Chris Licht Out as Boss at CNN

June 7, 2023

CNN’s Chris Licht is out as Chief Executive following a tumultuous stint and plunging ratings at the cable news network.

The announcement came during CNN’s morning editorial call Wednesday from David Zaslav, CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, CNN’s parent company.

A four-person leadership team has been tapped to lead CNN in the interim.

Licht, whose last job before CNN had been as executive producer and show runner at CBS’ “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” had helped to launch MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” in 2007.

He had been a lightning rod at CNN for his decisions to move the network more centrist—but which many inside the network and elsewhere had seen as moving it toward the right.

“There are a wide range of emotions coursing through the halls of CNN. Some staffers are frustrated. Others are angry. Many are sad about the awful state of affairs that has taken hold of an organization they love,” wrote Oliver Darcy, CNN’s top media correspondent, in his newsletter earlier this week. “There is one near-universal sentiment, however, that has been communicated to me: Licht has lost the room.”

Other signs of Licht’s estrangement just this week included a decision that CNN’s PR team would no longer answer to him.

One of the final lynchpins in the decision to oust Licht was a blasting by critics of a CNN town hall last month with former President Trump, who’s running for reelection in 2024. Licht had orchestrated the town hall, during which CNN itself conceded that Trump had been allowed to unleash a “firehose of lies” in front of a friendly live audience. 

In an interview published Friday with The Atlantic, Licht had called the town hall “boring.” He was also critical of the network’s coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic under the leadership of former CNN boss Jeff Zucker. Licht also spoke at length about his vision for CNN as a news organization focused on sober facts rather than sensationalism.

In a memo to CNN staff, Zaslav wrote, “I have known Chris for many years and have enormous respect for him, personally and professionally. This job was never going to be easy, especially at a time of great disruption and transformation, and Chris poured his heart and soul into it. He has a deep love for journalism and this business and that has been evident throughout his tenure. Unfortunately, things did not work out the way we had hoped – and ultimately that’s on me. I take responsibility. Needless to say, we appreciate Chris’ efforts and dedication and wish him all the best.” 

The memo goes on to say, “CNN has the greatest journalists in the world… we are deeply committed to supporting them and the critical work that CNN does every day. We must get this right—and we will!”

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