David Zaslav Says ‘I Take Responsibility’ in Memo to CNN Staff After Chris Licht Ouster

Licht, who was handpicked by the Warner Bros. Discovery CEO, was overwhelmed with criticism from former and current network staffers alike

David Zaslav and Chris Licht Warner Bros. Discovery CNN
David Zaslav and Chris Licht (Credit: Dia Dipasupil/Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)

Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav addressed the ousting of his handpicked CNN CEO Chris Licht in an internal memo to employees on Wednesday.

“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,” Zaslav wrote. “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.”

Licht’s tenure, which began when he assumed the position of CEO and Chairman of CNN Worldwide in April 2022, was mired in criticism from former and current CNN staffers alike, including former CNN CEO Jeff Zucker, whom Licht succeeded.

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 was 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.

The trouble for Licht culminated last week 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.

Zaslav, who did not comment on the record for The Atlantic profile, told the outlet in a statement that “we have great confidence in the progress that Chris and the team are making and share their conviction in the strategy.” 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.”

Zaslav told staffers in an editorial conference call on Wednesday morning that the company is in the process of conducting a wide search internally and externally for CNN’s new leader.

In the interim, Licht will be replaced by talent and content development executive vice president Amy Entelis, editorial executive vice president Virginia Moseley and U.S. programming executive vice president Eric Sherling. Newly appointed chief operating officer David Leavy will continue to run the business on the commercial side.

“We have great confidence in this group and will fully support them until a new CEO is named. We are in good hands, allowing us to take the time we need to run a thoughtful and thorough search for a new leader. I recognize that changes like this can be stressful and appreciate your continued patience as we move through this process,” the memo concluded. “You’ve heard me say it many times: 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!”

Loree Seitz contributed to this report