Kaitlan Collins spent Wednesday night going toe to toe on live TV with a former U.S. President who refused to acknowledge her fact-checking of his many conspiracy theories and untruths, then berated her and talked over her. An attending crowd hooted and cheered. And that just may be a warm up.
Collins, the CNN up-and-comer who has gone from White House correspondent to morning anchor all before turning 35, is widely expected to be given new anchoring duties at 9 p.m., according to two people familiar with the matter. The hour is one of the most competitive on the cable-news schedule and has served as a home to some of the most popular hosts in the format, including Rachel Maddow, Sean Hannity and Chris Cuomo.
CNN declined to make executives available for comment. Puck previously reported the looming deal, which could be unveiled in days to come — barring unforeseen changes, or a pivot in the strategic thinking of CNN CEO Chris Licht, one of these people cautioned. Collins just wrapped a contentious town hall interview with former President Donald Trump, who used the occasion to spin conspiracy theories and press the notion that the 2020 presidential election was rigged.
Collins’ stature at the Warner Bros. Discovery-backed network has grown in recent weeks, and she has been seen holding forth at 9 in what was likely a test of her screen presence and viewer reaction to it. The pivot is a quick one — Collins was just a few months ago paired with Don Lemon and Poppy Harlow as part of CNN’s morning program — and reflects the pressures CNN has come under after the January 6 insurrection.
The network has long ceded a lot of ground to its more partisan rivals, Fox News Channel and MSNBC, but its viewership has dropped off noticeably in recent months, spurring Licht, who took over as CEO about a year ago, to try a bevy of new formats and new on-air assignments. Some of them have not borne fruit. CNN ousted Lemon just last month after the anchor’s outspoken style caused friction with his co-hosts and caused issues behind the scenes. If Collins does leave the morning program, Harlow, the last of the trio to stay with the hour, might be paired with other internal candidates, says one of the people familiar with the situation.
Collins was put in an impossible situation Wednesday evening, forced to press an aggressive Trump on his many legal entanglements and political lies in real time as he refused to cease talking and played to a crowd that cheered. Trump called Collins a “nasty person,” and refused to give credence to her efforts to steer the discussion to more factual ground. At some moments, Collins’ efforts to hold truth to power seemed akin to trying to stop a burst sewage pipe with a wine cork.
“Tonight, Kaitlan Collins exemplified what it means to be a world-class journalist. She asked tough, fair and revealing questions. And she followed up and fact-checked President Trump in real time to arm voters with crucial information about his positions as he enters the 2024 election as the Republican frontrunner,” the network said in a statement. “That is CNN’s role and responsibility: to get answers and hold the powerful to account.”
CNN has already tested other concepts at 9. Jake Tapper held forth in the hour for a few weeks last year, but ultimately decided to return to his two-hour perch in the late-afternoon. CNN subsequently has tried to fill the hour with a series of town halls; newsmaker interviews; and special format discussions. But it’s tough to market a program that changes regularly to an audience that comes to cable news out of habit or due to a connection with a specific anchor.
Collins had been working for the conservative website The Daily Caller in the middle of last decade when she started making appearances on CNN. She joined the network in 2017 under the aegis of its previous chief, Jeff Zucker. She became a regular Washington presence for CNN, and often tangled with the vicissitudes of the Trump administration. She was named the network’s chief White House correspondent at the age of 28, the youngest person to be awarded the title. Soon, she will have an even more prominent position.