CNN’s new boss has tapped a hard-charging, controversial executive to run the struggling network’s newsroom — with some of the rank and file claiming that she is a “tyrant” with “no people skills whatsoever”.
Mark Thompson — a British-born media mogul who took the helm as CNN’s CEO in October — on Wednesday named Virginia Moseley to the new role of executive editor at the left-leaning outlet.
CNN staffers were immediately on edge over the promotion of 61-year-old Moseley, according to sources. While one insider called her an “astute, excellent journalist,” others complained about Moseley’s fierce approach to management.
“Tyrant is the word that you hear used the most to describe her,” said a source. “She has reduced reporters and producers to tears. She fires before she aims.”
The source added that Moseley “swirls things up,” “magnifying” small mistakes, “blowing them up” to make you feel like “the whole world is coming unglued and she alone can fix it.”
Moseley had been part of a trio of interim execs steering the network after Thompson’s predecessor Chris Licht was ousted after roughly a year at the helm.
At the time, sources described Moseley as a manager with an “iron-fisted” work ethic, demanding everyone show up to the office during the pandemic.
Some CNN sources sang Moseley’s praises, saying she is “passionate leader” who “goes to bat” for her reporters.
They added that she is liked by on air-talent and holds formidable expertise in Washington politics.
“Virginia is an amazing leader,” chief operating officer David Leavy told The Post. “You don’t get to this level without making some hard decisions. She’s extraordinarily well-respected.”
“She’s a brilliant newsperson, who has guided us through some difficult news stories,” Leavy added, referring to CNN’s coverage of the Israel-Hamas war.
“You can be an excellent journalist without being an a–hole,” countered another source. “There was an undercurrent of hope that Mark would find someone else [for the role].”
“People are shocked,” added a third source, explaining that the promotion demonstrates that Thompson hasn’t been listening to employees — and that it doesn’t bode well for the network’s future.
Neither CNN nor Moseley commented.
Insiders noted that Moseley has strong relationships with both Thompson and Leavy, the powerful consigliere of David Zaslav, the CEO of CNN-parent Warner Bros Discovery.
“Mark has a good rapport with Virginia. He cites conversations they have about stories [in the morning meeting],” a network source added. “She is very good about laughing and smiling — and then she’ll turn around and cut you. She talks. She stirs things up.”
While some inside CNN said that Thompson’s elevation of Moseley didn’t meaningfully change much, others said it solidified fears from New York-based staffers inside — namely that coverage is too DC-focused.
Moseley spent 10 years at CBS News and had a stint at ABC News before joining CNN in 2012 to manage CNN’s White House, National Security and Justice Department, among other political reporting teams.
Sources noted that the exec, who is married to Tom Nides, vice charman of Wells Fargo and former US ambassador to Israel in 2021, is very in tune with DC politics, as is Eric Sherling, executive vice president of TV programming.
Thompson revealed the controversial promotion Wednesday as he laid out a strategy to pump up the cable network’s digital presence as it faces continued cord cutting.
Thompson said in a memo obtained by The Post that he plans to create a “multimedia newsroom” that will combine all of the network’s newsgathering operations into one unit that will serve its TV, streaming and digital platforms, along with a division that will explore growth opportunities.
As part Thompson’s announcement Wednesday, the exec said he wants to monetize CNN’s offerings, possibly via subscriptions, and to find a better way to show video news on phones, as a way to appeal to younger viewers.
“I don’t think anyone’s yet cracked the code on how that translates, truly translates to a great news experience,” Thompson told The Wall Street Journal in an interview the same day.
He said that if CNN “can figure out a way of doing that and make sure it’s a high quality, differentiated product,” people should be willing to pay for it.
Thompson, a former CEO of The New York Times, did not announce any concrete plans on new products or specific business models.
There has been much speculation that the exec might borrow from his old playbook at The Times where he launched the outlet’s subscription products business, which focused on areas like travel and health.
He told The Journal that although that specifically isn’t his plan, CNN needs to look at those ideas “honestly” and “start with news” as it is a “central proposition that the CNN brand brings to mind.”
“I’m not even sure that subscription is the right pathway for CNN,” Thompson said. “But I do think we need to start experimenting and exploring in the broader sense direct-to-consumer relationships and potentially direct-to-consumer paying relationships.”
In order to put the somewhat amorphous plan into action, Thompson also elevated CNN International general manager Mike McCarthy, who will become managing editor, and he hired Alex MacCallum, who recently departed The Washington Post, as executive vice president of digital products and services.
Like other cable execs, Thompson is grappling with the network’s linear TV ratings erosion, as younger viewers turn to streaming.
He said in his memo that “CNN has been slow to respond to the challenge. Perhaps that’s not surprising: the CNN of today is no longer that buccaneering outsider but a tenured incumbent.”
The exec added that CNN’s strength is when “big stories break” but that there’s “there’s currently too little innovation and risk-taking.”
While he noted that CNN’s cable TV will play a “central and vital role” in its success, the network must address the “long-term economics of TV” and would be “looking hard” at how to put its “TV production machine on a sustanainable footing” without negatively impacting the jornalism.
Licht addressed that problem via a round of cost-cutting that eliminated hundreds of positions.
He also attempted to retool CNN’s morning show and primetime lineup with new show launches and anchor shakeups, but the network sunk deeper into last place, and the backlash against the embattled exec only grew.
CNN has seen major declines in ratings, even as it has been an issue across all television.
This week, it placed third to Fox News and MSNBC in total viewership for the Iowa caucuses, a breaking news event that in the past had been a ratings boon for the network.
While CNN beat MSNBC in the all-important 25-year-old to 54 demographic, total viewership across the three major news networks were about half what they were for the 2020 caucuses, Nielsen ratings revealed.
Thompson did not mention any programming changes, specifically, but said the network would reinvest in originals under Amy Entelis, who was named executive vice president of talent, CNN Originals and creative development. CNN veteran Entelis had most recently helped run the network after Licht departed.
Under Licht, CNN had scaled back its orginal gilm and series, dropping shows like “Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy,” which has moved to the National Geographic Channel.
Thompson also made other executive changes in business development, communications and human resources teams, among others.
The CEO ended his memo with a rallying cry to employees: “We need to organize around the future not the past,” he wrote.
“We need to recapture some of the swagger and innovation of the early CNN. It’s time for a new revolution.”