Chris Licht is out as chief executive of CNN after a tumultuous 13-month tenure.
Chris Licht is out as chief executive of CNN after a tumultuous 13-month tenure. Licht sought to pull the network to the center after its sharp move left in the Trump years but was brought down by a series of perceived missteps culminating in a bombshell magazine profile that eroded confidence in his leadership.
- David Zaslav, the CEO of CNN parent company Warner Bros. Discovery, appointed Licht as chairman and CEO in May 2022. He informed CNN employees of his removal on a Wednesday morning editorial call. The news of Licht’s ouster was first reported by Puck News.
- “I met with Chris and he will be leaving CNN,” Zaslav told CNN employees on Wednesday, per CNN’s own reporting. Zaslav reportedly decided to fire Licht earlier this week after the Atlantic profile “crystalized concerns that Zaslav had in Licht’s leadership over the last several months.”
- Demands for Licht’s ouster from within the network exploded over the weekend after a 15,000-word profile in the Atlantic effectively destroyed any remaining confidence in his leadership, culminating in the decision to “part ways” with Licht on Tuesday evening.
- Zaslav put a temporary leadership team in place consisting of David Leavy, who began his job as CNN’s COO one week ago, and three veteran CNN executives: Amy Entelis, Virginia Moseley, and Eric Sherling.
- The Warner Bros. Discovery boss plans to conduct a wide internal and external search for CNN’s third CEO in just over a year.
- Licht was brought on to revamp CNN’s brand and broaden its appeal beyond the voraciously anti-Trump audience the network cultivated during the presidency of Donald Trump.
- His mission was met with dogged resistance from many staffers at the network and was hampered by a live town hall with Trump in May that drew widespread criticism within the network.
- Licht, 51, joined CNN after years running “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” as executive producer and showrunner. Previously, he rose to prominence in the media world for having launched “Morning Joe” on MSNBC and overseen the comeback of “CBS This Morning.”
- Axios highlighted the efforts of Jeff Zucker, the longtime network boss ousted in 2022 for an undisclosed affair with a colleague, to “obsessively knife Licht” and destroy his career. Zucker’s campaign was so all-encompassing that the “tension was made palpable in The Atlantic’s profile of Licht.”
- The New York Times recalled the disastrous “CNN This Morning,” an early brainchild of Licht’s hallmarked by on- and off-set tension and controversy. He moved Don Lemon to anchor the morning hour with Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins, only to fire him within months after he said GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley was not “in her prime” because she’s older than 50.
- Semafor’s Jenna Moon, Max Tani and Ben Smith explained “What the crisis at CNN means.” While on the surface Licht’s ouster is “a management debacle and a reminder that you can’t run a television network if you can’t keep your key asset, the high-profile on-air talent, happy,” it also represents “a strategic debacle in which cheap talk about shifting CNN from anti-Trump confrontation toward an imagined center simply didn’t find an audience.”
- CNN insiders told Fox News Digital earlier this week that the end was nigh for Licht and that “morale was at an all-time low.” Zaslav’s decision to appoint his top lieutenant David Leavy as COO of CNN was a sign to many that Licht’s days were numbered.
- National Review noted CNN’s finances also suffered during Licht’s tenure. CNN’s balance sheet was in “freefall” in 2022, with “only $750 million in profit generated last year, down from $1.25 billion the year before. Part of that decline is attributable to the shuttering of the streaming service CNN+, which Licht had to deal with as soon as he stepped into the job. There were dozens of layoffs as a result.”
- Breitbart’s John Nolte summed up Licht’s ouster with three words: “Trump broke CNN.” Nolte argues, “The walls really started closing in (if you’ll pardon the expression) on Licht after former President Trump’s CNN town hall triumph last month. Because Trump was allowed to state his beliefs and come off as charming and in command, the Woke Nazis in the media, including at CNNLOL, freaked out.”
© Dominic Moore, 2023