Chris Licht is out after a year as chief executive at CNN following a series of missteps and plunging ratings.
David Zaslav, the CEO of CNN’s parent company, Warner Bros Discovery, announced the leadership change, which was effective immediately, on CNN’s morning editorial call on Wednesday.
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Zaslav appointed a four-person leadership team to lead the network in the interim.
Licht replaced Jeff Zucker as CNN’s chief executive last year with a mandate to move the network more towards the political centre. But a town hall meeting with Donald Trump received wide criticism, and a revamp of the network’s morning show imploded with the firing of presenter Don Lemon.
Among other criticism, Licht has taken heat for the network’s decision to broadcast a May 10 town hall with former Republican President Trump, who is running for the White House again. During the broadcast, Trump repeated falsehoods about his 2020 election loss, said that if elected he would pardon many supporters convicted of taking part in a January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol, and called CNN moderator Kaitlan Collins a “nasty person”.
CNN’s ratings have been sagging even as the company attempts to get more Republican viewers. In May, its prime-time viewership was less than half of rival MSNBC as the Fox News Channel still leads in the ratings among the cable networks.
A lengthy and critical profile of Licht in The Atlantic magazine, which came out on Friday, proved embarrassing and likely sealed his fate. Only two days ago, Licht promised on the same morning editorial call to fight to regain the trust of CNN employees.
But internally, Licht couldn’t gain the support of many at the network who felt loyal to Zucker, who was forced out following the revelation of an improper relationship with a colleague.
Zaslav appointed four current CNN executives — Amy Entelis, Virginia Moseley, Eric Sherling and David Leavy — to run the network while a search for a replacement is conducted.
“We are in good hands, allowing us to take the time we need to run a thoughtful and thorough search for a new leader,” Zaslav said in a memo to CNN staff.