Chris Licht Is Out at CNN After Brief, Tumultuous Tenure as CEO
CNN Chief Executive Officer Chris Licht has stepped down from the cable news channel after a brief and tumultuous tenure at the company.
Licht’s departure is immediate, and the company will look for a replacement, CNN’s parent company Warner Bros. Discovery Inc. said in a statement.
“I have great respect for Chris, personally and professionally,” said David Zaslav, president and CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, in the statement. “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.”
Licht, a former executive producer of CBS This Morning and The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, arrived at CNN with the goal of creating a less divisive network. CNN had taken a combative stance during Donald Trump’s presidency, and Licht wanted the network to be less opinionated.
But Licht struggled in his first year. One of his first moves was shutting down the CNN+ streaming service just a few weeks after its launch. With Warner Bros. Discovery cutting costs, Licht oversaw the layoffs of hundreds of CNN employees that left remaining staff demoralized.
In May, Licht faced a backlash after hosting a town-hall event with Trump. The event was widely criticized, including by CNN anchor Christiane Amanpour, for a format that allowed the former president to spread misinformation and talk over the moderator, Kaitlan Collins. A few weeks later, the Atlantic published an embarrassing profile of him in which he criticized the network’s pandemic coverage and appeared aloof to his staff by taking an office on a separate floor and reading critical articles about himself during a team dinner.
Following the Atlantic article, Licht apologized to CNN employees for becoming a distraction and said he’d “fight like hell” to win back their trust.
In early June, David Leavy, a longtime lieutenant of Zaslav, was named CNN’s chief operating officer. While Leavy would run the business side of the network, Licht could focus on CNN’s programming, which had not been going as planned. Most notably, Licht’s new morning show was thrown into turmoil after he fired one of the co-hosts, the controversial longtime CNN anchor Don Lemon.
Meanwhile, CNN’s ratings continued to decline. The network has fallen to third place in the cable news ratings, behind both Fox News and MSNBC.
In a memo to staff, Zaslav said the company will be conducting “a wide search, internally and externally, for a new leader.”
Among those he may consider are two former ABC News presidents, Ben Sherwood and James Goldston, former MSNBC president Phil Griffin and former CBS News President Susan Zirinsky. But Zaslav will likely face pressure to follow CNN’s peers by finding a diverse candidate. In 2020, Rashida Jones was named president of MSNBC, becoming the first Black woman to lead a major television network news operation. A few months later, Kimberly Godwin was named president of ABC News, becoming the first Black woman to lead a major broadcast network’s news division.
Zaslav may also turn to an executive on CNN’s interim leadership team. They are Amy Entelis, executive vice president of talent and content development, Virginia Moseley, executive vice president of editorial, Eric Sherling, executive vice president of US programming and David Leavy, chief operating officer.