing MSNBC’s rules but very good at creating new ones on the spot to protect Joe Scarborough and Chris Licht’s friends. “I’m banning Moulitsas from any further appearances on MSNBC.” I said: “Phil, he’s a contributor to my show. You’re suspending my guest, who has driven hundreds of thousands of viewers to Countdown and MSNBC, and I don’t have any say in it. You are owned by Joe Scarborough and Chris Licht. What you now have to worry about it is whether I tell this story on the air tonight, or I wait and tell it later.” Phil now got conciliatory – because he was scared --and said it could be reduced to just a suspension if I cooperated. I told Markos this and he said he enjoyed his contributions to Countdown (he also did occasional appearances on the old Ed Schultz show) and if there were a chance at resuming them, he’d prefer to at least try that. Griffin suspended Markos Moulitsas and to my knowledge he’s never been seen on MSNBC since.
I wish I had better notes on some of my conversations from the 2008-09-10-11 era about my conversations with the hosts and producers of the other shows, like Schultz, Rachel Maddow, even Chris Matthews. I must’ve heard a variation of this statement a dozen times: “Guess who was in Griffin’s office explaining that such-and-such is Joe’s friend and Phil really needs to make sure we lay off him? Licht.” I remember one of my producers at the MSNBC version of Countdown, telling me that one of the other producers told him that Licht had gone to NBC News President Steve Capus, with a list of Republicans that Maddow and Olbermann needed to stop criticizing because they were Joe’s friends and we were hurting Morning Joe.”
What’s amazing is, that setting aside the issues of unrevealed torrid love affairs, when CNN fired 9 PM host Chris Cuomo, President Jeff Zucker and Senior Vice President Allison Gollust, they fired them, in essence, because they interfered with CNN content and practices to do favors for people who were their friends. Or, in Cuomo’s case, relatives. At MSNBC, interfering with MSNBC content and practices to do favors for friends was seemingly the only reason Chris Licht had a job. So CNN got rid of left wingers for a terrible violation of journalistic ethics, and then hired as president, a right wing henchman who had committed exactly the same journalistic ethics and who, for his act, just killed off the only national television show that regularly held up Fox News, Newsmax, and all the rest, for the threats to democracy they are.
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