Chris Licht’s tenure thus far as chief executive officer at CNN can best be described as rocky – a fact further confirmed by the 15,000-word expose published by The Atlantic on Friday. In the piece titled “Inside the Meltdown at CNN,” writer Tim Alberta seemingly had unfettered access to Licht as he attempted to navigate his first year on the job at the struggling network.
The piece reverberated through the media world over the weekend with many questioning what the unflattering article means for Licht’s future at CNN. Megyn opened Monday’s show with a no holds barred Talking Points memo that takes a closer look at The Atlantic piece, Licht’s follies, and the state of CNN as a whole.
What CNN Wanted vs. What CNN Got From The Atlantic
Needless to say, when CNN’s PR team agreed to give The Atlantic access to Licht and their offices, they were hoping to make news with a splashy profile. While it certainly made news, it definitely was not the kind the network – or Licht – was hoping for. “The profile on CNN chief Chris Licht was supposed to confirm his brilliance and journalistic integrity,” Megyn said. “Instead, it may be the death-knell for Licht’s career.”
In the article, Megyn said Licht came off across as “self-aggrandizing” and “insecure,” uttering phrases like “I’m a machine” while pumping iron in the gym (for the record: “What kind of man does that,” she asked), obsessing over his predecessor Jeff Zucker, and oddly taking advice about CNN from his personal trainer.
What Licht Gets Right About CNN
One element of the article that Megyn nodded along to is Licht’s assessment of the issues plaguing CNN. “I found myself agreeing with much of what Licht found faulty in the CNN he was inheriting after Jeff Zucker’s ouster,” she said.
She’s aligned with his criticism of how the network “hyped the COVID virus and death toll to the point where it became absurd,” “how CNN joined the ‘resistance’ during the Trump years,” and “how it became a player on the field during Trump’s presidency, costing the network its credibility and trust as a neutral journalistic outfit.”
In fact, the reported “revolt” current and former CNN staffers seem to be in over the profile speaks to just how out of hand things have gotten. Take, for instance, former CNN media critic Brian Stelter. “Brian Stelter – who Licht justifiably fired as one of the most biased, worst offenders of these sins – writes now that the ‘COVID hype’ allegation really stung some inside CNN who maintain ‘they did no such thing,’” Megyn noted. “Well, I watched the whole thing unfold, and if CNN wasn’t hyping the COVID death toll for ratings, then it must have actually been that hysterical.”
Regardless, “it’s an embarrassment and a journalistic fail for them,” she added.
Roger Ailes vs. Chris Licht
While Licht may be able to diagnose CNN’s problems, he does not appear capable of finding the solutions – even if he does, in Megyn’s words, “fancy himself a mini-Roger Ailes wannabe.” As she sees it, “Roger’s genius came to him authentically as he grew up digging ditches in Youngstown, OH.”
Licht, meanwhile, was raised in Connecticut, the son of a doctor and a physician assistant. “His career before CNN had him executive producing the morning show at CBS… and then Stephen Colbert’s late night propaganda machine for the left,” Megyn noted. “This is not man-of-middle-America stuff.” While she believes Licht has studied Ailes’ approach to news gathering, story telling, and talent development, “you can’t imitate your way to greatness,” she said.
To date, Licht’s ‘big moves’ have included an ill-fated ‘promotion’ of Don Lemon from primetime host to morning show anchor before firing him and building the network around former White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins. “[He’s] elevating Kaitlan Collins as his next big star,” Megyn said. “Collins seems a fine reporter with potential, but she doesn’t have anything close to the ‘it’ factor that has thrust many others into cable news stardom.” Case in point: Throwing her to the wolves as moderator of the town hall with former President Donald Trump. “That too was an utter fail… well done, sir,” she added.
How ‘The Machine’ Lost the Newsroom
Since The Atlantic piece, there has been a slew of follow-up reporting from The New York Times, The Daily Beast, The New York Post, Stelter, and even CNN’s own Oliver Darcy. The main takeaway across the board, in Megyn’s view, is that CNN staff “cannot stand” Licht.
According to sources, Licht is moving his office from the upper floors of CNN headquarters to the newsroom the way his predecessor Zucker did. Megyn doubts it will be enough. “The children don’t need moment to moment access to daddy,” she remarked. “The chumminess of Zucker with his staff was actually a problem, not an accomplishment. He wanted to be liked, he didn’t want to lead.”
The move marks another miscalculation for the embattled CEO. “It is evidence of the fact that Licht doesn’t know how to appease his minions,” she concluded. “He’s flailing, and the minions are apparently done with ‘The Machine.’”
You can check out Megyn’s full show by tuning in to episode 566 on YouTube, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you like to listen. And don’t forget that you can catch The Megyn Kelly Show live on SiriusXM’s Triumph (channel 111) weekdays from 12pm to 2pm ET.