Anderson Cooper Talks Chris Licht’s CEO Tenure, Trump Town Hall and His Own Focus as Broadcaster

By Mark Mwachiro 

As CNN transitions from Chris Licht to Mark Thompson leading the news organization, primetime anchor Anderson Cooper is opening up about Licht’s tenure as CEO.

In a wide-ranging feature Q&A interview with the New York Times, Cooper spoke about his personal and professional life. When asked if he understood CNN’s realignment under Licht, Cooper said, “I don’t know what Chris Licht’s analysis (of CNN) was. I don’t have much confidence that I actually know what he was thinking.”

On whether Licht or anybody from his team adequately explained the network’s repositioning to a more “centrist” position, Cooper said, “ I met with Chris and had a general sense of the concern. I don’t want to be unfair. I understood what the idea and the vision was. Obviously, I am a part of CNN, so I want CNN to do well and be respected, but I try to worry about stuff I actually have my hands on. For me, it’s the show that I work on. That is my priority, and I do whatever I can to make that as good as I can. My sense from Chris was there was not a lot we needed to hash out because I’m not an opinion host.”

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He added, “With Chris, I had a meeting with him when he first started and touched base from time to time, but we didn’t have a ton of communications.”

In the Times Q&A, Cooper readdressed the controversial Donald Trump town hall that aired live on CNN this past spring, and the network’s decision to host it. “Those are things everybody has struggled with and continues to. There are limitations to what journalism can do. You can point out facts. You can investigate and expose. You can confront, and you can do it over and over again, and people can consume that information and do what they will with it.”

He added, “There was a steep learning curve in figuring out how to deal with a candidate who is completely willing to lie and lies repeatedly and often. There’s a shamelessness in that, and only so much you can do about it from a reporting standpoint. Then there’s questions about, well, should there have been a town hall? Should there have been a live event? Should there have been an audience? All those are completely fair. I defended the concept of hearing from the person who’s the front-runner in the Republican Party. I still believe that person can be challenged in an interview.”

Cooper did say that he “personally would not have chosen to do a town hall,” but defended CNN’s use of the town hall format, saying that it’s a “specific format” that the network has used “effectively for a lot of candidates.”

When asked what could be fixed regarding the current state of TV news, Cooper didn’t specifically point out what was broken, but noted the hyper-partisan shift that has taken place within the industry.

He also said he wishes networks would devote more time and resources to covering world events. “We’re in an age where it’s people commenting and having strong opinions, but actual news coverage is really important,” said Cooper.

To those yearning for “the old days” of TV news broadcasting, defined by icons like Walter Cronkite; Cooper pushed back just a bit. “But the newsrooms were all white and straight, and the subjects covered were very limited. It is easy to look at another time and think it was so much better.”

Cooper is aware of what drives the current TV news arena but says he’s not phased by it. He added that worrying about the future and his show’s Nielsen ratings are not sustainable for him, and that his primary focus was “getting better at interviews, improve my writing, stop saying ‘um.’ I get all the business stuff. It just doesn’t interest me.”

But, Cooper is also attuned to the fact that his job will not last forever, saying, “How much longer can I be doing this? I don’t know. I fully expect someday my services will no longer be required or of interest and, like in a Charlie Brown spelling bee, some voice will go womp, womp, and then I will blip off the screen.”

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