CNN Chief Executive Officer Chris Licht has stepped down from the cable news channel on Wednesday after a brief and tumultuous tenure at the company.
The move marks a swift downfall for Licht, a longtime television executive who in 2022 replaced CNN’s well-liked leader, Jeff Zucker, who had failed to disclose a consensual relationship with a longtime co-worker.
Licht’s departure is immediate and the company will look for a replacement, CNN’s parent company Warner Bros. Discovery Inc. said in a statement.
“I have great respect for Chris, personally and professionally,” said David Zaslav, president and CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, in the statement. “The job of leading CNN was never going to be easy, especially at a time of huge disruption and transformation, and he has poured his heart and soul into it.”
Licht, a former executive producer of CBS This Morning and The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, arrived at CNN with the goal of creating a less divisive network. CNN had taken a combative stance during Donald Trump’s presidency, and Licht wanted the network to be less opinionated.
But Licht struggled in his first year. One of his first moves was shutting down the CNN+ streaming service just a few weeks after its launch. With Warner Bros. cutting costs, Licht oversaw layoffs of hundreds of CNN employees that left remaining staff demoralized.
In May, Licht faced a backlash after hosting a town-hall event with Trump. The event was widely criticized, including by CNN anchor Christiane Amanpour, for a format that allowed the former president to spread misinformation and talk over the moderator, Kaitlan Collins.
A few weeks later, the Atlantic published an embarrassing profile of him in which he criticized the network’s pandemic coverage and appeared aloof to his staff. Following the article, Licht apologized to CNN employees for becoming a distraction and said he’d “fight like hell” to win back their trust.
In early June, David Leavy, a longtime lieutenant of Zaslav, was named CNN’s chief operating officer. While Leavy would run the business side of the network, Licht could focus on CNN’s programming, which had not been going as planned. Most notably, Licht’s new morning show was thrown into turmoil after he fired one of the co-hosts, the controversial longtime CNN anchor Don Lemon.
Meanwhile, CNN’s ratings continued to decline. The network has fallen to third place in the cable news ratings, behind both Fox News and MSNBC.
In a memo to staff, Zaslav said the company will be conducting “a wide search, internally and externally, for a new leader.”
In the meantime, the company has established an interim leadership team, comprising Amy Entelis, executive vice president of talent and content development, Virginia Moseley, executive vice president of editorial, and Eric Sherling, executive vice president of US programming and David Leavy, chief operating officer.
By Gerry Smith / Bloomberg