Beleaguered CNN chief executive and chairman Chris Licht left the company on Wednesday after his short one-year tenure with the network was tainted by a series of significant missteps.
“I met Chris and he’s leaving CNN,” David Zaslav, chief executive of parent company Warner Bros. Discovery, told CNN employees at the beginning of the network’s daily editorial meeting. .
Licht’s departure capped a turbulent year for CNN marked by headcount cuts, shrinking profits, historic low ratings, the firing of two anchors and low employee morale. The turmoil that marked last year followed several other blows to the organization, including the ouster of former leader Jeff Zucker and the shutdown of fledgling streaming service CNN+.
Licht took over the role of network chief last May after the recent success of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” a term that has been met with heavy criticism from the press. We were, in many cases, the result of leaks from surrounding employees who did not fully trust Licht’s leadership. skills and editorial vision.
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Warner Bros. Discovery
Chris Licht, Former Chairman and CEO, CNN Worldwide
The final death notice was a shocking 15,000-word profile published in The Atlantic on Friday. Author Tim Alberta interviewed more than 100 CNN employees for this harrowing story, which cast serious doubts on Licht’s ability to lead the organization into the future.
The Atlantic article prompted Licht to regain his footing. He apologized to his staff and vowed to “fight with all his might” to win their trust.
But it became increasingly clear that Licht’s tenure as chief executive was not sustainable and was quickly coming to an end. In addition to general staff, prominent anchors and correspondents also hit a wall with Licht. The CNN director has effectively lost his seat.
The situation quickly became clear to Mr. Zaslav, who last week appointed chief deputy David Levy as CNN’s chief operating officer. Licht was informed Wednesday morning that he would be relieved of his duties as CNN’s chief executive, according to people familiar with the matter. CNN’s top two communications leaders, Chris Collatti-Kelley and Matt Dornick, and Licht’s chief of staff, Devan Kaia, will also be leaving, according to people familiar with the matter.
It is worth noting that Licht did not attend the Wednesday meeting at which Zaslav announced his resignation. Licht did not include comment in a press release issued by Warner Bros. Discovery regarding his departure, and he did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Zaslav, who took responsibility for the chaos that has beset CNN in recent months, said Licht’s job was “never an easy one” and praised him for his “amazing career” and wished him well in the future.
“Things didn’t work out for a variety of reasons, which is a shame,” Zaslav said. “I’m really sorry. And in the end it’s up to me. And I take full responsibility for it.”
Mr. Zaslav told CNN employees that the company was conducting an “extensive search” both internally and externally for a new network head, and warned that the search “will take some time.”
For the time being, Zaslav said the leadership team will consist of three veteran network executives. Virginia Moseley, Vice President of Editorial. Eric Scharling, executive vice president of US programming. Levy will continue to oversee the company’s commercial activities.
“We have great confidence in this group and will fully support them until a new CEO is appointed,” Zaslav said in an emailed statement to CNN staff. “We are in a good position to spend the necessary time thoughtfully and thoroughly searching for a new leader.”
Licht’s brief and volatile tenure as head of the station saw him produce “Morning Joe” for MSNBC, followed by a relaunch of “CBS Sunday Morning,” after great success on the morning news.
Most recently, before joining CNN, Licht headed Colbert’s show, which became the most-watched late-night show on television.
Licht failed to recreate that magic at CNN, where he stumbled and faced a great deal of criticism shortly after taking office.
Licht’s first task was to dismantle CNN+, which CNN’s former leadership hailed as the network’s streaming future. The staff knew that the decision to leave the streamer was not Licht’s own, but even so, the highly publicized termination of service proved to be a difficult start for him.
But the employees were open-minded. Licht’s experience as a producer and his track record of success with other networks made many excited about his appointment.
However, Licht quickly squandered much of that goodwill through a series of blunders, many of which were his own. Unlike Mr. Zucker, who had an office on the newsroom floor of CNN’s Hudson Yards bureau in New York, Mr. Licht separated himself from the station’s journalists, which isolated the chief from the staff.
Licht then moved to fire Brian Stelter, the network’s esteemed chief media correspondent and “reliable source” anchor. He also fired other major CNN journalists, frowning on staff.
But Licht said his position within the organization was further eroded when he announced significant layoffs last year, despite hinting to employees that layoffs were not imminent. I saw Hundreds of CNN employees were laid off in late November and early December.
Licht’s program changes were also problematic. His first big move was to revamp the network’s morning show. Licht launched “CNN This Morning,” featuring anchors Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins. This program did not increase the audience rating from the previous program, and it became involved in the drama of the tabloid paper. Lemon apologized for making sexist remarks on the show, but was ultimately banned from the station earlier this year.
But Licht faced criticism of the show most notably for his dealings at City Hall with former President Donald Trump. Last month’s event was at times chaotic and was widely criticized as a failure.
Criticism of the incident came not only from observers, but also from CNN’s internal staff. Iconic anchor Christiane Amanpour made her headlines when she spoke out against Licht in her Commencement speech at the Columbia Journalism School.
The eventful episode sparked a storm of negative media coverage against Licht and CNN, and set the stage for a terrifying profile in The Atlantic. Alberta, the author of the article, was granted unprecedented access to Licht for about a year, a CNN boss described as unfit for the job. Unable to help himself, Licht also made a number of comments against Alberta before he took office, including disparaging CNN’s journalism.
In the last few days, Licht seemed to understand that he had alienated the staff. But it was all too late.
This story has been updated from the original.