Elon Musk just invited TV news hosts Rachel Maddow and Don Lemon to move their shows to Twitter like Tucker Carlson did after being fired from Fox News two months ago. The billionaire seems to want Twitter to supplant cable news as CNN struggles.
“No exclusivity or legal docs required!” Musk wrote in his Thursday tweet. “You will receive our full support. The digital town square is for all.”
The Twitter owner’s offer comes amid a chaotic time for CNN, the network where Lemon was a star anchor but was ultimately ousted after making sexist comments. CNN went through another convulsion on Wednesday when it terminated its CEO, Chris Licht, amid a decline in viewership.
Licht’s firing came shortly after a damning article in The Atlantic that described him as a hubristic leader without a real plan. His stint as CEO lasted only 13 months.
CNN’s profitability is also suffering. It averaged just 535,000 prime-time viewers in the first quarter, compared to 1.7 million for all of 2020. CNN’s profits were down to $750 million last year versus more than $1 billion each year of the Trump presidency.
In recent years, CNN’s leadership has had a fraught relationship with its reporters. In 2021, John Malone, a billionaire who sits on the board of CNN’s parent, Warner Bros. Discovery, told CNBC that it would be “refreshing” if CNN would “actually have journalists.” Tensions between talent and leadership intensified under Licht, who said he wanted to redirect the network away from “activist” journalism.
Licht’s decision to host a town hall with former president Donald Trump last month created controversy and drew the ire of several CNN reporters. During the town hall, Trump made repeated misstatements and called CNN moderator Kaitlan Collins a “nasty person” to cheers from his supporters in the audience.
The combination of CNN’s cultural and commercial problems come during an already troubled time for cable news more broadly. The number of Americans who own televisions and watch TV news is shrinking, and viewership of many broadcast networks have declined during the digital news era.
Musk, a self-proclaimed free-speech absolutist, wants to establish Twitter as a platform straddling broadcast, social media, and digital streaming.
“On this platform, unlike the one-way street of broadcast, people are able to interact, critique, and refute whatever is said,” Musk tweeted last month.
Musk also wants a liberal anchor to balance out Carlson, the conservative who launched his show Tucker on Twitter on Tuesday. Musk tweeted saying that he hoped “many others, particularly from the left,” would become Twitter content creators.
Since Musk bought Twitter and relaxed policing of what users post, hate speech and disinformation have increased on the service. Coming two weeks after Ron DeSantis’s glitchy presidential bid announcement on the platform, Musk’s Thursday invitation to liberal hosts Lemon and MSNBC’s Maddow is a continuation in his quest to turn Twitter into a “digital town square.”
However, the tech billionaire has been at odds with journalists since acquiring Twitter, including temporarily banning reporters “on a whim,” according to critics. Musk also officially labeled NPR’s account as “state-affiliated media,” leading to the outlet leaving the platform. Twitter later reversed the label, but NPR has not returned.
Maddow and Lemon have not yet responded publicly to Musk’s invitation to create shows on Twitter.
This story was originally featured on Fortune.com
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