Wednesday, June 07, 2023 / New York / Chris Licht, CNN’s short-lived chief executive, and chairman, bid farewell to the company on Wednesday, following a tumultuous year marked by multiple missteps. During CNN’s daily editorial meeting, David Zaslav, the CEO of parent company Warner Bros. Discovery, announced Licht’s departure, stating, “I met with Chris, and he will be leaving CNN.”
Licht’s tenure at CNN was marred by a series of challenges, including layoffs, declining profits, historically low ratings, the termination of two anchors, and plummeting employee morale. These issues exacerbated the difficulties faced by the organization, which had already experienced the removal of its previous leader Jeff Zucker and the closure of the nascent streaming service, CNN+.
Licht, known for his successful stint as the leader of “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” faced harsh criticism throughout his tenure, fueled in part by leaks from skeptical employees who questioned his leadership abilities and editorial vision.
The final blow came in the form of a scathing 15,000-word profile in The Atlantic, published on Friday. The article, penned by Tim Alberta, included interviews with over 100 CNN employees and raised serious doubts about Licht’s capacity to guide the organization into the future.
Following the publication of The Atlantic piece, Licht attempted to rebuild trust by apologizing to staff and pledging to regain their confidence. However, it became increasingly apparent that his position as CEO was untenable, and his departure was imminent. Not only did rank-and-file employees lose faith in Licht, but high-profile anchors and correspondents also expressed their frustration. The overall sentiment was that Licht had lost the support of the entire organization.
David Zaslav, recognizing the mounting concerns, appointed his top lieutenant, David Leavy, as CNN’s chief operating officer the previous week. After The Atlantic article further highlighted the issues with Licht’s leadership, Zaslav seriously considered removing him from his role over the weekend, according to an insider. Licht’s string of self-inflicted setbacks left no doubt that he could no longer effectively lead the company. Ultimately, Zaslav made the decision earlier this week to relieve Licht of his duties.
On Wednesday morning, Licht was informed of his dismissal as CNN’s top executive. Alongside Licht, Kris Coratti Kelly and Matt Dornic, the top two leaders of CNN’s communications department, as well as Licht’s chief of staff, Devan Cayea, will also leave the company.
Notably absent from the meeting where Zaslav announced Licht’s departure, Licht did not provide a comment in Warner Bros. Discovery’s press release about his exit and did not respond to immediate requests for comment.
Taking responsibility for the recent turmoil at CNN, Zaslav acknowledged that Licht’s role had been challenging and commended his “remarkable career,” wishing him success in future endeavors.
“For various reasons, things didn’t work out, and that’s unfortunate,” Zaslav expressed. “It’s truly unfortunate, and ultimately, that responsibility falls on me. I fully accept responsibility for that.” Zaslav informed CNN employees that an extensive search, both internally and externally, is underway for a new network chief, cautioning that the process will take time.