Veteran journalist Katie Couric doesn’t seem to think ratings-challenged CNN can hack it in the modern media era.
"It’s incredibly challenging in the current media environment to be a down-the-middle network," Couric told Variety in a report out this week.
Former CNN boss Jeff Zucker denied the widely scrutinized Variety story that indicated he’s eager to purchase the network where he was president for nearly a decade. Zucker was forced out of CNN last year ahead of a long-planned merger that put the network under the control of Warner Bros. Discovery.
New management led by Chris Licht briefly attempted to restore CNN’s more down-the-middle approach journalism after it sharply tacked to the left under Zucker, but Licht was fired last month amid widespread staff dissatisfaction with his leadership.
Couric, who briefly worked at CNN and later worked with Zucker when he was the executive producer for NBC’s "Today" and on her own talk show, doesn’t see CNN attracting non-liberal viewers anytime soon.
Veteran journalist Katie Couric discussed CNN’s "incredibly challenging" issues. (REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)
"It would take a truly brilliant programmer to figure out how CNN could once again become a town square with different perspectives on important, complex issues," Couric continued. "And even then, I’m not convinced people would even want to watch that in this hyper-partisan world. It’s a huge conundrum."
CNN’s ratings have been dismal for much of President Biden’s time in the White House. Last week, the long-straggling network managed only 594,000 average total viewers from 7-11 p.m. ET, compared to 2.1 million for Fox News and 1.4 million for MSNBC.
Licht, who was hand-picked by Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav "tamp down spectacle" that was rampant during the Zucker era, was fired in June after just over a year on the job. Licht was regularly attacked by liberal media critics for such moves as doing a town hall with former President Trump.
During the second quarter of 2023, CNN averaged a meager 463,000 total day viewers compared to 1.2 million for Fox News and 796,000 for MSNBC. (CNN/screengrab)
Some observers have accused CNN of returning to its Zucker-era style of liberal opinion programming in recent weeks. Earlier this month, the network was roasted for fixating on "imagery" of Special Counsel Jack Smith's trip to a Subway sandwich shop, as anchor John King branded the move as a "message to Donald Trump."
During the second quarter of 2023, CNN averaged a meager 463,000 total day viewers compared to 1.2 million for Fox News and 796,000 for MSNBC. During primetime, CNN managed only 573,000 average viewers while Fox News nearly tripled that total with 1.7 million.
While Couric’s quote was on-the-record, much of the Variety report on Zucker looking to purchase CNN has been questioned. Zucker’s spokeswoman Risa Heller denounced reporter Tatiana Siegel’s 4,000-word piece in a scathing statement to Fox News Digital.
Jeff Zucker, left, was replaced by Chris Licht in 2022. Licht was fired a little over a year later. (Mike Coppola/Getty Images)
"There used to be a time when Variety held its content and its reporters to a high standard of truth and facts in journalism, but those days are clearly over. It is stunning to read a piece that is so patently and aggressively false," Heller said. "On numerous occasions, we made it clear to the reporter and her editors that they were planning to publish countless anecdotes and alleged incidents that never happened. They did so anyway."
Couric now oversees her own operation, Katie Couric Media.
Fox News' Jeffrey Clark contributed to this report.
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Brian Flood is a media reporter for Fox News Digital. Story tips can be sent to