CNN Senior Media Reporter Says Chris Licht ‘Has Lost the Room’

“There isn’t anything Licht can do at this point to win over their support,” Oliver Darcy writes of the network’s disheartened journalists

CNN Chris Licht
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Chris Licht may have been humbled by the brutal portrait of his reign as CNN CEO in The Atlantic, but his apology to staffers in its aftermath fell largely on deaf ears, the network’s media reporter Oliver Darcy said.

“In the wake of The Atlantic’s explosive story, I’ve spoken with dozens of staffers across the company,” Oliver Darcy said in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter late Monday. “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.”

“There is one near-universal sentiment, however, that has been communicated to me: Licht has lost the room.”

Licht, who was portrayed in The Atlantic piece as someone who was out of tune with his own newsroom, told staffers Monday that he will relocate his office to a newsroom floor. But Darcy said that sort of effort is landing flat.

“As one anchor texted me,” Darcy wrote, “‘We don’t want his office relocated to the 18th floor, we want it relocated out of the building.’”

That remark and similar sentiment from other staffers came despite what appeared to be an evolution from Licht’s previous interactions with staff. “Staffers could hear the raw emotion in his voice as he spoke,” Darcy wrote. “And he invited feedback and offered self-reflection in a way that represented a marked departure from how he has governed in the past.”

“But Licht, notably, did not apologize for having disparaged CNN’s previous journalism, an omission in his remarks that did not go unnoticed by staffers, particularly the network’s health unit which has been infuriated by the attacks he leveled against the outlet’s Covid-19 coverage,” Darcy continued. “And, overall, the comments did little to move the needle. ‘Too little, too late,’ more than one employee said, summarizing the widespread attitude from staffers that I spoke with.”

Darcy himself has leveled sharp criticism at Licht, most notably when the reporter labeled the May 10 Town Hall featuring Donald Trump a “spectacle of lies” that served as an “unintended endorsement” of the former president’s falsehoods.

That criticism led Licht to summon Darcy in for a reprimand about his “emotional” coverage of the event.

But now, Darcy wrote, the situation at the network has spurred more journalists to voice their discontent, with some top talent going over Licht’s head.

“Over the last 72 hours, top anchors and correspondents have reached out to David Leavy, CNN’s newly installed chief operating officer and, more importantly, the trusted lieutenant of Warner Bros. Discovery boss David Zaslav, to offer their candid thoughts about Licht’s leadership,” Darcy wrote. “Suffice to say, in these conversations, CNN journalists have not been shy in criticizing Licht.”

Zaslav, Darcy continued, “understands the dire state of affairs” at CNN despite his public support of Licht.

“He wouldn’t have dispatched his top lieutenant before the publication of The Atlantic piece if he did not believe there was a problem,” Darcy said. “And the publication of the magazine’s article added gasoline to the raging fire.”

Darcy cited several media executives in saying it’s hard to see how Zaslav “doesn’t do something” in the wake of the Atlantic piece, as speculation runs rampant that Licht’s days may be numbered.

For the moment, Darcy said that Leavy is “counseling” Licht and “CNN leadership’s primary goal is to stabilize the ship.”