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David Zaslav wants to differentiate CNN from “advocacy networks”


The boss of Warner Bros. Discovery’s David Zaslav wants CNN to focus on facts and distance itself from a cable news industry that he says is monopolized by “defense networks.”

Zaslav, who took over as helm of the new company this week, wasted no time laying out his vision for the media giant, which includes HBO, CNN, TLC, HGTV and movie studio Warner Bros. AT&T spun off WarnerMedia in a $43 billion merger with Discovery, which closed last Friday.

In an hour-long interview Thursday with Oprah Winfrey at a theater on the grounds of Warner Bros. in Burbank, Calif., Zaslav addressed questions about CNN’s future, as well as the company’s various streaming offerings and its $3 billion savings plan.

The CEO told Winfrey that CNN should be about reporting, truth and facts. “If we get that, we can have a civilized society,” he said. “And without that, if everything becomes advocacy, we don’t have a civilized society.”

David Zaslav, the CEO of the new Warner Bros. Discovery, said it would focus on amplifying CNN news reporting.
Getty Images for Discovery, Inc.

CNN has been under the microscope for much of the year for its mishandling of high-profile scandals under former boss Jeff Zucker. Chief among them was Zucker’s handling of CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, whom he fired in December. The anchor was discovered to be secretly helping the defense of his beleaguered older brother, former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, following allegations of sexual harassment which led to his resignation.

Shortly after, Zucker resigned in February, citing a romantic relationship with a colleague. The imbroglio caused an outcry among CNN staffers, who were angry at Zucker’s exit and the idea that Cuomo would get a massive severance package, despite breaking journalistic standards over his brother’s coverage. .

But even before that, billionaire media mogul John Malone – a close confidant of Zaslav – and member of the merged company’s board of directors, criticized CNN for its biased coverage.

The Cable News Network (CNN) logo adorns the top of the CNN offices on the Sunset Strip
CNN has been weighed down by scandal in recent months, following the departures of presenter Chris Cuomo and longtime boss Jeff Zucker.
Getty Images

“I would love to see CNN go back to the kind of journalism it started with, and have reporters, which would be unique and refreshing,” Malone said in an interview with CNBC last November. “I believe good journalism could have a role in this future portfolio that Discovery-TimeWarner will represent.”

Under Zucker’s successor, Chris Licht, an executive producer with stints on MSNBC’s “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and “Morning Joe,” CNN is set to undergo an overhaul that will include more hard news and fewer opinion programs. , sources told The Post. .

This includes a closer look at the strategy behind the network’s new CNN+ streaming service, as well as, more broadly, a scalpel to the layoffs of the media giant’s streaming services, such as HBO Max and Discovery+.

At Thursday’s meeting, Zaslav warned that staff cuts were likely as he continued to cut layers of leadership and combine jobs. As part of the CEO’s focus on cost savings, he reiterated his intention to combine the two services.

A general view shows the scene during a guided tour ahead of a Democratic presidential debate sponsored by CNN and Facebook at Wynn Las Vegas
CNN has been criticized for moving from its journalistic roots to more politically slanted coverage.
Getty Images

“We don’t want to go to eight places. We want to go one place and we want to see everything we want to see,” Zaslav told consumers at Discovery at the time, according to the Wall Street Journal. “When we put it all together, we had a lot more success.”

Hollywood insiders were worried about the strategy because it could bury some of the media giant’s vast content. Others were more concerned that Zaslav was focusing too much on cost reduction and wondered. whether the CEO has the “belly” to spend on big-budget movies and TV shows to fuel business growth while cutting costs.

They said Zaslav might be offended by the stickers, as budgets are much larger for film than for reality TV, which is the bulk of Discovery’s business.

“He’s a very smart guy,” a studio exec told The Post last month, dismissing that concern. “I think he is up to the task.”

New York Post

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