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Chris Licht Steps Down From CNN

'The job of leading CNN was never going to be easy, especially at a time of huge disruption and transformation,' said Warner Bros. president David Zaslav

CNN CEO Chris Licht is leaving the next work following weeks of increasing internal tension.

Warner Bros. Discovery announced on June 7 that Licht has stepped down effective immediately and that an “active” search for his replacement is underway.

“I have great respect for Chris, personally and professionally,” said David Zaslav, the parent company’s president and CEO, in a press release. “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.”

“While we know we have work to do as we look to identify a new leader, we have absolute confidence in the team we have in place and will continue to fight for CNN and its world class journalism,” Zaslav added.

Licht’s departure comes just one year after he took over leadership of the network following the revelation that former CEO Jeff Zucker did not disclose a romantic relationship he was having with a co-worker and his subsequent resignation.

The former executive producer for Stephen Colbert was tasked with making CNN less partisan as Warner Bros. projected a need for $3 billion in cost reduction. Under his leadership, CNN produced a number of underperforming podcasts, closed its NFT marketplace and terminated its CNN+ streaming services shortly after its rollout. He also reportedly told the TV production division to stop overusing the “Breaking News” banner and altered the evening lineups.

“There is widespread concern over the global economic outlook, and we must factor that risk into our long-term planning,” Licht told Staff in a 2022 memo. “All this together will mean noticeable change to this organization. That, by definition, is unsettling. These changes will not be easy because they will affect people, budgets, and projects.”

CNN ultimately laid off hundreds of workers at the end of 2022.

According to CNBC, “Licht’s biggest challenge — more than accelerating profit or revenue or retooling his programming lineup or winning ratings battles over Fox News and MSNBC — may be to win the trust of his own employees.”

It seems Licht was ultimately unsuccessful.

A number of high-profile network talent, including Anderson Cooper, Jake Tapper, and Erin Burnett reportedly spoke out against Licht after CNN hosted a town hall with former President Donald Trump – an event widely regarded as a boon to the Republican presidential candidate and an embarrassment for the network.

His departure also comes days after The Atlantic published a lengthy profile of the executive in which he criticized his predecessors and said employees’ hostility toward Trump had alienated viewers. 

The negative impact of the article culminated in Licht apologizing to CNN staff on June 5, saying he did not recognize himself in the profile.

Puck News, which first reported Licht’s departure, said the news marks “an end to one of the most turbulent periods in the network’s 43-year history.” 

“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,” Licht said, per The Guardian.

As the network searches for a permanent replacement, executive vice president for talent and content development Amy Enteis, executive vice president of editorial Virginia Moseley, executive vice president of U.S. programming Eric Sherling and COO David Leavy will oversee CNN’s operations.

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