According to sources within CNN, Chairman Chris Licht has been fired after a tumultuous year marked by controversies in his attempt to make the network more “middle of the road” in its outlook. Licht’s firing can be attributed to his inability to define what “middle of the road” meant in the context of CNN’s programming. While he aimed to de-radicalize the network without emulating Fox News, his decisions faced significant pushback. Firing left-leaning personalities like Don Lemon and giving Donald Trump a town hall platform caused discontent among the hard-left staff who resisted the idea of CNN becoming more moderate.
One of Licht’s early missteps was canceling CNN’s streaming service, CNN+, which resulted in a $1.5 billion write-down and its eventual failure. Despite a $300 million advertising campaign, CNN+ struggled to attract more than 10,000 viewers at any given time. David Zaslav, the CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, CNN’s parent company, took responsibility for the failed venture. Under Licht’s leadership, CNN also faced declining ratings and programming errors, such as an ill-fated morning show co-hosted by Don Lemon and criticism of their pandemic coverage.
Licht’s efforts were further hindered by the lingering loyalty to former CEO Jeff Zucker among anchors and top staff. While Zucker was let go due to a failure to disclose a relationship with a colleague, his disregard for appealing to “middle of the road” America and prioritizing good journalism persisted. Licht was tasked with restoring CNN to its previous reputation as the gold standard for TV journalism.
David Zaslav, who may potentially assume control of CNN, has his own vision for the network’s editorial mission. He has expressed the need for CNN to showcase both sides of every issue and distinguish itself from advocacy networks. However, it remains to be seen if Zaslav can effectively implement his ideas and guide CNN towards a balanced and unbiased approach if he assumes the CEO position.
The firing of Chris Licht reflects the challenges faced by CNN in finding a middle ground and achieving credibility among viewers across the political spectrum. The network must address its programming choices, rebuild trust among its employees, and redefine its editorial direction to regain its position as a respected source of journalism.