CNN boss Chris Licht faces heat from multiple fronts

Tribune Content Agency

ATLANTA — This was a rough few days for CNN boss Chris Licht.

On Friday, Licht faced an extensive 15,000 word Atlantic magazine profile dubbed unflatteringly “Inside the Meltdown at CNN” which recounts how most of his decisions so far have backfired, alienating huge swaths of CNN employees and testing the patience of his boss David Zaslav.

Tim Alberta, the writer, hung out with Licht behind the scenes, given access few reporters get anymore with major news subjects. He was there with Licht at the panned Donald Trump town hall, watched him work out with his trainer and rode the high-speed Acela train from New York to D.C. with him.

Licht, according to former CNN media writer Brian Stelter, responded to the story during the 9 a.m. editorial meeting Monday, saying, “As I read that article, I found myself thinking, CNN is not about me. I should not be in the news unless it’s taking arrows for you. Your work is what should be written about.”

He then said, “To those whose trust I’ve lost, I will fight like hell to win it back, because you deserve a leader who will be in the trenches, fighting to ensure CNN remains the world’s most trusted name in news.”

Licht last week also ceded control of business operations to David Leavy, chief corporate affairs officer at Warner Bros. Discovery, which Puck’s Dylan Byers defined as “an unequivocal vote of diminishing confidence by [his bosses] in Licht’s ability to manage a business that has endured substantial ratings declines, revenue losses, and reputational damage since he took over.”

Then in Sunday’s New York Times, reporter Benjamin Mullin spoke to more than 50 people to discuss Jeff Zucker and his life after he was fired by CNN last year. The subhead included this note: “[H]e has made no secret of his frustrations with his exit — or his low regard for the man who replaced him, Chris Licht.”

Zucker, beloved in most circles within CNN over his nine years there, “is now serving as a kind of grievance switchboard for current and former employees of the news network, many people who have spoken with him said,” Mullin wrote. And the journalist later noted: “Executives at Warner Bros. Discovery believe Mr. Zucker is waging a proxy war against Mr. Licht, undermining his leadership from afar,” citing unnamed sources.

In a move that seemed more symbolic than substantial, CNN on its 43rd anniversary also redid its graphics packages for the first time in several years.

“It’s a clean and modern presentation that provides much greater flexibility in how we communicate information and urgency to our viewers around the world,” said Licht in an internal memo last week. “It’s the first major refresh in a decade and it will make the news the star of any screen.”