Chris Licht has exited CNN a little over a year after he was hired as CEO, a short but turbulent tenure at the cable network mired in controversy, plunging ratings and a horribly haywire Donald Trump town hall event that irretrievably broke staff morale.
Licht was handpicked as CEO and Chairman of CNN Worldwide last April by Warner Bros. Discovery chief David Zaslav, who announced his firing Wednesday morning in an editorial call. The decision is effective immediately, according to a Wednesday morning release from WBD.
“I have great respect for Chris, personally and professionally,” Zaslav wrote. “The job of leading CNN was never going to be easy, especially at a time of huge disruption and transformation, and he has poured his heart and soul into it. While we know we have work to do as we look to identify a new leader, we have absolute confidence in the team we have in place and will continue to fight for CNN and its world class journalism.”
Zaslav also joined CNN’s staffwide editorial conference call Wednesday morning, saying: “I met with Chris and he will be leaving CNN. We’re in the process of conducting a wide search, internally and externally, for a new leader.” Puck was first to report the departure.
Zaslav said in the interim, the CNN leadership team will consist of Amy Entelis, Virginia Mosely, and Eric Sherling. David Leavy, brought on very recently as COO in a sign that Licht was in trouble, will continue running business operations.
The news comes days after The Atlantic published a devastating 16,000-word profile of the CNN boss, which alleged that Licht told former President Donald Trump to “have fun” during his May town hall on the network. The event was highly critiqued as providing a sounding board for Trump to continue spreading misinformation about the 2020 election and further defame author E. Jean Carroll.
Although the network initially claimed “GOP-leaning independents” would make up the audience for the Kaitlan Collins-moderated live event, the profile noted that Licht knew that the crowd would skew more towards MAGA enthusiasts.
Following the profile’s circulation, Licht apologized to staffers for distracting from the network’s work on an editorial meeting, saying “CNN is not about me. I should not be in the news unless it’s taking arrows for you.”
Despite his efforts to make it up to staffers — including relocating his office to a newsroom floor — CNN media reporter Oliver Darcy said in his daily Reliable Sources newsletter that “Licht has lost the room,” adding that his comments on the staff meeting “did little to move the needle.”
First beginning the position amid the ongoing merger of Warner Bros. Discovery in spring 2022, Licht immediately made his mark on the network known by enforcing policies to tone down any displays of partisanship by on-air talent.
By mid-September, media reporter and “Reliable Sources” host Brian Stelter was shown the door and his show canceled, reporter John Harwood exited after calling Trump a “dishonest demagogue” in his final on-air appearance and Don Lemon was shifted from his primetime gig to host newly rebooted “CNN This Morning.”
After lining up Lemon, Kaitlan Collins and Poppy Harlow to host the new morning show, which launched Nov. 2022 — which was likely part of Licht’s goal to “reimagine mornings” — the program quickly fizzled ratings-wise before Lemon’s abrupt ouster and Collin’s shift to a new primetime program will leave “CNN This Morning” in need of another rethink.