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Chris Licht Is Out at CNN

CNN's now-former CEO, Chris Licht, made a whole bunch of mistakes in a very short time. The biggest of them was giving extensive access to The Atlantic's Tim Alberta, who is a force unto himself. The resulting 15,000-word profile presented Licht as a lightweight and a total failure, lacking support from his employees, being a bad manager, giving Donald Trump a platform to lie his head off and insult CNN's Kaitlan Collins while the audience cheered him on, and much more. Yesterday, Licht's boss, Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav, fired Licht.

Licht was hired in Feb. 2022 after Jeff Zucker was kicked out for having an affair with another CNN executive. However, most of the staff was still loyal to Zucker. After a round of layoffs, including prominent journalists like John Harwood and Brian Stelter, morale suffered badly and Licht became very unpopular within the company.

But Licht's biggest problem was his plan to attract more Republican viewers by putting more Republicans on the air and letting them spew whatever they wanted to, unchallenged. That didn't sit well with many people at CNN and also not with many viewers, some of whom felt that if they wanted to watch Fox News, they could just watch Fox News. Ratings plummeted. The company made $750 million last year, but that was down from $1.25 billion a year earlier. Also, the CNN+ stream service was a complete debacle. Licht pulled the plug 3 weeks after it launched.

Some of the biggest names at CNN, including Anderson Cooper, Jake Tapper, and Erin Burnett, all criticized Licht to incoming COO David Leavy. Among Licht's other problems is that he was aloof and was rarely in the newsroom, in contrast to Zucker, who was there all the time. Having the top talent diss their boss no doubt made an impression of Leavy, who surely conveyed that message upstream.

The chaos at CNN brings into question how well it will be able to cover the 2024 elections. If it tries to appease Republicans by putting more of them on the air and letting them lie to their hearts' content, it is going to lose many viewers. That will aggravate viewers who don't like spin, and it will aggravate viewers who are left-leaning and don't want to be subjected to a right-wing propaganda barrage.

To its credit, CNN covered the story of Licht's ouster in detail. Business reporter Oliver Darcy wrote the online story and Kate Bolduan covered it on the air.

Zaslav is already looking for someone to replace Licht. Longtime CNN executive Amy Entelis will take over as the interim CEO until Zaslav finds someone. (V)

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