Less than a week after The Atlantic published its “Inside the Meltdown at CNN” exposé about chief executive officer Chris Licht and his tenuous tenure at the cable news network, the embattled CEO has resigned after a tumultuous 13 months on the job – effective immediately. Parent company Warner Bros. Discovery announced Licht’s departure on Wednesday morning.
In a statement, Licht’s former boss, Warner Bros. Discovery president and CEO David Zaslav, thanked him for his service. “I have great respect for Chris, personally and professionally,” Zaslav said. “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.”
In the wake of Tuesday’s Talking Points Memo about The Atlantic piece and Licht’s lack of leadership, Megyn opened Wednesday’s show with her reaction to the news he resigned and laid out what’s next for CNN.
What Went Wrong for Chris Licht
Licht’s run as CEO of CNN was marred with missteps, but his understanding of what was plaguing the flailing network was not necessarily one of them. “The problem for Chris Licht wasn’t entirely his vision to remake CNN into a more fair, balanced network,” Megyn said. “The problem was one of ego, style, and approach.”
In her estimation, Licht inspired no one, was not adept at building relationships, and was too focused on himself. “He seems to be a man with a fragile ego who obsesses over press coverage… not of the news but of himself,” she explained. He arrived at CNN on the heels of Jeff Zucker’s departure.
Zucker, in Megyn’s words, was “biased and responsible for ruining the network,” but he was also “beloved” by staffers. Licht entered the situation with too much “swagger” and not enough leadership. “That situation required some tact and perhaps some hand-holding and Licht seemed incapable of either,” she noted. “He was focused more on his newly svelte ‘machine-like’ body and typing his name into Google, than on earning the respect of his staff.”
Can CNN Be Saved?
All of this begs the question: Can the CNN brand be salvaged? “The problems Licht was trying to solve are real, whether CNNers want to admit it or not,” Megyn said. “CNN has lost the trust of its one-time large audience. Its brand has changed from ‘most trusted’ to ‘most pathetic.’”
A few examples: “Jim Acosta and his enormous ego,” “Brianna Keilar and her sneering coverage of anything Trump related,” “Alisyn Camerota and her snide judgments,” “Christiane Amanpour and her smug elitism,” “even formerly benign anchors like Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer are now more associated with ‘the resistance’ than with straight news journalism,” Megyn explained. Most recently, “the soul-searching, tearful meltdown post-Trump town hall is just the latest example of how far left the network has gone,” she added.
Licht’s attempt to undo the bias with the same talent and audience in place was never going to work, as they “were already hooked on the crack cocaine of hating Donald Trump,” Megyn noted. Firing Don Lemon, Chris Cuomo, and Brian Stelter was a start, but it’s likely not enough. “I’m afraid the problem went well beyond that and you’re going to have to say goodbye to still more talent and many behind the scenes,” she said.
Good Luck, CNN
Long term, the goal should be for CNN to win back viewers from the middle and the right, but the numbers currently are not there. “The channel’s ratings are now in the toilet,” Megyn said. “Seriously, they are regularly losing to Newsmax, which is in some 20 to 25 million fewer homes than CNN with probably one-one thousandth the budget.”
The current succession plan is for a team of CNN execs to lead the network until a replacement for Licht is named. Whoever it is will have – to put it mildly – an uphill battle. “I’m not at all sure CNN is savable, but this is its only chance,” Megyn concluded. “The Chris Licht replacement needs to… be someone who knows how to lead… to maintain the authority of a boss, and has a proven record of inspiring people to follow him or her. To that person… lots of luck. You’re gonna need it.”
You can check out Megyn’s full show by tuning in to episode 567 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.