CNN corporate boss David Zaslav was mocked for Chris Licht’s disastrous 13-month tenure — after telling staffers he “takes full responsibility” for hiring the jettisoned network boss.
“Unfortunately, things did not work out the way we had hoped — and ultimately that’s on me,” Zaslav, the CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, told stunned CNN personnel during an early morning editorial call on Wednesday.
“We’re in the process of conducting a wide search, internally and externally, for a new leader.”
Zaslav’s “search” for a new leader of the ratings-challenged network was met with ridicule on social media.
“Same guys that hired Licht will hire his replacement. What could possibly go wrong?” wrote one Twitter user.
Matthew Gertz, a writer for the liberal media watchdog Media Matters, questioned whether the outcome will be any different considering Zaslav’s mission to return CNN to its centrist coverage.
“Chris Licht was shaping CNN’s programming toward the ideological vision preferred by David Zaslav and [Warner Bros. Discovery board member] John Malone,” Gertz tweeted.
“There’s little reason to expect a course correction following his defenestration.”
Zaslav, who became the cable news network’s corporate overlord last year following the multibillion-dollar merger between WarnerMedia and Discovery, hired Licht to take the helm at CNN as one of his first major moves heading the new entity.
He praised Licht for an “amazing career,” adding that the former producer for Stephen Colbert’s late-night show “poured his heart and soul into this [CNN] job” but “for a number of reasons, it didn’t work out.”
“I take full responsibility,” Zaslav added.
“We wish him every success and all the best.”
The company announced that Licht will be replaced in the interim by a group “comprising seasoned programming leaders” that include Amy Entelis, the executive vice president of talent and content development; Virginia Moseley, executive vice president of editorial; and Eric Sherling, who heads US-based programming.
Zaslav, who has been cutting costs at Warner Bros. Discovery, made a splash when he abruptly shut down streaming service CNN+ less than a month after its highly publicized launch.
Licht was given the mandate by Zaslav to steer the network away from left-leaning partisan commentary that was often heard during the Trump presidency — a period when CNN enjoyed sky-high ratings.
Why did Chris Licht step down as CEO from CNN?
Chris Licht stepped down as CEO of CNN Wednesday morning, after staffers and senior figures at the networks called for his head following a scathing magazine profile.
CNN staffers were enraged by Licht’s criticism of the network’s COVID-19 coverage.
Licht’s exit from CNN comes after former CEO Jeff Zucker’s departure from the network over a year ago. Zucker was forced to leave over a relationship with a co-worker.
Licht has accused Zucker of undermining his leadership and spreading negative stories about the news operation.
CNN announced that Licht will be replaced by a group “comprising seasoned programming leaders” including Amy Entelis, the executive vice president of talent and content development.
Others were upset with Licht’s decision to stage a live town hall event with Donald Trump.
But the post-Trump period has seen a sharp dip in viewership, resulting in CNN routinely lagging behind cable competitors Fox News and MSNBC in the ratings race.
CNN also has seen a massive hit to its bottom line since the merger, with profits dropping from $1.25 billion in 2021 to just $750 million last year.
Licht’s attempts to provide more middle-of-the-road programming were manifest in last month’s town hall with Donald Trump, during which the former president mocked the network’s moderator, Kaitlan Collins, while riling up his in-studio supporters with claims of voter fraud.
Under Licht, the network also demoted — —
CNN also dismissed Brian Stelter, the veteran media reporter who has been vocal in his criticism of Trump and the former president’s supporters.
A 15,000-word profile in the Atlantic portrayed Licht as ultra-sensitive to press coverage of his leadership.
Licht was also depicted as aloof and cut off from his staffers — many of whom nurtured longstanding loyalty to Jeff Zucker, Licht’s predecessor who was forced to resign after it was learned he had been carrying on a relationship with a subordinate.
Observers raised eyebrows over the fact that Zaslav declined to speak on the record to the Atlantic, thus passing up an opportunity to give Licht a public vote of confidence.
Another ominous sign for Licht was Zaslav’s decision to install his longtime loyalist, David Leavy, as COO.
Additional reporting by Shannon Thaler