Chris Licht Steps Down As CNN Boss

Chris Licht Steps Down As CNN Boss

In a significant development, CNN’s parent company announced on Wednesday that Chris Licht will be stepping down as chairman and chief executive of the renowned news organization. This announcement marks the end of Licht’s tumultuous tenure, which garnered extensive media coverage, including a notable feature in The Atlantic. The departure of Licht has also raised questions about the future trajectory of CNN.

Licht, who ascended the ranks of the media industry as a prominent television producer, assumed leadership of CNN in February 2022 following the unexpected resignation of Jeff Zucker. Zucker stepped down due to his failure to disclose a consensual relationship with a colleague. In an official statement addressing Licht’s departure, David Zaslav, the chief of Warner Bros. Discovery, expressed his personal and professional respect for Chris.

The task of spearheading CNN was never going to be an easy one, particularly during a time of immense disruption and transformation in the media landscape. Despite the challenges, Licht devoted his heart and soul to the role. While the search for a new leader is underway, Zaslav expressed unwavering confidence in the current team and their commitment to upholding CNN’s world-class journalism.

During his tenure, Licht aimed to distinguish himself from Zucker, who had engaged in public clashes with former President Donald Trump. Following a directive from Zaslav, Licht endeavored to position CNN as a politically centrist news brand, appealing to conservative viewers and Republican newsmakers alike. Additionally, he introduced a new morning program featuring Don Lemon as a co-anchor. However, Lemon’s departure from CNN in April amid allegations of mistreatment towards female colleagues and controversial on-air comments created further challenges for Licht.

Licht faced intense scrutiny as CNN’s prime-time ratings declined and the new morning show struggled to find its footing. Consequently, he found himself in an uncomfortable position as the focus of media attention, a predicament few news executives aspire to be in. Criticism mounted when Licht hosted a live town hall event with Trump on May 10, with commentators denouncing the decision to provide a platform for baseless claims about voter fraud and other contentious topics. The New York Times captured the sentiment with a headline that read, “Trump’s Falsehoods and Bluster Overtake CNN Town Hall.”

The situation reached a boiling point when renowned CNN anchor Christiane Amanpour publicly criticized the network’s decision during her commencement address at Columbia University. Amanpour revealed that she had engaged in a heated exchange with Licht and expressed her disagreement. Despite the mounting negative assessments, Licht staunchly defended his choices, maintaining that the town hall served the interests of the American people.

The culmination of these events came to a head with the publication of a comprehensive 15,000-word article by The Atlantic titled “Inside the Meltdown at CNN.” Tim Alberta, a reporter who had shadowed Licht for months, delved into the executive’s obsession with media coverage and included unflattering quotes mocking CNN journalists’ pandemic reporting. The Atlantic article quickly gained traction on social media, triggering speculation from prominent media observers, such as Brian Stelter, about Licht’s future in the role.

Following the publication, Licht extended an apology to staff members during an internal conference call, expressing that he did not recognize the individual depicted in Alberta’s article. While acknowledging the gravity of the situation, he reassured employees of his commitment to the organization.

Prior to joining CNN, Licht made a name for himself as the executive producer and showrunner of CBS’ “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” He also played a pivotal role in the launch of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and the successful revamp of “CBS This Morning.” These career achievements solidified his reputation as a prodigious television producer.