Update, 12:48 p.m. Eastern: Along with Licht being shown the door, longtime CNN PR sycophant and Zucker loyalist-turned-Licht loyalist Matt Dornic is also on his way out.
The original post continues below.
In news first broken Wednesday morning by former CNN media reporter Dylan Byers of Puck, embattled CNN chief executive Chris Licht is stepping down from the network and parent company Warner Bros. Discovery after a tumultuous tenure marked by his inability to have buy in from a far-left employee base still loyal to their former puppetmaster, Jeff Zucker.
Warner Bros Discovery chief executive David Zaslav told staff of the change and said in a statement that he has “great respect for Chris, personally and professionally” and correctly added that “[t]he job...was never going to be easy, especially at a time of huge disruption and transformation.”
According to The Washington Post and others, longtime CNN executives Amy Entelis, Virginia Moseley, and Eric Sherling will lead the network with newly-minted chief operating officer David Leavy also playing a key role.
Licht, who was hired in March 2022 and began a month later by killing off the bloated CNN+ after hilariously low interest at its launch. It was all downhill with Licht promising to change the culture at the network after years of ardent, vicious punditry and a singular obsession with Donald Trump and, well, not much else (despite umpteen other stories around the world).
All the while, he made a litany of mistakes. Along with refusing to clean house of Zucker loyalists, Licht’s drab scheduling changes failed to improve ratings.
He also made an inexcusable decision to haphazardly throw together a new morning show CNN This Morning (that didn’t actually look that different from New Day) led by one of CNN’s chief propagandists, Don Lemon. And we all know how that ended.
To read a deep dive on the chaos of the last week and Licht’s accelerated downfall (starting with the Trump town hall), please check out our extensive analysis here.
The Wall Street Journal concurred saying Licht was seen “as aloof and arrogant” by employees, failed in “experimenting with new programming,” and was unable “to reset the network’s editorial approach, after research showed viewers were turned off by inflammatory political coverage”.
Byers, who’s spent much of his tenure at Puck focused on Licht (and, in turn, concerned Licht), reveled in the ouster of an who “became an effigy for anxious CNN talent, producers, and executives” (click “expand”):
Chris Licht, the embattled and besieged C.E.O. of CNN, was never the most obvious candidate to helm a global news organization. Sixteen months ago, when I broke the news that David Zaslav had tapped Licht to run the network, I noted that he didn’t seem tailor-made for the job. Licht had a reputation as a wunderkind producer who could work with elite talent, yes, and he was aligned with John Malone’s rich older guy Big Sky vision of recalibrating the network’s politics to its centrist origins. But Licht’s C.V. consisted of programming a few hours of morning or late-night talk television with one or two or three principals, not the management or operational experience that might prepare him for overseeing a 24-hour, multi-billion-dollar, 4,000-person cable network in need of strong strategic leadership, not to mention new business and distribution models.
Still, Licht may have inflicted the most harm in what he did not do, which was to articulate a vision for CNN’s post-linear future. He spent his thirteen months at CNN rearranging deck chairs on a declining distribution platform, moving anchors from one time-slot to another and tweaking aesthetics that were invisible or irrelevant to the remaining viewers. While The New York Times Co. was diversifying into an always-on digital lifestyle brand with great journalism and video and podcasts (and games and product recommendations and recipes), Licht was creating milquetoast television for a bygone era that miffed his own employees and alienated CNN’s core audience. In the end, the fact that he failed to even succeed at the one thing he was ostensibly skilled at—programming live television—is one of the great mysteries of this whole saga. It’s poetic, in some ways, that Entelis, who oversaw CNN’s efforts into the cinematic universe of Bourdain and Tucci, will be taking over.
Perhaps the greatest mystery, of course, is why Zaslav himself believed Licht was the right man for this job. As I reported all those sixteen months ago, Zaz never interviewed anyone else for the position. Instead, he picked a celebrated E.P. and Hampton’s Labor Day party buddy with no experience whatsoever running a real business, and threw him into the job without any mentor to show him the ropes.
[G]iven all the blunders, [Zaslav’s] biggest strategic miscalculation here may have been that Licht simply never had the personality or disposition to run the network.
In the end, Licht’s public promises and perhaps too-eager expounding on his applaudable view of what journalism should look to The Atlantic’s Tim Alberta like was a death knell as he and Warner Bros. Discovery boss David Zaslav refused to clean house of a employee base still fixated on being told what to do and follow the snobbery Zucker micromanaged from his control room and newsroom office.
Refusing to accept the fact Licht hammered home that their network’s brand and trust had taken a hit and needed to be restored, the mob was allowed to grow.
Zaslav’s challenge going forward will be whether he can find someone that, a, wants the job and, b, concurs with his vision (shared by influential shareholder John Malone) that CNN spent recent years throwing away its reputation in the name of feigning outrage and a fixation on destroying Trump.
In the interim, expect CNN employees to feel liberated to return to flashing more of their visceral hatred for Trump and conservatives. Then again, it’s not like Licht was able to cleanse CNN of any serious dosage to begin with, given his largely hands-off approach.
This post has been updated to include more of Byers’s reporting in Puck and CNN’s on-air announcement. Stay tuned to NewsBusters for more on this breaking story.