CNN Boss Chris Licht Is Under Siege

'Atlantic' profile provides deep look at network goings-on
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 3, 2023 5:05 PM CDT
With Licht Under Seige, CNN Splits His Duties
Chris Licht arrives at an event in Los Angeles last July.   (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

Already the talk of the industry—and not necessarily in a good way—CNN chief executive Chris Licht now has to share control of the organization. David Leavy has been named chief operating officer of the network, CNBC reports. Leavy is a longtime ally and confidant of David Zaslav, the boss of Warner Bros. Discovery, which owns CNN. Leavy will handle business-side operations, evidently leaving Licht more time for programming and journalism duties, per the Hollywood Reporter. The change also would seem to give Zaslav another view into what Licht is doing at CNN, which is dealing with the fallout from its town hall with former President Donald Trump, ratings declines, firings, and general chaos.

On top of that, a 15,000-word profile of Licht in the Atlantic landed on Friday. Writer Tim Alberta had plenty of access to Licht, who spoke at great length. Many at CNN and elsewhere did not find the closeup look reassuring about CNN's future. The article portrays Licht as struggling to manage the place in the face of what the Reporter describes as "widespread distrust among his rank-and-file while also catering to the whims of his own fickle, meddling boss"—Zaslav. Licht seems to spend a lot of time worrying about his predecessor, Jeff Zucker, who still has a following among CNN employees.

And Licht appears consumed by criticism of him, from Democrats, employees, and journalists. At a holiday dinner, he didn't socialize with employees, who eventually realized he was reading a story critical of him on his phone, per Insider. Alberta writes that Licht told Trump before the town hall to "have fun," per the Reporter; the former president proceeded to steamroll CNN's host and repeat misinformation. "The way to deal with a bully like Trump," Alberta quoted Licht as saying, "was to confront him with facts." That didn't work. Mike Allen of Axios calls the profile "devastating." You can find the full piece here. (More Chris Licht stories.)

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