CEO Chris Licht's 'Struggle Session' Apology Highlights CNN's Disarray

AP Photo/Ron Harris

CEO Chris Licht has been on a mission to return CNN to the news network it once was.

Toward that end, he booted some key on-air personnel, including Brian Stelter, John Harwood, and Don Lemon.


But now, as I reported the other day, he’s the one who ironically seems to be on the bubble. There was a report that he was ceding business operations to David Leavy, the chief corporate affairs officer at Warner Bros. Discovery. The word was that Licht had lost some of the support he had from David Zaslav, the head of Warner Bros. Discovery, which controls CNN. Some employees were unhappy with what he was doing, and particularly unhappy that he gave a platform to former President Donald Trump. But I think what might have gotten to Zaslav was that Licht spoke to The Atlantic about the issues and that article only highlighted the issues.

So you have Zaslav losing confidence, employees mad that Licht wants to make them more objective and change them, and the liberal media that doesn’t want CNN to move in that direction, all falling on Licht at the same time.

Enter what has to be the saddest struggle session apology of all time, as Licht throws himself on the mercy of Zaslav.

Licht apologized to CNN staffers on Monday and said he does intend to stay on the job.

I know these past few days have been very hard for this group. I fully recognize that this news cycle and my role in it overshadowed the incredible week of reporting that we just had, and distracted from the work of every single journalist in this org. And for that, I am sorry…

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…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.


Brian Stelter, who Licht booted to the curb, tried to take a jab at him, claiming that 40 CNN staffers had complained to him about Licht.

“Many CNN staffers feel the news operation isn’t broken and thus doesn’t need Zaslav or Licht to fix it. Zaslav, who seems not to agree, has channeled his views through Licht, sometimes loudly enough that others could overhear him doing so over the phone. But now Zaslav is telling associates that Leavy is bringing adult supervision — a seeming indictment of Licht,” Stelter wrote.

“Staffers I spoke with were startled by the lapse in judgment that Licht’s participation in The Atlantic profile represented. And they were particularly offended by Licht’s assertion that CNN unduly hyped COVID for ratings,” the former CNN reporter continued, rejected the notion that CNN used COVID for ratings before he was fired.

“He’s done,” a CNN staffer told Stelter, while another said, “There’s no coming back from that [Atlantic] profile.”

Dylan Byers, who broke the report about David Leavy taking over, used to work for CNN during the Jeff Zucker era. He said that Licht better have a “plan” for how to deal with all this.


There’s also another disturbing report about who Warner Bros. Discovery thinks may be behind the effort against Licht.

Also on Sunday, The New York Times published a feature on Zucker, whom Licht replaced last year. Zucker, whose tenure was marked by CNN’s lurch to the left, was forced out ahead of the planned merger that put CNN under Warner Bros. Discovery’s control. Zucker has been annoyed by Licht’s potshots at CNN’s prior journalism style, and by extension, Zucker himself. The network still contains many staffers and on-air talent loyal to Zucker.

“Executives at Warner Bros. Discovery believe Mr. Zucker is waging a proxy war against Mr. Licht, undermining his leadership from afar,” the Times reported.

What karma that CNN is ripping itself apart at the seams and that that implosion was further fed by the Trump town hall.

The bottom line here is that Licht was doing the right thing to try to take them back to being a news organization. I think he might have underestimated just how reluctant some of them would be to be dragged away from being an arm of the Democratic Party and who might jump into the war against him. As I noted when I wrote about CNN’s Kirsten Powers and what she said about censoring Republicans, you can see what a fight Licht has to change the network when you have employees like that. Unfortunately for Licht and Zaslav, I think the network is so far gone unless they boot all the Zucker-bots/Democratic operatives, they’re going to continue to have discord and lose in the ratings.



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