CNN media reporter Oliver Darcy used much of his popular newsletter on Monday to cast a heavy shadow of doubt over whether the network’s embattled CEO, Chris Licht, has what it takes to lead on the heels of a devastating magazine profile.
The Atlantic’s 15,000-word piece on Licht has been reverberating around CNN ever since it dropped Thursday.
Reporting from inside the house, Darcy called the piece “embarrassing” and stated that it “called into serious question Licht’s judgment, his ability to lead the network’s staff, and his overall professional capabilities as CNN’s top executive.”
Licht issued an apology on Monday, saying that he should not have been “in the news.”
According to Darcy, CNN staffers reportedly had a range of feeling about the Atlantic piece, from frustration to anger to sadness. One anchor made a snarky comment upon learning that Licht would be relocating his office from a less-accessible upper-level floor to the newsroom where his staff are, telling Darcy: “We don’t want his office relocated to the 18th floor, we want it relocated out of the building.”
Writer Tim Alberta had been given an unusual amount of access to Licht over the course of several months as he sought to reshape CNN and revitalize its ratings with guidance from David Zazlav, the top boss at parent company Warner Bros. Discovery.
In speaking with Alberta, however, Licht was highly critical of CNN’s past work. He suggested the network’s COVID-19 coverage had been excessive and that it had strayed from its mission of delivering “absolute truth.”
“There has to be a source of absolute truth,” Licht told The Atlantic.
His actions also did not always appear to back up his aspirations — particularly in the case of last month’s town hall with former President Donald Trump. Licht had reportedly directed producers to make the crowd “extra Trumpy,” resulting in a live audience that jeered CNN anchor Kaitlin Collins as she tried to keep the discussion with the former president on track.
Darcy had previously criticized the town hall, musing in his newsletter soon afterward: “It’s hard to see how America was served by the spectacle of lies that aired on CNN Wednesday evening.”
In Alberta’s telling, Licht did not seem prepared for the backlash to the event, which Trump used to promote election-related falsehoods. Licht had told Alberta earlier that how CNN was going to cover Trump was “not something I stay up at night thinking about.”
On Monday, Darcy reported, Licht spent much of his day holding “one-on-one conversations with top talent and executives” after addressing “the elephant in the room” during a morning meeting. He reportedly struck the right tone, Darcy said. But staffers told him the damage had been done.
“There is one near-universal sentiment, however, that has been communicated to me: Licht has lost the room,” Darcy wrote.
Whether the CEO will be able to hold on to his position has fueled endless speculation. Shortly before the Atlantic profile went live, Zazlav brought in a new COO, David Leavy, which some have taken as another sign that Licht may not be sticking around.