On Wednesday, CNN executives terminated the tenure of CEO Chris Licht, who had been brought on board 13 months earlier with the aim of rescuing the struggling network.
Following former President Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 election, CNN faced challenges as its primary subject of coverage shifted, leading to a decline in viewership. Concerns arose about the network’s perceived political bias in its handling of stories related to Russian collusion and Hunter Biden’s laptop.
Licht made difficult choices, including the dismissal of prominent network figures such as Lemon, Stelter, Cuomo, and others, in an effort to rebuild credibility and steer the network’s commentary from far-left to left-center.
Amidst internal disagreements and resistance to changing their political focus, a pivotal moment occurred when Donald Trump vocally criticized liberal politics during a CNN-coordinated Town Hall event and confronted CNN host Kaitlan Collins. This event served as a catalyst for mounting challenges faced by Licht’s leadership.
Critics of Licht’s decision to invite Trump to the Town Hall event voiced their opposition, although Licht defended the move by asserting that all viable candidates should have the opportunity to express their views on a news platform.
CNN announces Chris Licht's departure on air pic.twitter.com/Attt6UAlsN— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) June 7, 2023
One day after being ousted, Licht described his tenure at CNN as both exciting and incredibly challenging. He expressed gratitude and stated, “I learned a lot over the past 13 months.”
Licht showed grace in his comments, saying, “I’ve had a successful, fulfilling career, and I look forward to my next chapter. I wish the team at CNN the very best, always.”
According to CNN Business, Licht was chosen by David Zaslav, the head of CNN’s parent company Warner Bros. Discovery, to lead the network in May of the previous year. His objective was to steer the network away from its anti-Trump messaging, which had become synonymous with CNN under former CEO Jeff Zucker.
Some speculate that an article in The Atlantic, which portrayed Licht as a distant and difficult leader with an increasingly paranoid management style, played a significant role in the decision to remove him as CEO.
Facing declining ratings, employee discontent, and the negative impact of The Atlantic article on Licht and the network’s image, Zaslav made the decision to let go of the CEO, despite Licht’s attempts to mend fences through personal and phone call apologies.
Licht expressed his belief that the CNN staff should be the focus of attention, stating, “I should not be in the news unless it’s taking arrows for you. Your work is what should be written about.”
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A statement from Zaslav conveyed respect for Licht, both personally and professionally, acknowledging the difficulty of leading CNN during a time of immense disruption and transformation. Zaslav also mentioned that an interim leadership team consisting of Amy Entelis, Virginia Moseley, and Eric Sherling will guide the network until a new CEO is appointed.