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CNN taps Jake Tapper for key slot through midterms

Chairman Licht says goal is to create stability for audience while permanent changes are considered

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CNN Chairman Chris Licht is putting his stamp on the news channel’s prime-time lineup.

Last Thursday, the network announced that Jake Tapper will move to the 9 p.m. ET hour starting Oct. 10 and through the midterm elections to capitalize on interest in the battle for control of Congress.

The assignment is temporary, although presumably Tapper would stay in the time slot if the hour performs well with audiences. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Licht said his immediate goal is to create stability for the audience while he considers permanent changes.

“Right now I want to have a solid strategy through the midterms, which is our bread and butter,” Licht said. “That allows me some time to go and take some bigger swings.”

CNN’s 9 p.m. hour has used rotating hosts since the firing of Chris Cuomo in December. Cuomo, who was terminated over his involvement in advising his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is getting a new show in the hour on the cable network NewsNation starting Oct. 5.

Part of the thinking behind Licht’s move is to attract some West Coast viewers who may be watching the broadcast network evening newscasts, as Tapper will be seen at 6 p.m. PT. Tapper currently anchors “The Lead,” a Beltway-oriented news program that airs in the afternoon.

Tapper’s reputation as a straight-ahead political news anchor and not a partisan commentator will make the hour an alternative to the opinion-oriented shows on Fox News, which airs Sean Hannity in the hour, and MSNBC, which has Rachel Maddow and Alex Wagner.

After being hired for the top job at CNN in April, Licht said he wanted to change the perception of the network as being too far left politically. The proclamation — made in response to research and anecdotal evidence that showed audience trust in CNN has declined — led some columnists and critics on social media to suggest the network is chasing after conservative viewers who watch Fox News.

Some cited the cancellation of the Sunday morning media criticism show “Reliable Sources” — and the termination of its host, Brian Stelter, who had become a fierce critic of former President Donald Trump — as evidence that the network is swinging to the right.

Those claims are undercut by watching CNN for any length of time as its journalists continue to aggressively cover the legal problems facing Trump. Republican lawmakers continue to get tough questions when appearing on the network. However, short clips on social media — at times with the hashtag #BoycottCNN — are contributing to the narrative that there is a shift underway at the network.

Licht denied there is any change in political viewpoint aimed at attracting right-wing viewers.

“I am doing this with one mission, and that’s to make CNN a place where people can turn for the truth,” said Licht. “But if people don’t believe it, it’s like a tree falling in the forest with no one hearing it. So everything I’m doing is to restore CNN’s perception in the world of being an unbiased truth merchant. And it has nothing to do with left or right.”

CNN also is changing anchors on “CNN Tonight,” the 10 p.m. show helmed by Don Lemon. Legal analyst Laura Coates and current afternoon anchor Alisyn Camerota will take over the two-hour program, although it’s yet to be determined if they will appear together or in separate hours. That move also is slated to last through the midterm elections.

Lemon’s last appearance on “CNN Tonight” will be on Oct. 7 as he heads to a new CNN morning show with Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins. No date has been set for the new program’s debut.

The current CNN morning hosts John Berman and Brianna Keilar will fill in on “The Lead.”

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