CNN’s CEO is on the Hot Seat After Devastating ‘Atlantic’ Profile

Chris Licht, the CEO of CNN, apologized to his employees on Monday for the negative press coverage his network earned over the weekend after a wide-ranging profile of Licht was published in the Atlantic on Friday.


Chris Licht, the CEO of CNN, apologized to his employees on Monday for the negative press coverage his network earned over the weekend after a wide-ranging profile of Licht was published in the Atlantic on Friday.

  • “I know these past few days have been very hard for this group,” Licht reportedly told his staff on a Monday morning call. “I fully recognize that this news cycle and my role in it overshadowed the incredible week of reporting that we just had, and distracted from the work of every single journalist in this org. And for that, I am sorry.”
  • Licht specifically pointed to a 16,000-word profile of him by Tim Alberta that was published in the Atlantic on Friday.
  • Alberta’s story, “Inside the Meltdown at CNN,” was the product of multiple on-the-record interviews with Licht that sought to explore how everything went wrong for Licht after one year at the helm of CNN.
  • Alberta described a CEO totally disconnected from his staff, “barely” interacting with his team at a dinner in Washington and “presenting a clearer vision for CNN to his personal trainer than he has to any of his employees.”
  • Licht has presided over historic ratings lows for the network as it has struggled to appeal to viewers in prime-time and in the morning amid a reset of the network’s tone after becoming aggressively partisan during the Trump years.
  • At one point in the profile, Licht appeared defensive when asked if Warner Bros. Discovery boss David Zaslav allowed Licht to “be himself” as CEO. “Where does that question come from? What are you getting at? Like, myself?” Licht asked. “I think it’s very different — a CEO job is just very different. Every word you say is parsed. Every way you look at someone is parsed. It’s just different. So I try to be as much of my authentic self as possible within the natural confines of the job.”
  • All the while, ex-CNN boss Jeff Zucker is reportedly “obsessively trying to knife” Licht with constant leakers to friendly reporters and through routine communication with CNN’s current stars. The New York Times called Zucker “a kind of grievance switchboard for current and former employees of the news network.”


reporting from the left side of the aisle


  • The New York Times profiled Jeff Zucker, the former CNN boss who forced out last year and replaced with Licht. Zucker “seems to think” he can “fix CNN,” according to those close to him, and holds his successor in “low regard.” Zucker told a group of NYU students, “I gave them a gun, and they shot me with it,” referring to the workplace affair that led to his ouster.
  • Ex-CNN media reporter Brian Stelter penned a takedown of Licht for New York Magazine. Stelter reported the Atlantic report led to “delicate conversations with CNN personalities who signaled that they have lost confidence in Licht as a leader. Some top anchors want him out. “I feel like a quarterback without a coach,” one anchor commented Sunday.” Stelter continued, “That anti-Licht sentiment is shared by many in the CNN rank and file, and has existed to some extent for months, but The Atlantic article cemented it. In the words of three employees: “He’s over.” “He’s done.””
  • Axios summed up how Licht’s confidence led to his unraveling. Licht “allowed extraordinary, months-long access to a magazine writer. The result is devastating…a brutal portrait of the head of one of the world’s most famous, consequential and profitable brands — in what’s destined to become an iconic magazine profile.”



  • Fox News highlighted a portion towards the end of Alberta’s profile where he “shed light on his struggle to speak with David Zaslav, the CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery which owns CNN.  Zaslav had previously been vocal with his support for Licht, who over the past year has taken slings and arrows from the left for carrying out the mission to move CNN away from its perceived liberal partisanship. However, according to Alberta, Zaslav resisted from personally vouching for his top deputy, at least on the record.”
  • National Review noted CNN employees have reacted with “frustration and anger” following the Atlantic profile that apparently left many at the network “completely blindsided.” Quoting Stelter, ““The consensus, among people who knew @TimAlberta’s piece was coming, is that it’s much ‘worse’ than they expected. Licht confided in Alberta the way a client confides in a therapist.”
  • The New York Post emphasized the appointment of David Leavy, a Zaslav lieutenant, as COO of CNN “could be “the beginning of the end” for network chief Chris Licht, who must answer to a meddlesome boss while being undermined by a newsroom loyal to his predecessor.”


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© Dominic Moore, 2023