Jake Tapper hopes to dispel some doubts about his place of work. “I just want to reassure anybody out there that CNN’s commitment to standing up for democracy remains as strong as ever,” he told me over the phone this week, with Congress preparing for another public hearing on its investigation into the January 6 Capitol attack. “Jeff Zucker was a powerful voice in favor of it, and Chris Licht is too.”

Licht’s commitment to Tapper was evident Thursday, as the network announced that the Sunday morning and weekday afternoon host would shift to 9 p.m. through the 2022 midterms. The prime-time programming move, on the heels of a weekday morning shake-up, comes as Licht, who took over as CNN’s chief executive in May, puts his stamp on the network. It also comes amid concerns that CNN, under a new regime, is abandoning its unflinching coverage of assaults on the democratic process to appear more Republican-friendly. Brian Stelter’s firing was the first shot, which coincided with canceling Reliable Sources. Then veteran White House correspondent John Harwood announced he was leaving the network too, just hours after telling viewers that President Joe Biden was correct in calling out the threat of the MAGA right. “I really hope that we don’t both-sides democracy,” one staffer told Vanity Fair amid the fallout.

The new CEO has indicated a desire to phase out the combative editorial approach CNN took during the Trump era in favor of a nonpartisan bent (or at least the perception of such). Licht has reportedly met with House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, one of the 147 GOP lawmakers who voted to overturn the 2020 election results, and has reportedly advised staff against using ”the big lie,” a term he considers too close to the Democratic Party’s talking points. (Licht does support using the phrase “Trump’s election lie.”) Media reporters have explored the possible influence of John Malone, a conservative billionaire who is a major stakeholder in the new CNN parent company Warner Bros. Discovery, which completed a merger in April.

For the last year-plus, the network has pursued an aggressive approach to covering the end of the Trump administration and the January 6 riot, churning out dozens of exclusives and breaking the news on the infamous Mark Meadows texts, the Justice Department’s probe into Trumpworld’s fake-elector scheme, and numerous leaks related to the January 6 select committee’s work. It has aired every hearing held by the committee investigating the Capitol attack—the same hearings Republicans have cast off as partisan witch hunts. According to Tapper and CNN executive vice president of programming Michael Bass, the change in ownership, and leadership, will not impact the outlet’s dedication to January 6 coverage. “Our plan continues to be the same,” Bass said in reference to the network’s coverage of the committee, adding that CNN “will be all in on hearing days.” Bass, while acknowledging that changes are happening at CNN, noted that Licht has directed the network’s commitment to January 6 coverage “every step of the way.”

“When the very foundations of our country are under attack, what story could be more important than that?” he said. “So that would certainly qualify as a major story that Chris is very heavily involved in.”

CNN has joined every major news network—save for Fox News—in carrying the prime-time hearings live. Licht directed Tapper and Anderson Cooper to air two-hour recaps of the daytime hearings in prime time, per Tapper. The outlet intends on fully airing the January 6 committee hearing scheduled to take place mid-next week. Tapper also noted that his latest documentary—an hour-long special detailing the January 6 committee’s findings and Republican efforts to subvert future elections, which CNN aired on Sunday, September 18—“was Chris Licht’s idea.” The Sunday special was a follow-up to Trumping Democracy: An American Coup, a project that CNN’s documentary team had produced when Zucker was still running the show. Licht greenlighted a request from Tapper to air updated reruns of it over the summer.

[Break]

Like many other outlets, CNN experienced a post-Trump ratings plummet, but current audiences have shown a keen interest in the outlet’s laser-like focus on January 6. In July, 6 out of the top 20 longest-read articles on CNN’s site were related to its coverage of the committee. CNN Digital’s hearing live streams were all among the most popular events for the site, only trailing the 2022 State of the Union address and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The sixth hearing, which featured former Meadows aide Cassidy Hutchinson’s explosive testimony, was its third-most-viewed live event of the year.

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