Chris Licht, the Chief Executive Officer of CNN, is facing increasing criticism about his role after a pair of reports from Atlantic and Puck raised questions about the level of support he‘s receiving from his boss at owner company Warner Bros. Discovery.
The first story from The Atlantic‘s Tim Alberta cast a critical eye on Licht‘s turbulent year as head of the network and included colorful details about what was widely criticized as a disastrous, Trump–centered town hall.
The report also detailed Licht‘s struggle to get a statement from Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav expressing his support for the CNN leader. According to Alberta, Zaslav‘s communications chief Nathaniel Brown agreed to Licht being interviewed on the record for the story but then backtracked, trying to get the quotes approvingly altered for publication. The end result was a lackluster statement from Zaslav, which Alberta characterized as “by no means a ringing endorsement of Licht, but rather a generic, ChatGPT–style statement of support that provides him total optionality for CNN’s future.”
Adding to the drama was Puck‘s Dylan Byers who focused on Zaslav‘s recent appointment of longtime corporate ally David Leavy as CNN‘s new COO. Byers termed Leavy as Zaslav‘s “pain sponge” and suggested that his hire was “an unequivocal vote of diminishing confidence by the parentco in Licht’s ability to manage“ CNN. He further alleged that the arrangement will have Leavy managing “[profits and losses], operational logistics, and marketing and P.R.” while Licht focuses more on being an “editorial chief and news director.”
CNN‘s former media correspondent Brian Stelter, who was fired by Licht last year, was also eager to jump into the fray, taking to Twitter to share exchanges from his former colleagues who were “shocked“ by Licht‘s comments to Alberta, wondering “if he’s so concerned with the CNN brand, what is the point of saying any of this stuff publicly?”
The criticism comes on the heels of a wave of backlash faced by Licht for how CNN handled its Trump town hall last month, as well as the network‘s ongoing ratings declines and primetime reshuffling efforts. Licht, who was the executive producer of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” had also made a failed attempt to revive CNN‘s morning show and launch another in its place.
When asked to comment on the two reports and how much support Zaslav has for Licht, Brown of Warner Bros. Discovery provided the same statement attributed to Zaslav that was given to Alberta and Byers, which read, “CNN is a very important business for us, and, in fact, we believe that nothing we do is more important. We have the best journalists in the world at CNN reporting the news wherever it happens, and we aspire to be the news organization most trusted by viewers globally. We set a high bar for ourselves and while we know that it will take time to complete the important work that’s underway, we have great confidence in the progress that Chris and the team are making and share their conviction in the strategy.” A spokesperson for CNN also pointed to Zaslav‘s statement when asked for comment.
The reports have led to speculation that Licht‘s long–term tenure at CNN might be in jeopardy and that Zaslav may be looking for a way out — with or without him. For now, Licht‘s future at the network is uncertain, but it‘s clear that some of the decision–making in the company is shifting away from him to other senior members of the network. And given the troubled waters of the past year, it‘s difficult to imagine a scenario in which he‘s able to right the ship and stay at the helm.