Chris Licht's short, complicated and chaotic stint as head of CNN is over. Warner Bros. Discovery announced in a statement Wednesday that the president and CEO of CNN Worldwide has stepped down effective immediately. "The job of leading CNN was never going to be easy," the boss's boss, David Zaslav, chairman and CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, said in the note. The departure comes weeks after a controversial interview with Donald Trump live and a devastating profile about his figure published in The Atlantic.
Licht took over in May 2022, following a successful career at CBS News and MSNBC. He replaced Jeff Zucker at the network, forced to resign in early 2022 after it was discovered that he had hidden a romantic relationship with an employee. He came to CNN at a time of existential crisis for the network. Ratings for coverage of Donald Trump's presidency had fallen during Joe Biden's most boring tenure and Fox News was gaining share at his expense, problems that worsened during his tenure.
In his year at the helm of the news channel, he has made some controversial decisions. He arrived with the plan under his arm to shut down CNN+, the subscription news channel project abandoned by the company's managers. His big programming bet was a morning show, This Morning, with three hosts: Poppy Harlow, Kaitlan Collins and Don Lemon. The audience did not respond and the program was a failure since its launch last October, but the situation was also aggravated when he said of Republican candidate Nikki Haley, 51, that she was no longer "going through her best moment" and that "a woman is in the prime of life at 20 and 30 and maybe 40."
He was suspended and away from the cameras for a few days while undergoing a training program. It returned to the air on February 21, but did not last long. On the same day that Fox News fired its great star Tucker Carlson, CNN dispensed with Lemon without much explanation.
The cessation comes just weeks after airing an interview with Donald Trump with a live audience that supported him, a format that favored the former president and in which he felt comfortable spreading his lies. But it also comes after the publication of an extensive report on the executive in The Atlantic that portrayed the failure in his attempt to straighten the course of the network. Licht gave extensive statements to the author of the profile in which he was critical of the chain he ran.
His approach was that the channel had moved away from its informative DNA and that in the Trump era it had become excessively ideologized. In The Atlantic's profile, he criticized coverage of events such as the pandemic and other editorial decisions. He also talked about the decision to give the voice to Trump in the broadcast program, in which the former president insulted the presenter while the audience applauded him. The publication of the article last Friday fell like a bomb on CNN, provoking the discontent of the newsroom.
It was surprising and seen as an error of judgment that he had lent himself to participate in the profile with his statements although it was devastating for him: "Licht lived on an island, surrounded by people who did not like him, or who doubted his vision of the company, or who questioned his competence, or that he was directly in favor of his downfall," said the report written by journalist Tim Alberta, who was working for months and was able to interview the executive on numerous occasions.
Licht apologized Monday to CNN staff for becoming the center of attention and in a negative light. Those apologies have not served to save his position, since he has lost the support of who had protected him until now, the head of Warner Bros. Discovery, David Zaslav.
"I have great respect for Chris, personally and professionally," Zaslav said in the statement. "The job of leading CNN was never going to be easy, especially at a time of enormous disruption and transformation, and he has poured his heart and soul into it. While we know we have work to do as we seek to identify a new leader, we have absolute confidence in the team we have in place and will continue to fight for CNN and its world-class journalism."
Warner Bros. has announced that while it is actively seeking a replacement, it has launched a collegiate interim leadership 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, as well as David Leavy, chief operating officer, on the commercial side. The transition process can take months.