CNN staffers are speaking out against the network's much-criticized decision to host a town hall with former President Donald Trump last week, with veteran journalist Christiane Amanpour slamming her boss, Chris Licht, by name in a commencement speech Wednesday.
Addressing the 2023 graduates of the Columbia Journalism School, Amanpour described the televised event as an "earthquake," and called out her management for allowing Trump to appear on the network’s airwaves.
"My management believes they did the right thing, a service to the American people. Some reports have written about important new thoughts and things that we learned from Trump's very mouth that night… Time could very well prove that Trump's electroshock therapy to the world jolts the undecided into greater awareness," Amanpour said. "For me, of course, the fact that the American people voted three times against Trump and Trumpism- 2018, 2020, 2022- also speaks volumes. We've done our duty. We have told the story. We have put that in everybody's awareness and people have had the opportunity to make their choices and they have done."
Amanpour also appeared to knock the performance of her 31-year-old colleague Kaitlan Collins, who moderated the town hall.
"We know Trump and his tendencies, everyone does. He just seizes the stage and dominates no matter how much flak the moderator tries to aim at the incoming. It doesn't often work. For me, I would have dropped the mic at ‘nasty person,’ but then that's me. I've been in the ring for a long time with many of these people," Amanpour said, referring to Trump's on-air insult of the CNN host.
Amanpour's comments were then prominently featured in CNN media reporter Oliver Darcy's "Reliable Sources" newsletter, with Darcy taking a swipe at his boss while covering Amanpour's remarks.
"After hearing out Licht, Amanpour told the Columbia Journalism School graduates that she had not been moved," Darcy wrote.
Notably, Darcy chose to lead his newsletter with Amanpour's remarks rather than the network's announcement that Collins will officially fill the long-vacant 9 p.m. ET timeslot, placing it the "Below The Fold" section.
Darcy then continued to undermine Licht's judgment as CNN's leader, suggesting in Monday's newsletter that CNN's ratings slump in primetime is tied to the backlash over the town hall.
"The move comes after CNN experimented with a wide array of programming in the 9pm slot. But, from a ratings standpoint, nothing really stuck," Darcy wrote. "Industry veterans and executives I've spoken with have often pointed to the fact that viewers want consistency in the evenings, which Collins will now provide. The decision to elevate Collins, capping her meteoric rise, comes at a crucial time, given that CNN's ratings in prime time have been sagging to dangerous lows."
CNN viewership has fallen off a cliff since the polarizing town hall. The ratings-challenged network managed 2.3 million primetime viewers last Wednesday for the event, but shed 77% of that audience the following evening when only 538,000 primetime viewers tuned in. As Darcy noted, CNN’s primetime viewership sunk even further to an average of 335,000 on Friday.
CNN's "emotional" media reporter is now under immense pressure from his bosses, with a spokesperson for CNN telling Fox News Digital "Oliver does not intend to resign." But it is unclear how long Darcy will last at the network as he continues to bash the town hall and question network leadership.
Meanwhile, Chris Licht is facing mounting criticism from his own staff as he struggles to turn around CNN's cratering viewership and quell the liberal network's polarizing perception. After Licht fired Brian Stelter and canceled CNN's long-running program "Reliable Sources" last year, Darcy took over the "Reliable Sources" newsletter that had previously been authored by Stelter. But it now appears that the CEO's decision to reprimand Darcy publicly may have backfired, with Puck News' Dylan Byers writing Wednesday, "In all my reporting on CNN over the last 18 months… I have never felt such an overwhelming sense of frustration and resentment toward Licht as in the week since the town hall, and never from such a broad range of sources."
The controversy surrounding CNN's Trump town hall is showing no signs of abating, with the future of both Oliver Darcy and Chris Licht's leadership at the network now in question.