Chris Licht, the embattled chief executive and chairman of CNN, whose brief one-year tenure at the network was stained by a series of severe missteps, will depart the company.
“I met with Chris and he will be leaving CNN,” David Zaslav, the chief executive of parent company Warner Bros. Discovery, told CNN employees at the start of the network’s daily editorial call Wednesday.
Licht’s departure, which came days after a devastating 15,000-word profile in The Atlantic, capped a tumultuous year for CNN, marked by layoffs, historically low ratings, and rock-bottom employee morale.
In the wake of The Atlantic article, Licht apologised to staffers Monday, telling the global news organization in a sombre tone that he did not recognize himself when reading portions of the story and that he was sorry for having distracted from the newsroom’s work.
Licht, who described the experience as “tremendously humbling,” vowed to “fight like hell” to win over the trust of employees.
But it became increasingly clear that Licht’s tenure as the chief executive was quickly coming to an end. Licht has not commented on his departure and he did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Zaslav said Licht’s job was “never going to be easy” and praised the “amazing career” he has had, wishing him well in his future endeavours.
“For a number of reasons things didn’t work out and that’s unfortunate,” Zaslav said. “It’s really unfortunate. And ultimately that’s on me. And I take full responsibility for that.”
Zaslav told CNN employees that the company is “in the process of conducting a wide search,” both internally and externally, for a new network chief. He cautioned that it will “take a while.”
In the interim, Zazlav said the leadership team will be comprised of Amy Entelis, executive vice president of talent and content development; Virginia Moseley, executive vice president of editorial; and Eric Sherling, executive vice president of U.S. programming. David Leavy, who was recently installed as chief operating officer, will continue overseeing the company’s commercial activities.
“We have great confidence in this group and will fully support them until a new CEO is named,” Zazlav said in an emailed statement to CNN staff. “We are in good hands, allowing us to take the time we need to run a thoughtful and thorough search for a new leader.”
A tumultuous tenure
Licht’s brief and rocky tenure as the head of the network came after he found tremendous success in morning news, producing MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” before he revamped “CBS Sunday Morning.” Prior to joining CNN, Licht was the executive producer of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” leading the program as it became the highest-rated late-night show on television.
But at CNN, Licht stumbled and quickly faced criticism. Replacing Jeff Zucker, the former CNN leader who was beloved by staff, Licht’s first action at the network was to dismantle CNN+, which had been hailed by previous network leadership as the streaming future of CNN. Zucker was ousted in February 2022 for failing to disclose a relationship with a subordinate.
Unlike Zucker who held an office on a newsroom floor in CNN’s Hudson Yards office in New York, Licht separated himself from the network’s journalists, a move that isolated the chief from his staff.
Licht announced mass layoffs at CNN in December. But the town hall with former President Donald Trump last month that Licht orchestrated was widely criticized as a mistake. Licht faced a fury of internal and external criticism for the town hall, including from iconic anchor Christiane Amanpour during a Columbia Journalism School commencement speech.