CNN Insiders On What Led to Chris Licht’s Exit, And What Comes Next

Chris Licht’s ouster from the top of CNN came as little surprise. The day before, one anchor at the network told me: “It would not shock me if Chris were to be thrown overboard tomorrow.”

Wednesday morning, overboard he went. Sources pointed to several factors that fueled Licht’s ultimate ouster, which was announced by Warner Bros. Discovery chief David Zaslav on CNN’s editorial call: CNN’s ever-dwindling ratings; a distant relationship with the newsroom; the disastrous Donald Trump town hall; the catastrophic Atlantic profile.

By the weekend, Licht had lost the support of the network. Top CNN anchors began expressing their concerns with his leadership to David Leavy, the Zaslav-ally who was dropped down from WBD into CNN last week to take over operational duties from Licht. By Wednesday, Licht was out, and a new leadership team was appointed.

“Chris Licht was an organ that the body rejected,” one former CNN veteran said. “People hated him. And they felt like he hated them.”

The wheels of his departure were set in motion months ago, as the newsroom gradually lost faith in his ability to guide the network through turbulent waters. Layoffs and low ratings hurt morale, while Licht did little to inspire the rank and file. As one source put it: “CNN journalists want an inspiring leader.” Licht didn’t offer that.

His programming moves came slowly, and fell apart quickly. His attempts to fill the prime time hole left behind in 2021 by Chris Cuomo failed to attract an audience. He cobbled together CNN stars Don LemonKaitlan Collins and Poppy Harlow for a new morning show; within months had fired Lemon and moved Collins to prime time.

The consternation spilled out into public view in the wake of the town hall with Trump. The event was a poorly-executed debacle. The former president overwhelmed Collins, the moderator, with a torrent of lies. Her attempts to fact-check him were drowned out by an audience who cheered his every word — even when he was smearing his sexual abuse accuser.

The lurid spectacle sparked an open revolt at CNN, which was chronicled in Reliable Sources, the nightly newsletter of Oliver Darcy, CNN’s senior media reporter. His ballsy coverage of Licht’s leadership prompted the CEO to haul Darcy into his office and tell him to tone it down. The revelation of that meeting sparked further outrage at Licht as CNN staff rallied around Darcy. When CNN icon Christiane Amanpour publicly criticized the town hall, she received similar support from the rank and file; Licht drew even more condemnation.

“The Trump town hall felt like the beginning of the end,” one source said.

Then came Leavy. Described to me as “an extension of Zaslav,” Leavy effectively took one for the team by dropping down from WBD to report to Licht. Yet no one really believed he would be working for the CEO. As Mediaite’s Colby Hall reported the day of his appointment, Leavy was seen as embarking on a rescue mission to save a network adrift. The next day, Tim Alberta’s profile in The Atlantic dropped like a bomb.

(Excerpt) Read more in: Mediaite

CNN Insiders On What Led to Chris Licht’s Exit, And What Comes Next

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