Inside the meltdown at CNN (2023)

Inside the meltdown at CNN (1)


CEO Chris Licht felt on a mission to restore the network's reputation for serious journalism. How could everything go wrong?

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Photographs by Mark Peterson

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Editor's Note:On June 7, 2023, five days after this article was published, the CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery announced that Chris Licht was leaving CNN immediately.

Inside the meltdown at CNN (2)

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Updated June 7, 2023 at 11:34 am ET.

"Hhow are weWill you cover Trump? "It's not something I lie awake at night thinking about," Chris Licht told me. "Too easy."

It was the fall of 2022. This was the first of many official interviews Licht had agreed to give me, and I wanted to know how the new head of CNN planned to handle another Donald Trump run. Until recently, Licht produced a successful late-night comedy show. Now, just months after taking over as director of one of the world's most prominent news organizations, he claims he has a "simple" answer to the question that could define his legacy.

"I think the media has absolutely learned their lesson," Licht said.

He noticed my surprise and smiled.

"I really want to," Licht said. "I think they know he's been deceiving them, at least the people in my organization. We've talked about it. We know we're going to be beaten, so we're going to fight back."

Seven months laterIn Manchester, New Hampshire, I met Licht with the expression of a man who has just survived a car accident. Normally, Licht was brash and confident, but he was pale and sagging. He scanned the room with worried eyes. Seeing me, he shouted an aerial chord. "Well," said Luz, "HeIt wasn't boring!"

We were in the lobby of the Dana Center on the campus of Saint Anselm College. Licht, the 51-year-old chairman and chief executive of CNN Worldwide, spent the last hour and a half in a trailer behind the building, a wheeled control room from which CNN operated.prefecture with trump. Licht was aware of the risks associated with the occasion: Trump has spent the past six years insulting and threatening CNN, calling the network and its journalists "fake news" and "enemies of the people," rhetoric that has led to death threats. , blacklists. and, finally, the severing of diplomatic ties between Trump and the leadership of CNN.

But that was under thealternativeRegimen. When he took over as CEO of CNN in May 2022, Licht had promised:readjustment with republican voters– and with their leader. He took the job with pride, telling his staff that the network had lost its way under former President Jeff Zucker and that its hostile attitude toward Trump had alienated a wider audience that craved serious, fact-based reporting. These allegations shed light on a war on two fronts: He was fighting to win back the Republicans who canceled the station, while at the same time he was fighting to win over his own journalists, many of whom believed their new boss was using scapegoats to appease him. benew boss, David Zaslav, who hired Licht with instructions to move CNN into the ideological center.

A year after starting the activity, Licht lost both battles. Ratings have been dropping since Trump left officedropped to new lows. Team morale was even worse. A sense of fear gripped the company. Licht took the job with an ambition to clean up the entire news industry, telling his colleagues that Trump had bankrupted the mainstream media and that his goal was nothing less than "saving journalism". But Licht had lost confidence in his own newsroom. For that reason, he saw the primetime event with Trump as the moment that would justify his pursuit of a Republican audience, while also demonstrating to his team that he had a revolutionary vision for his network and the media at large.

Trump had other ideas.

Over 70 minutes in Manchester, the former president beat CNN presenter Kaitlan Collins with aconstant explosion of distortions, exaggerations and lies. The audience of Trump supporters reveled in his attack on Collins and cheered so loudly and decisively that what started as a news forum turned into a WWE match before the first voter even asked a question. Vince McMahon himself couldn't have written a juicier script: Trump was the heroic bully, hated by the establishment, loved by the masses, trying to reclaim a title mistakenly taken from him, while Collins defended the rogue elites who claimed he dared. to do this. ask questions The protagonist's virtue was portrayed as a leap. "She's not very nice," Trump told the studio audience, pointing at Collins as he stood backstage during the first commercial break.

Trump could be excused for thinking this was exactly what Licht wanted. The notoriously transactional former president asked his senior staff aloud during negotiations with CNN executives how the network would benefit from such a production; When CNN decided to fill the room with Republicans, Trump could only guess that Licht wanted a big primetime show to revive the network's low ratings. The two men spoke only briefly backstage. "Have fun," Licht told him. Trump was engaged. He humiliated Mrs. E. Jean Carroll, who was convicted by a jury of sexual assault the day before. He repeated disproved fictions about voter fraud and suggested he would separate families on the southern border again if given the chance. He insulted Collins, calling her a "bad person", as the crowd hissed in agreement. At one point, when she and Trump made their mark onstage after another commercial break, Collins politely reminded her not to walk past the giant red CNN logo in front of them. Trump responded with a gesture as if he was stepping on him. The crowd roared in agreement.

Listen: An interview with Tim Alberta about his time with Chris Licht

The light didn't wantHe. Of course, I was looking for qualifications; In nearly 20 years as showrunner, ratings have been his currency. But Licht came to Manchester with bigger ambitions than pulling CNN out of its ratings basement for a single night in May. He believed that Trump owed his early political rise in part to the media's habit of marginalizing conservative views and Republican voters. That had to change by 2024. Licht wasn't afraid to bring some MAGA fans to his set: he had spoken to his handlers at CNN in the days leading up to City Hall about the audience's "extra Trumpy" casting and expected it, and certainly had. he is not afraid of triumph. The way to deal with a tyrant like Trump is to confront him with the facts, Licht told reporters.

Collins tried to do just that. However, she was no match for the environment she was thrown into. Playing 1-on-1 against the most talented crook in the country is tough enough, but this one was 300-on-1. The result was an infomercial for the campaign: Trump, the populist champion, kills his old enemy and, to a huge TV uproar, asserts his right to the presidency.

"Does CNN count as an in-kind campaign donation?" tweeted longtime broadcaster Dan Rather.

Rather's comment was mild compared to the barrage of criticism leveled at CNN. "Ready to scream: terrible idea," tweeted conservative writer Ramesh Ponnuru just nine minutes after the event. "CNN should be ashamed," tweeted Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. "This is an absolute joke," tweeted former Republican Representative Adam Kinzinger. "Chris Licht is fast becoming the Elon Musk of CNN," he tweeted.the bulwark'S Charlie Sykes.

When Licht met me in the lobby and told me that the evening hadn't been boring, it wasn't clear how much of the setback he'd already seen. WhatguerraIt was clear that Licht knew he was bad, very, very bad. Republicans were furious with CNN. Democrats were furious with CNN. Journalists were angry with CNN. The only one who wasn't angry seemed to be Trump, presumably because he managed to humiliate the network on its own airwaves.

I felt with light. Having spoken with him for much of the past year as he tried to build "the new CNN," I often agreed with his journalistic principles. Some members of the media criticized Licht as host of City Hall, arguing that it could not be good to "flatten" a man who tried to sabotage the peaceful transfer of power. Lightin disagreement- and me too. Trump was the clear favorite for the Republican nomination and a good chance of taking the White House in two years. The media had a duty to scrutinize him, interview him and, yes, give him a platform.

However, as I sat in the Saint Anselm auditorium, I was taken aback by my surroundings. This was no ordinary gathering of Republicans and independents affiliated with the Republican Party, as CNN had claimed. Most of them were die-hard supporters and political zealots who would rather show up at a rally with a MAGA flag than walk into a cafe with a political issue. These people did not come forward to participate in any genuine civic rituals. They were there to celebrate Trump's continued attack on the media.

Licht's CNN theory—what went wrong, how to fix it, and why it could galvanize the entire industry—made perfect sense. The implementation of this theory? Another story. Every move he made, whether it was a big programming decision or a small tactical maneuver, seemed to backfire. By most standards, the network under Licht's leadership has hit an all-time low. In my conversations with nearly 100 CNN employees, it was clear that Licht needed a win, a big win, to keep the company from falling apart. Trump City Hall must be that victory. HeShould bethis victory. And yet the execution failed once again.

Licht led me into a dark hallway outside the auditorium and tried to calm me down. He and I spent many hours discussing what he called CNN's "mission." I asked Licht if the City Council had promoted this mission. He bit his lip.

"It's too early to tell," Licht replied.

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Dduring ourIn the first breakfast interview last fall, Licht explicitly assured me: David Zaslav was after him.

The light started slowly, understandably so. CNN was still in shock over the forced resignation of Zucker, a popular figure who had been fired.she sleeps with her vice, and the firing of Chris Cuomo, a prime-time star who alsoshaking up ethical standardson the advice of his brother-in-law, he had a #MeToo problem. (Zucker declined to comment for this article; Cuomo has denied allegations of sexual misconduct.) Meanwhile, the change in ownership prior to Licht's arrival (AT&T spun off WarnerMedia, which later merged with Discovery Inc. to create Warner Bros. Discovery) was more complicated. than expected. Thanks to shaky balance sheets and a subsequent inflationary crisis, Warner Bros. Discovery halved within months of its release. Days before Licht took over CNN, the new parent made the announcement.CNN+ Termination, a streaming platform that has been hailed as the future of the company.

There was never going to be much goodwill between Warner Bros. Discovery and CNN journalists. In November 2021, shortly after the company's acquisition was announced, John Malone, a right-wing billionaire who wanted to become a major shareholder on the new board of directors of Warner Bros. Discovery said CNN could learn a few things from Fox News reporters. . “I would like to see CNN go back to the kind of journalism it started with and have journalists in it, which would be unique and refreshing,” Malone told CNBC. After Zucker's firing, the CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery Zaslav exacerbated these tensions by choosing Licht without interviewing any of CNN's internal candidates. Zaslav told many people that he needed an outsider to review CNN's journalistic practices because Republican politicians told him they were no longer willing to appear on the network, arguing that he worried staff there.

However, the CNN base was excited by the arrival of Licht, who gained fame as a genius producer since his the morning johnYO Late Show com Stephen Colbert. But things quickly went wrong. A few weeks into his tenure, Licht instructed his producers to downplay the first committee hearing on January 6, an event that MSNBC treated as a primetime special and garnered large ratings that angered the CNN staff. The day after the hearing, Licht expressed his regrets to some of the top editors. Still, the incident was disturbing. Network reporters once had reason to question Malone and Zaslav's motives; Now they also distrusted the light. As the new CEO began publicly acknowledging the sins of CNN, which at times appeared to condone Trump's attacks on the network, caution gave way to anger. The best talent began to turn on the lights. Rumors of a ruined honeymoon spread throughout the industry. When Licht sent an e-mail two days before our October breakfast announcing the impending layoffs of his employees (there would be more than 300 in all), CNN was in full swing.

Sipping a glass of iced coffee, Licht shrugged: the insider leaks, the swarm of outside media, the print columns and whispered anecdotes accusing him of turning CNN into Fox News Lite. "That's too important for me to care about what they call me or what I'm trying to be," Licht said. “This is so missionary and so important. I really am: I get angry, I get frustrated, but it doesn't affect me. That makes sense?"

It didn't make sense. Matt Dornic volunteered to translate. Dornic, who joined us as CNN's senior vice president of communications and, as I discovered, was one of the mainstays of Licht's small entourage, explained that the new boss was not upset by the harsh reporting on him personally, but by his poor Press reports on CNN Journalists. Dornic cited recent reports about how the experimental 9:00 p.m. by Jake Tapper. hour - the space left by Cuomo, which has yet to be permanently occupied - wasdraw anemic numbers. Light pointed a finger at Dornic.

"What drives me crazy," he said, "isHehas the potential to dissuade my group from the mission.”

I asked Licht to explain this mission to me as clearly as possible.

"Journalism. Trust. Everyone has an agenda and is trying to frame events or thoughts. There has to be a source of absolute truth," he told me. "There are good actors, there are bad actors, there's a lot of shit in the world. There has to be something to look at and say, 'They have no intention other than the truth.'

Journalism was Licht's first love. The son of a physician and an attending physician, he grew up in Connecticut hosting fictional newscasts in his basement as an elementary school student. He studied broadcasting at Syracuse University, then moved to Los Angeles where, after being in the right place at the right time to cover the O.J. Simpson, he became addicted to producing news. With a lock of young blonde hair and an unlimited supply of confidence, Licht worked his way to bigger, more meaningful jobs and eventually made his way back to the East Coast.

It was Licht's relationship with Joe Scarborough, a former Florida congressman turned television personality, that opened the biggest doors for him. First on MSNBCTerra de Scarborough, a prime-time hit that featured staunch conservative experts on all political and cultural issues and morein the morning john, Licht distinguished himself as a top-notch executive producer, someone known for walking through walls (and running over people) to make great television. Mike Barnicle, ain the morning johnContributor nicknamed Light "Captain Intense". But the intensity got to him. Licht suffered a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 38 and began to rethink his life and career. A few years later, Licht left MSNBC to helm the CBS morning show, then left news entirely to join Stephen Colbert as showrunner onDie Late Show.

Licht had a superlative deal with Colbert: more money, less headaches, better hours. Only a job, he told me, could justify leaving this life and returning to everyday journalism. And then came the offer: Zaslav, who had been informally courting Licht long before the WarnerMedia-Discovery merger was completed, asked him to head the new CNN in early 2022.

Licht knew "instantly" that he had to accept. However, he was unaware of the challenges that awaited him. His wife, Jenny Blanco, had worked as a producer for CNN. He knew some of the best talent on the air. Both Colbert and Scarborough warned him against taking the job, and Licht understood their reservations. He had seen the network become increasingly polarized over the past five years. When I asked Licht what he thought of CNN while working on Colbert's show, both as a viewer and as a veteran journalist, he hesitated, searching for the right words.

"Think,I have a hard time distinguishing between "how much of an audience are we played by Trump?" and how much of it actually..."He was silent.

Licht said Trump did "very bad shit" as president, something reporters sometimes avoid because they are obsessed with more sensational stories. Trump fed the media "outrageous pornography", leading journalists to react with such outrage so often that the public began to tune out. "If everything is an 11 on a scale of 10," Licht said, "that means that if something really terrible happens, we're going to be a little deaf." That was a strategy. And I felt that the media fell for that strategy.”

Licht recalled that early in the Trump administration, a certain reporter was barred from giving a press conference due to a dispute with the White House. At a subsequent meeting with other board members of the Newhouse School of Journalism in Syracuse, one of them suggested running a full-page ad.The New York Times diesShe denounces this affront to the First Amendment. "And I say, 'Guys, keep the gunpowder dry.' That's nothing. "It's going to get a lot worse," Licht said.

"I had a feeling there was such a mission-" He stopped.

"The mission was to track down this guy…" He paused again.

"Right or wrong. I'm not saying he's a nice guy. He's definitely not," Licht said of Trump. "But that was the mission, by the way.Sometimes something must be an 11; sometimes it should be a two; sometimes it must be a zero. Not everything can be an 11 because it happens to come from someone you feel a deep hatred for.

I told Licht that while I agreed with his observation – that Trump had tricked reporters into putting on a shirt and walking into the game and acting as opposing players, rather than acting as commentators or even referees – there was an alternative view. trump hadhe forced us, trying to destroy the country's self-governing institutions in order to play a more active role than many journalists would like. It wasn't about raising capitalDdemocratic politics; it was about choosing smallDdemocratic principles. However, merging the two proved extremely problematic, and the question of how to adequately cover Trump continued to occupy much of the media.

Licht didn't understand all the noise. “If something is a lie, call it a lie. that. And at least [in] my organization, I think we understand that the jersey cannot be used again. Because you know what? Did not work. Being in the game with the jersey hasn't changed anyone's opinion."

The new boss told the CNN people that Tapper's 4 o'clock program,leadership, was the model to follow: tough, respectful, and curious accounts that questioned every conceivable point of view and allowed for an open dialogue.

Licht highlighted certain exceptions to this approach. I wouldn't give airtime to malicious actors spreading misinformation. Your hammock would accommodate both people who like rain and people who don't like rain. But, he said, CNN wouldn't catch people who deny it's raining, even if it is raining. This was no small warning: more than half of Republicans in Congress voted to get rid of the Arizona and Pennsylvania electorate based on lies. Now, there are many Republicans whothey were notElection deniers didn't want to appear on CNN anyway. Realizing this situation, Licht traveled to the Capitol early in his term, meeting with Republican leaders and promising them a fair chance under his leadership.

What Licht saw as a diplomatic visit, his skeptics portrayed as an apology trip. The narrative circulating in elite media circles that the new head of CNN was a ruthless would-be conspirator, Roger Ailes, came into play. Light was initially amused. But he soon lost his sense of humor. He called Robert Reich and berated him after the former labor secretarywrote a substack postcriticize CNN. He swore to his friends that he would "destroy" Kurt Bardella, a Democratic strategist, for an insult.Los Angeles TimesTo divide. Licht was angered by what he saw as a coordinated attack by liberals, who feared long-awaited journalistic scrutiny of their ideals.

"There is a certain sector of society that has an unreserved megaphone towards the world's leading news organization," he said. "And the slightest hint that maybe this organization isn't just catching things that feed on that segment of the population, it must be that a fascist is running the network and wants to shift it to the right... The fact that "I want to leave room for the [argument] that everyone agrees this might not be right, doesn't make me a right-wing fascist trying to steal Fox viewers".

Licht was not a fascist. But theguerratries to steal viewers from Fox News as well as MSNBC. To succeed, CNN would need to produce more than just great journalism, Licht said. Aggressive and unbiased news coverage would be key to the channel's attempt to win back viewers. But television is essentially entertainment. In times of crisis, viewers always turn to CNN, Licht told me. He had to find out how many would tune in to CNN for fun.

From the March 2023 Issue: Megan Garber on How It All Became Entertainment

Inside the meltdown at CNN (3)

eudidn't frownand crossed his arms, his voice sounding irritated.

"I'll tell Don that the biggest mistake is commenting after every story just to comment after every story," he said, speaking to no one and everyone at once. "Don't tell me, 'Oh, that's awful.' We know it's awful. If you have a specific idea of ​​something and can add something, please let us know. Just don't comment on every damn story."

Licht had placed an office chair on wheels between the first and second rows of Control Room B, a darkened room where dozens of monitors were manned by two dozen people with hoods and headphones. Everyone looked tense. There were still 96 hours left until Election Day 2022 when they releasedCNN this morning, Licht's first big break as head of the network, and the show looked terrible.

"I want more exercise. A lot of exercise," he told Eric Hall, the new show's executive producer, who was sitting center front row. "What do I hate the most?"

Hall and a younger producer named Zachary Slater responded in unison: "Crates."

Light agreed. "Kisten," he said, referring to theBrady BunchCheck cable news screens. "I don't want it to be hectic, but please keep walking. We need to see these people."

Even under the best of conditions, it's hard to make good television. These were not the best conditions. Eager to make his mark on CNN, Licht started with what he did best, mornings, and hired his staff to prepare the program for Election Day. Rehearsals were rushed. Co-hosts Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins had trouble getting together, in part because they had so little practice together. (Collins was reporting in Georgia that day.) Licht formed this trio and this new program in hopes of adding some spice to CNN's programming. He believed that working with Lemon, the rebellious gay black Southerner, and two tough reporters could provide the "fun" viewers needed. But I felt that Light wasn't having fun.

When the rehearsal stopped, a collective exhalation floated through the room. Licht sat back, picked up the phone, and began scanning adiversityStory about his decision to cut CNN's documentary department following the layoffs. After he delivered a few choice lines, but before we could talk about the article, the show started again and the cameras focused on Lemon. She wore a white jacket with a fur collar and a turtleneck underneath.

“What the hell is he wearing?” Light snapped. Nervous laughter echoed around us.

The shot began to zoom out, slowly at first to include the guests, then rotated around the glass table at center stage. "Great. I love it," Licht told Hall. "Just slow it down, make it stable."

A little later, the younger producer spoke into Lemon's headphones: "Don, um, we don't really like jackets here." Lemon looked upset. Light suppressed a smile. “Why are they so mean to Don?” he asked.

The prank did not escape anyone's attention. Licht has apparently lost his temper with Lemon: his clothes, his publicity, his opinions. All of this shouldn't have come as a surprise. Lemon was one of the media's most controversial figures, someone of undeniable talent and unbridled instincts. Given Licht's "in the middle" mantra, people at the network were baffled by his decision to entrust the success of the new morning show to CNN's top troublemaker. Some believed that Zaslav had ordered Licht to remove Lemon from his 10:00 pm slot. m. Slot (Licht denied). Others felt that Licht, who had already fired other off-mission staff, including media reporter Brian Stelter and White House correspondent John Harwood, would have also fired Lemon had she not been one of the only black and very white voices on the Internet. Regardless of the details, these two men's careers were now intertwined.

As the show went on another hiatus, a shirtless Lemon was sitting in front of a giant studio screen. words were the focusan uncomfortable truth. Licht asked Hall what the segment was about. Hall responded that Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, had been saying crazy, hate-filled things for a long time, but corporate America never let him down; Only now, after his anti-Semitic abuse, have companies like Adidas abandoned him. Lemon wanted to ask: Why did these patrons stick with Ye after his hurtful comments about slavery and other issues, but have now decided to back out due to his anti-Semitism?

Light looked skeptical. "Where do you imagine that?" he said.

"Probably the back half of the show," Hall replied.

"Do you think if I go to work at 7:40 in the morning I'll have time to process this?" asked Licht.

That's when the section started and Lemon immediately destroyed the opening move. Hall let out an irritated growl. "How did this happen?"

Light grimaced. "Read the damn notice," he said.

After navigating through the segment whispering instructions to Hall: "full... left... back..." Licht caught a glimpse of Ryan Kadro, a senior executive who worked with Licht at CBS and knew him better than anyone else in this living room . Kadro shook his head. "Too long," he said.

"Too long, and it's bloody morning time," Licht said, pointing to the screen, which displayed a graphic image of a tortured slave standing next to Lemon during his monologue. "This is morning TV."

When rehearsal came to an end, Licht ran onto the set and cornered Lemon at the announcer's table. Licht gave his candid feedback: Some things would have worked, but Ye's segment didn't. I wanted less comments. Most of all, he wanted Lemon and the others to make sure things were easy in the morning. Lemon looked hesitant. "I don't want to preach in the morning, but I want to hold people accountable," he said. Licht nodded and said he understood. So he repeated to himself: Ye's idea missed the mark.

When the power went out, I sat with Lemon and Harlow, as well as Dornic, the omnipresent communications manager. Feeling the lingering tension of the previous conversation, I asked Lemon if his approach to the news was consistent with Licht's. In particular, I mentioned our conversation about "outraged porn." Lemon blinked at me.

“Some people might want to label this 'scandalous pornography'. But in the last few years there has been a lot of outrage," he said. "For five, six years, multiple times a day, there would be a tweet or a statement or an action or something that was outrageous... We fight for democracy. We struggled to make it clear that we were being attacked and called 'wrong'... This may have caused us to back off and become a little more aggressive when we reported it, but that doesn't mean it was 'outrageous' porn...'"

Harlow saw things a little differently, perhaps because of her purely journalistic background, but Lemon showed no sign of it.

"A lot of people talk about what happened on Monday morning," Lemon told me on CNN. “You have to remember the time we were in. Every day we were attacked by the previous government. And it's not an exaggeration... We send bombs to that same network”.

In fact, Harlow was on live air when the bomb was detected. She had to be evacuated to the street wherecontinuation of broadcast. It was a traumatic ordeal for all of CNN, and that was Lemon's point. During Trump's presidency, he was inundated with threats, had menacing figures following him on the street, and had 24-hour security surveillance at certain points. It wasn't just about him. What about the relentless hate speech against women and minorities, employees and individuals? It was all rude. Shall I pretend?noget angry?

Dornic intervened. "I don't think Chris would say that…" He paused.

"It's not about you versus Chris," Dornic continued. "I think his perspective is that under normal government it would have been 11 shillings. But you had to recalibrate because if you make rudeness to women an 11, what if he's really doing something completely crazy and undermining democracy?"

Harlow, who now takes on the peacemaker role, told Lemon that this seemed like a legitimate point. Recently, he said, he told his children the story of the boy who cried "wolf." While he was concerned about Trump breaking the rules, he was also concerned about the lack of self-confidence shown by some in his profession. Lemon seemed willing to challenge that point. So, perhaps out of deference to Harlow, she decided to give up.

As we continued to talk, the connection between Lemon and Harlow became apparent. She said her husband advised her not to switch roles unless it meant becoming Lemon's partner; Lemon said she didn't move in the morning with anyone else. What was less clear was where Collins fit into the mix. Collins was just 30 years old and had gone from entertainment journalist to career in a matter of years.the daily callerto CNN's top White House correspondent. He had strong reporting skills and an extensive list of sources. Everyone on the network could see that Collins was the brand's future: a next-generation star who could become synonymous with CNN for decades to come. So why take away your valuable reporter position and put it at a table with two co-moderators?

Nobody really knew. Licht spoke of chemistry and character, of dynamic personalities and geographic diversity. (Lemon hails from Louisiana, Harlow from Minnesota, and Collins from Alabama, making them symbols of a forgotten America desperate for the light.) But that was mostly game theory. The truth is that Licht didn't know if it would work. But he knew that CNN's ratings were steadily falling, and that without a bold move to shake a lethargic chain, discontent would only grow. Licht recalled what Joe Scarborough used to tell him: "The fear of money never wins."

Light was ready to play. He asked Lemon to take the lead, relying on Harlow as a stabilizer and hoping Collins could adapt quickly. Licht's formative television experience came from watching Scarborough learn to control his ego and create an inclusive, engaging and highly entertaining show. He hoped Lemon could do the same.

"I feel like the oldest of the bunch," Lemon told us as he sat down on set. He immediately felt that saying it out loud was not sensible. "Yes, yes," Harlow said, looking at him. "But lift us up." Lemon grabbed her hand. I won't try to deceive you."

She smiled politely. "There's none of that on this show."

EUIt was 6:07 in the morning. m.and sweat trickled from Licht's nose.

He trained his arms and legs on a machine at a gym two blocks from the Hudson River. Joe Maysonet, a former boxer wearing polka-dot pajama bottoms, a green Oxford shirt and a peach-colored beanie, stood with his arms crossed and yelled at his client, "Did I say stop? No, I didn't!"

Three years ago, Licht weighed 226 pounds. Fearing losing control of his lifestyle, he gave it his all. No more breakfast. He doesn't drink alcohol on weekdays. No more carbs or sweets. ("I'm a fucking machine," Licht told me one day when I asked him why he was skipping a meal.) He also found Maysonet, whose J Train gym caters to New York's elite: actors, athletes, business moguls. On this morning in March 2023, the CNN boss weighed just 178 pounds.

The light jumped out of the machine. Following Maysonet's instructions, he reached down to pick up a long metal pole that was lying on the ground. "Sugar couldn't do that shit," Licht said through clenched teeth, snarling and raising the pole.

It would never be easy working in the shadow of Jeff Zucker, an extremely popular personality who presided over the most successful and profitable years in CNN's history. But the light made it more difficult than necessary. One of the first things he did after taking office was converting Zucker's old office on the 17th floor, across from the bullpen, near the main studios and control rooms, into a conference room. He then moved to the 22nd floor, settling in an out-of-the-way spot that most employees couldn't find. He became a symbol of Licht's relationship with his workforce: he was aloof, aloof, and unapproachable in every way.

Comparisons to sugar were inevitable and Licht hated them. Where the former boss was outgoing and cordial, cursing employees and reminiscing about his children's birthdays, Licht was taciturn and did his best to avoid human relationships. At a Christmas dinner being in D.C. resident talent, Licht crossed the private room of Café Milano, shook each reporter's hand and spoke briefly, then sat down and spent much of dinner staring at his phone. Not only did he not say anything to address the group, as everyone expected, but Light barely interacted with the people sitting near him. It became so awkward that guests started texting each other, wondering if there was a crisis with an international office. When two of them saw Licht's phone, they realized he was reading a critical story about him.Nightclub.

Inside the meltdown at CNN (4)

The negative press had increased, and Light had been consumed by it, no matter how much he insisted. In particular, the leaks from within his own home infuriated him. Licht knew that many people remained loyal to his predecessor; Some of Zucker's top executives, as well as other personalities on the show, spoke with Zucker on a regular basis. It didn't particularly bother him at first. However, over time, it became clear that these conversations were turning into media reports questioning his leadership on CNN. Licht told friends he was convinced Zucker, whose legacy he undermined daily with rhetorical accusations about past harm to the CNN brand, would retaliate by foisting headlines on him. Licht, in particular, was sure Zucker was using him.NightclubDylan Byers, a former CNN employee who attacked Light in his newsletter several times a week for stoking stories of a riot at the station.

Light and Sugar knew each other because they had worked together at NBCUniversal. Zucker told friends he found it unusual but not threatening when Licht started showing up to David Zaslav's annual Labor Day party a few years earlier, as excitement built over a possible exclusive WarnerMedia-Discovery merger meeting in the Hamptons. Licht wasn't exactly the VIP type to attend these events. Just when the fall 2021 merger seemed inevitable, Zucker got a call from Zaslav. He assured Zucker that his position at the helm of CNN was secure. Then he asked her opinion about the light. Later, Zucker reminded his friends that the endgame was clear at that point. In a matter of months, the sugar ran out, the light came in and the Cold War broke out. An attempt was made to negotiate peace. In August 2022, Jay Sures, an agent representing some of CNN's top talent, hosted a meeting at Zucker's vacation home. He was cordial enough, but there was a deep mistrust between the two men. Both soon began selling conflicting versions of what had happened.

Selfish as his criticism of Zucker was, Licht had legitimate reasons to be suspicious of his predecessor's approach. CNN produced great coverage during the Trump years, but it also embarrassed itself and the industry at large on more than a few occasions. The use of paid contributors like Jeffrey Lord and Corey Lewandowski, the latter of whom was on the air at the time.continues to be paid by the Trump campaign, served no reasonable journalistic purpose. The disinterested tone of the channel's COVID-19 coverage, its constant deference to government officials along with its derision of those who held unorthodox views on school closures and other restrictions hurt viewers. At the same time, Zucker's camaraderie with talent led to a lack of accountability that eventually led to villains. Chris Cuomo broke ethical standards and repeatedly lied to management about it. Jim Acosta routinely did historical reporting from the Trump White House, specializing in scathing talks and commentary rather than questions and source reports. (A viral exchange with Trump, in which Acosta refused to hand the microphone to a press secretary and then rose to interrupt a colleague's question, became the epitome of the end of the Sugar Age.) The Light had one culture of loose rules and Laxity inherited the standards. . He rightly blamed sugar for this.

However, Licht couldn't blame Zucker for what had become his biggest problem: Don Lemon.

In mid-February, a few weeks before her morning workout aired, Lemon caused a stir on social media and angered her co-hosts Harlow and Collins by claiming that Nikki Haley, 51, "wasn't that into you." You're under arrest." First." A woman was just in her prime, Lemon explained, “in her 20s, 30s, maybe 40s.” This was just the latest in a series of crimes. For months, Lemon rocked the control room with half-hearted opinions, irritating Harlow and Collins by sifting through every segment and infuriating Licht by adding the kind of superfluous comments the boss had specifically warned against. Tensions were already high when, one December day, Collins began interrupting Lemon during a news report. Lemon continued to speak, holding up a finger to silence her: "Wait a second," he said, and then, after the segment, verbally abused her in front of the team. Their relationship would never recover. By the time Lemon made the "primast" comment, Licht was already facing the reality that his morning show might fail.

Inside the meltdown at CNN (5)

There was no clean solution to the lemon problem. Top executives urged Licht to fire him; Licht, knowing that this would be seen as a reaction to the Haley episode, feared setting a severe precedent. Lemon proposed an attempt at damage control, a prime-time special on misogyny that he would host with a roundtable of women, and Licht declined. A close aide to Licht later told me that Lemon began telling allies that Al Sharpton, Ben Crump and other black leaders would defend him if they fired him, leading to his removal in a CNN referendum on whiteness. (A Lemon spokesperson denied this, accusing Licht's staff of spreading rumors about him to divert attention from Licht's failings at CNN.)

The burden of it - ofall– made Licht's workouts essential on J Train. Licht called Maysonet his "therapist", "coach", and his "individual focus group". He was one of the few people Light trusted. This gym was Licht's sanctuary; Nothing and no one could disturb you here. Except Zaslav. To his trainer's annoyance, Licht told me that Zaslav liked to call him at 6:30 am. Sometimes these calls happened when Zaslav was on the West Coast, which meant it was 3:30am for him. When Licht told me this, his face twisted into a pained expression.

Licht stepped aside and told me that Maysonet was a "fucking liberal" and hadn't sold his plans to CNN. Maysonet pressed her foot into Licht's shoulder. "Rachel Maddow, this is my girl," he said.

Light rolled her eyes. Maysonet continued to goad him. "By the way, did you see my boy Jamie Raskin on MSNBC the other day?" he asked, referring to the Democratic representative from Maryland. Maysonet began to move his feet like a boxer. "Scrub the floor with you republican boys!"

"Those aren't my boys," Licht groaned, falling onto his back.

Maysonet meant that light turned the other way. Then he turned to me and his voice suddenly turned serious. "I'll tell you what I like about his vision," Maysonet said. “He wants to create a conversation where we can talk to each other again. We can discuss anything, but not if we don't talk."

I asked him to elaborate on that. Maysonet explained that after countless hours of conversations with Licht over the past few years — about the murder of George Floyd, the spread of COVID-19, the election of Joe Biden, the siege of the Capitol — he was convinced his client was there. You are uniquely positioned to facilitate national dialogue on some of the country's most difficult and contentious issues. Perhaps Licht spent too much time promoting the Republicans' return to CNN and not enough time promoting this chat room. "I think that's the part that people don't know about him, and that's the part that can make CNN successful," Maysonet said.

Licht, now half standing with his hands on his knees, proceeded to clarify that he had tried to do just that with his morning show. Maysonet pretended not to hear him, motioning Licht across the room to a large, heavy sled. A minute later, as his client pushed the huge object across the room and grunted with each forward movement, Maysonet brought some news from the sports world: The Brooklyn Nets, which had built their franchise around three All-Star players, had just to have a trade deliver the last of them, a disastrous end to a once promising experiment.

"All that talent," said Maysonet, "but no chemistry."

Astudio audiencede Licht watched as Audie Cornish, CNN's lead audio journalist, asked his boss questions he seemed reluctant to answer.

The purpose of that spring corporate meeting was for Licht to allay concerns, rally the troops, and lay out his plan for the new CNN. Addressing a few dozen employees sitting on black stackable chairs and thousands watching from their booths, couches and news booths around the world, Licht emphasized the opportunity available. He argued that Americans yearned for a network with no perceived party loyalties; as a source of reliable and factual information; for a place that could promote a "national conversation". CNN can be all of those things. But first, suggested Licht, people would have to line up. They had to recognize that "the brand has suffered a setback in recent years" and come together as "a team" around its editorial strategy.

What made unity so difficult was that the CNN newsroom was divided into at least three factions. Some of Licht's journalists strongly opposed him, believing his approach to be a recipe for false equivalency. Others were indifferent, open to a change in direction but intrigued by his unclear critiques of the work they had been doing in recent years. Even those who were fully involved in it, people who embraced Licht's theoretical goal for the web, were baffled by its lack of detail. It had caused quite a stir when it was incorporated ten months earlier, but since then, and especially after CNN's botched coverage of the first hearing on January 6th, it has kept out of sight, forcing producers and presenters to follow their Reinvent programs based on on the interpretations of the Allusion to Light. His move to the 22nd floor became a serious responsibility. CNN employees were not only delightedWothe boss was they wanted to knowEra, that's exactly what he did. There was still no permanent host for the lucrative 9pm event. Hour. Licht's signature initiative "Lemon and the Morning Show" became an industry joke.

Every employee I spoke with asked a variation of the same question: Did Licht have any idea what he was doing?

Cornish seemed determined to find out. In a somewhat awkward question-and-answer session, he quizzed Licht on these topics and more: the company's "culture and ethics," confusion over its plans, "difficult decisions" made by certain employees who didn't get along with the your program. Light began to look and sound restless. At one point, Cornish questioned Licht about the perception that CNN was deliberately leaning to the right, citing his recent directive not to disparage Fox News and his call for Republicans to air it.

He suppressed a smile. The station's previous coverage of the Fox News story was textbook, he said, in exposing the damning facts that emerged from the lawsuit against Dominion Voting Systems, namely that Fox knowingly misled its audience and spared viewers the analysis. hysterical found on CNN. main competitor MSNBC. As for the Republican platform, "I think it's incredibly important if we're going to understand the country," Licht said. "I actually want to hear from these Republicans. And to do that, it has to be a place where they know they're going to have a tough interview, but it has to be respectful."

After internally highlighting people's "fears" (that CNN favors bad actors with a two-way approach to journalism), Cornish asked Cornish about the company's reputation. Like so many of his colleagues, he wanted to know what light means for this nebulous word:mercado.

Inside the meltdown at CNN (6)

"What I think has happened in the past, to be blunt, is that the tone of our reporting has sometimes hurt the work of our journalism. And we're just trying to fix that and rebuild trust," Licht said. “Faith means getting to the truth without fear or favoritism. We've seen the data that shows there's been a clear loss of trust..."

Cornish interrupted him. "For tenor and tone?"

"Yes," Light said.

A few minutes later, as we were waiting in the hall for an elevator, Licht asked me what I thought of his performance. I told him he sounded irritated, like he was having trouble being tactful in the face of the questions that were bothering him.

"Yes. At one point I just wanted to say, 'We're not going to become nothing.'BuzzFeed'Everything okay?'” said Light. "But that probably wouldn't have helped."

Probably not. As I settled into the conference room, his assistant ordering leafy green salads for lunch, I asked Licht if he understood the fears that permeate his organization.

“I think where there is uncertainty, there is also fear,” he said. “It's journalists, so there's really nothing you can do about sayIt will relieve anxiety. You have to show them. So the real purpose today is, "Hey, there's a plan." That's what we're going to do. That's how it's going to involve you. That's the meaning. That's the strategy.'”

He said the company has been reeling since the firing of Chris Cuomo, who initiated the removal of Jeff Zucker. "That insecurity and fear, you don't want it to become the new normal," Licht told me. "And that's the case to some extent."

Much of that anxiety at CNN, Licht argued, stemmed from skepticism about whether its vision could draw viewers back. He acknowledged that this may not be the case, or at least it may be for a long time to come. Licht was visibly upset that someone had mentioned the channel's low ratings. But David Zaslav assured me that other metrics are more important. Success would be measured differently on CNN than before. “This is a boost to the company's reputation. "It's not a driver of earnings growth," Licht said.

I asked him to define "reputational asset" in the context of a large, publicly traded, for-profit company.

“CNN is for Warner Bros. discoveryreputation assethe said, emphasizing the phrase. "My boss believes that a strong CNN is good for the world and important for the portfolio."

Even if you don't earn as much money as before?

"They told me so," he said.

This statement by a journalist struck me as particularly innocent. Whatever Zaslav's worldview, centralizing CNN in the media was a business decision. In an age of fragmented media, Zaslav von Licht, among others, was convinced that expanding the channel's appeal to reach a jaded majority of news consumers was good for the bottom line (and, perhaps as a bonus, for the United States as well). United). . Joined). It's unclear whether Zaslav still believes this model is viable. From day one, there were questions about whether Warner Bros. Discovery wanted to keep CNN; Many industry insiders believed that Zaslav's plan was to stabilize the chain, cut costs to stop lost revenue and turn it into profit.

In any case, the state of CNN's business was only cause for concern. I told Licht, based on my conversations with his staff, as well as Cornish's questions earlier in the day, that there seemed to be even greater uncertainty about the spirit of journalism itself. Certainly, to some reporters, when he warned Cornish not to adopt a “condescending tone” with Republicans, it sounded like he was coddling a crazy right wing that would use his platform to destabilize the country's democratic institutions.

Luz looked upset. “We are not a defense network. And if you want to work for an advocacy network, there are other places to go,” he told me. “You can find any type of advocacy group that fits your needs in a news organization. We offer something different. And when the shit of this world hits the fan, you'll have no more time for that defense. You need an unbiased source of truth.”

I told him that some journalists, myself included, believe that the truth itself must be defended.

"No one is suggesting in any way that we deviate from the truth," he replied.

"Do you believe in absolute truth?" I asked.

"That's an odd question," he said, frowning.

it was notHestrange. I had used the phrase in one of our previous interviews, but apparently I hadn't thought much of its use in the context of modern media. Absolute truth. "Hmmm," he said, stroking her chin. Finally, he shrugged. “It's that analogy again, isn't it? Some people like rain, some people don't like rain. You can't tell me it's 'it doesn't rain when it rains'.

If only it could be that easy. a few weeks ago,The New York Times dieswas in open conflict after a group of contributors and staff signed a letter condemning the paper's alleged "editorial bias" in its coverage of the transgender community. Another letter signed by several celebritiesMalReporters criticized what they said was an attempt to silence legitimate journalistic investigations. Both sides, I told Licht, believed they were defending the truth.

He leaned across the table. "Your beliefs may differ, but there is only one truth," he said. "And we need to be able to ask questions and have conversations that help people understand what's going on... We've completely lost the ability to have difficult conversations without being demonized or labeled." It's okay to ask questions and have difficult conversations. . You may believe in something deep down, but that doesn't change the truth."

Licht emphasized that while he shows the team mercy for certain mistakes, he does not condone attempts to discourage coverage of controversial issues. He noted that Zucker, fearing that the "lab leak theory" of COVID-19 was a xenophobic move that put Asian Americans at risk, banned any on-air discussion of the issue. This is no different, Licht opined, when the United States Surgeon General told citizens early on in the pandemic that wearing masks wouldn't help them, not because it was a given, but because the government wanted to avoid a rush to wear masks. masks. , necessary for rescuers.

"They didn't tell us the truth about something because they were worried about the outcome," Licht said.

He leaned back in his chair. "So yes, I believe in absolute truth."

eulater that dayAs he drove Acela from New York to Washington, Licht expanded his media controversy. Specifically, he wanted to keep talking about COVID-19. Licht told me that, like the Trump presidency, the pandemic has highlighted how much his network has lost touch with the country.

“In the beginning it was a reliable source: this madness, nobody understands, it helps to understand. What's going on?" he said. "And I think we got to a point where we said, 'Wow, we've got to keep getting these ratings.' We need to continue to feel the sense of urgency."

He pounded the table between us with the palms of his hands, mimicking the feverish rhythm of an imaginary transmitter. "COVID, COVID, COVID! Look at the case numbers! Look at this! Look at this!" Licht said. "There's no context. And, you know, the kind ofshameful. And then people came out and said, "This is not my life," this is not my reality. You only say that because you need the ratings, you need the clicks. I do not trust you.'"

Were they wrong?

"They weren't," he said.

For a man believed to do the bidding of his bosses on the Warner Bros. Discovery, Licht had very strong opinions of his own. He was certainly under pressure to adapt CNN to Zaslav's whims; Licht told the senior staff that he is constantly scrambling to "protect" them from editorial interference at the corporate level. Licht had heard of being a glorified delivery man. Perhaps because he held a grain of truth, in our conversations he seemed bent on presenting his own distinctive worldview.

Licht insisted that his criticism of the media was not ideological; that he wasn't chastising a liberal attitude toward news per se, but rather a bias toward elite cultural sensibilities, a reporting arrangement in which wealthy urban journalists avoid telling hard truths that would anger their tribesmen. Returning to the topic of reporting on transgender issues, specifically the science surrounding preteen hormone treatments and life-changing surgeries, he suggested that the media was less interested in finding answers and more interested in providing purported answers so as not to offend allies.

"We need to ask the tough questions without being cursed for having the audacity to ask them," Licht said. "There's a truth to that, and it might not work one way or the other. But let's get to the truth. Some of it is right, some of it is wrong; Some of it is wrong, some of it is right."

He stopped. And I might add, words are important here. You immediately force some people offline if you use "fertile potential" for example. People shut down and you lose that confidence.” He paused again. "To donosign of virtue Tells the truth. Ask questions to uncover the truth and don't gather facts one way or another. Ask the tough questions. It is an incredibly sensitive and controversial issue where there is a Venn diagram that this country can agree on if we provide facts.”

Licht argued that the media's blind spots are due to a lack of diversity, not the lack of diversity he says newsrooms are obsessed with. He wants to recruit deeply religious reporters, reporters who grew up on food stamps, and reporters who own guns. Licht recalled a recent spat with his own Diversity, Justice and Inclusion team after making some astute remarks at a conference. "I said, 'A black person, a brown person, and an Asian woman graduating from Harvard in the same year doesn't equal diversity,'" he told me.

A minute later, after noting how sharing this anecdote could get him in trouble and considering what he would say next, Licht added, "I think 'Defund the Police' would have been handled differently if newsrooms had been full of people who would do the same." that." I was living in social housing." I asked him why."They have a different relationship than their distress with the police," he said.

Licht looked at his assistant. "Now I'm in trouble," he said.

I was wondering if hewantedget into trouble, if you liked to push the boundaries of serious media talk. From my report, it was clear that Licht's circle was small and getting smaller. Obviously, he felt that he couldn't trust some of the people around him: people loyal to Zucker, or people leaking to undermine him, or both. That suspicion triggered a certain foreboding, but also a certain liberation. While guarded by CNN staff, our hour-long conversations for Light felt like therapy sessions, safe rooms in which he voiced his grievances, admitted fears, and sought elusive discovery.

I had heard of former colleagues like this in the early days ofin the morning john, when NBC's C-Suites treated his initial show as a joke, Licht adopted a me-against-the-world mentality, hunkered down, and swore to make the 30 Rock establishment pay for its scorn. It occurred to me that Light was now doing the same. The difference, of course, was that he no longer represented the rogue Rebel Alliance. He was President and CEO of CNN Worldwide. He was the empire.

As we drove through Wilmington, Delaware, I asked Licht if there were people at CNN who wanted him to fail.

"I'm sure of it," he said, nodding, clearly considering what to say next. He decided to play it safe. "But it's certainly a very small part, a very small pocket of organization. So I don't spend a lot of time thinking about it."

Then his voice changed. Suddenly the light increased. "But I would say to anyone who wants to fail, 'What do you want? Who would you like to have in this chair? Do you want a journalist? You want someone who has a direct line to the company and can call and say, " Hey, what the hell? Do you want someone who has done the work? Who did more work? Who understands exactly what it takes to do what I'm asking? Someone who believes that our future depends on great journalism? Maybe they don't like mineStyleor whatever, but I'm not sure what you're doing if you want it to fail.

Luz looked out the window. "So I don't spend a lot of time thinking about it," he reiterated.

Focusing on her "style" seemed like an excuse. I told Licht that in my discussions with his team, they had three main issues. The first was that he relentlessly attacked the previous edition of CNN without actually specifying it, as he had already done.ourInterviews: what you didn't like about the reports or what you would have done differently. Licht responded to these criticisms that he did not want to report certain journalists, especially "if they are rewarded for their behavior by the boss in front of me".

Licht told me that the bad behavior of certain individuals was dealt with directly. Without naming Jim Acosta, Licht said, "There was one person I had dinner with who seemed to have the wrong tone, the old-fashioned way of doing it." And I had dinner with this person and I said, 'Am I to assume this is a fog of war?' That in war we sometimes do things that are not who we are? And he said, 'You can certainly assume that. What do you need from me?' We didn't have any problems."

This brought us to the second problem with the light: its focus seemed inconsistent the entire time. Acosta was saved while Brian Stelter was eliminated; John Harwood was kicked out because he didn't fit the "brand", but Don Lemon got a big new contract and a promotion to host Licht's morning show. After disrespecting his colleague and making silly comments on the program, Lemon still had the task, for the time being, of confusing even CNN employees, who considered him a friend.

Behavior and branding aside, Lemon's morning show wasplace. Hence the third problem Licht's team had with him: shouldn't he be an exceptional producer? A television genius? How is it that so much of the content you've streamed has been so disgusting? I reminded him of what Joe Maysonet, his coach, had said about the Brooklyn Nets: Big stars and big egos ruined the team's chemistry, leaving management no choice but to dump them and start over. I asked Licht if he was getting to this point after four months on the morning show.

"The jury isn't out there," he replied.

And so I asked Licht if, looking back, were there any things he wished he had done differently. He said yes, "100 percent", but didn't seem willing to say anything else. When pressed, Licht admitted his biggest mistake was running, determined to prove he was in charge, roaring in his own recap, "I'm going to be a very different leader than Jeff," rather than learning the place. , including what Zucker had achieved.

"I wanted to draw a line between the old regime and the new regime," said Licht. "I should have taken it slow without making these big announcements about how different it was going to be."

These big statements alienated Licht from much of his workforce. He realized that now. But he promised me that there was still time to change everything. His mission accelerated. Big steps were being taken. Soon, he said, the world will get a look at the new CNN.

Inside the meltdown at CNN (7)

"Cits absolute war“Definitely, without a doubt, the right choice for CNN,” the professor told his students, pointing to the man sitting across from them. “In America today, there is nothing more important than trust. I pray Chris succeeds. I want you to have this job for 10 years. Because less than 10 years won't give you the chance to make the biggest changes to the world's biggest news source. I firmly believe he will succeed, and I fear greatly for this country if he doesn't."

He turned towards the light. The teacher's eyes were teary. Her voice was choked with emotion. "My hopes and dreams are embodied in you," he said.

It was quite an introduction, especially considering the man who made it: Frank Luntz.

For 30 years, Luntz, the guru of surveys and focus groups, was themail masterto a Republican Party that systematically tried to delegitimize the media. Luntz did not particularly regret this. Although he broke with his party out of submission to Donald Trump, he still believed that the press had done as much damage to the country as any other politician in his lifetime, which explained his excitement over Licht's selection to head CNN. Since I met him over a decade ago, back thenin the morning johnDays earlier, Luntz was sure that Licht was particularly well equipped to create the kind of smart, fair, and nuanced discussion that the voting public deserved. With Zucker out of the picture, Luntz began lobbying and begged Licht to continue with the job, not knowing that he had already offered and accepted.

The light never wavered properly, Luntz told the group of University of Southern California students huddled in a semicircle in his DC apartment. he sat down. Just weeks after taking office, critics attacked him.

"Days!" Light said, interrupting him. Luntz nodded. Licht told him it was fine. His boss, David Zaslav, thought in terms of years, not months. Licht had a plan to take CNN through its identity crisis, and Zaslav had the patience to make that plan work. Luntz shuddered. He noted that NFL owners often say exactly that about their coaches, that there was a vision, that it would take time, before firing them. He told Licht that he was praying that this would not happen.

That the head of CNN would have the enthusiastic backing of a famous Republican news anchor, and that Licht would make that early spring visit to the Luntz home, a place where Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy resided.keeps a room— probably confirms the left's worst fears about him. (When I asked Licht if he was a conservative, he replied, "I would never put myself in a category. I guess it depends on what we're talking about.") In fact, Licht wasn't here because of Luntz. When the old friends had run into each other at a Ted Turner event the night before, Luntz had an idea. He taught a course to visiting USC students and had them in his apartment the next day; What if Light made a surprise appearance to answer your media inquiries?

Most executives would never grant such a random nomination request. To his credit, Licht, now in trouble on CNN with job safety rumors overshadowing his every move, has done that and more. The next day, he showed up at Luntz's apartment and spent an hour with the group of 16 students. Again, I realized it was the same kind of open interaction he had avoided with his own team. To the students, Licht was extremely frank and authentic; Once, during a word association game, when a young woman called CNN "liberal," Licht made no attempt to hide his irritation, but asked her for details until she relented, admitting that her answer was more about perception. than about reality.

One of his colleagues raised his hand. He asked Licht how CNN could recover from being the face of "fake news". Licht responded that the network needed to "double down" on its fact-based approach. "It's so easy to ruin a reputation and it takes a long time to get it back," he said. Licht explained to students that his organization had little room for error: Every article on CNN's website, every chiron on the airwaves, every comment on its reporters' social media accounts is scrutinized. "Everything is important," he said. "Because the moment you give the other side ammunition, they have the upper hand."

And then Light said something I had never heard before. "I don't want people to think of CNN, Fox and MSNBC in the same sentence," he said.

Licht told students that MSNBC used the all-outrage, all-time model that CNN invented; "Especially a concert," he pointed out, seeming to use aBREAKING NEWSBanners in practically all segments. (He was referring to Nicolle Wallace's 4 pm show, which competes with Jake Tapper's show in that airspace.) The tactic boosts ratings, Licht said, but he called it irresponsible on the part of his former employer.

It's been, rightly but surprisingly, a lot harder on Fox News. Finally, Licht repeatedly warned his staff not to "piss him off" by reporting on Rupert Murdoch's network. He stressed that it's not about "going crazy over everything Laura Ingraham says" because "it's not news". What we experience now, said the light:guerraNews. Tucker Carlson slandered Trump in text messages while covering him in prime time. Ingraham and Sean Hannity hadsecretly opposed the election fraud campaign while selling it to the grassroots. In fact, the evidence that emerged from the Dominion lawsuit showed that "a large media organization knowingly misled people and that it actually had real-world ramifications," Licht said.

Using this example, Licht tried to differentiate CNN from both networks: he criticized Fox News as a false advertising organization and berated MSNBC for spreading hysteria. "If we hit Fox every day, everything would sound like noise," Licht told the students. "But if you're watching CNN right now, you're like, 'Wow, this is really important because they never talk about Fox.'

Just in time, one of Luntz's students asked Licht about the false equivalence trap. She seemed less interested in covering the respective crimes for Fox News and MSNBC, although that added to her question, and more interested in Licht's overall opinion of the news. She reminded him that there was "a truth" to some fundamental problems facing the country. Trump lost the 2020 election; Barack Obama was born in the United States; We know how many deaths COVID has caused.

the light flooded. "Wait a minute. We don't know how many deaths there have been from COVID," he said.

she frowned.

"No, not really," Licht said. As the son of a doctor, he believed there was "legitimate conversation" about the COVID-19-related death toll. Some patients may have been hospitalized with life-threatening illnesses before the start of the pandemic and later died with a positive diagnosis, Licht postulated. "We get in trouble when you say 'No.' Call. "Let's not even have this conversation," he told the students. "That's as true of trust as it is of anything else. If you're confident in your facts, you should be able to have that discussion."

Licht acknowledged that appeasing the right through a two-way approach was "the biggest concern of my own organisation". But he didn't give up. He said it was unfair to portray anyone with doubts about the accuracy of the death count as a "COVID denier". It was dishonest to portray the last rescue of the pandemic era as: "Either you support this rescue project or you hate the poor". He gave them his favorite analogy: we can debate whether or not we like the rain as long as we know when it's raining outside.

The last question was easy. A young woman asked Licht how the station planned to report on Trump this time around, given his harsh criticism of CNN's past performance.

"I get this question all the time," said Licht, confused. "I'll give you a very counterintuitive answer, which is: I'mThenI'm not worried about that." He explained that Trump is now a recycled product; that his "superpower" of dominating the news cycle was a thing of the past. In any case, added Licht, he would love to get Trump on the air alongside his lead reporter, Kaitlan Collins.

The students seemed surprised by his indifference.

“They cover him like any other candidate,” Licht said.

Thim next timeI saw that Licht was in Manchester two months later.

The CNN newsroom was shocked by the news from City Hall on May 10. Internally, questions about whether the network would support Trump ahead of the 2024 campaign seemed largely unanswered. Hardly anyone, including CNN's top talent, the people who had longstanding ties to Trump and his top associates, knew about the negotiations to host a city hall. When it was announced, Licht made a powerful argument to his team about the merits of a live event. The campaign was launched; Trump was the favorite and had to be covered. Rather than giving its viewers unfiltered access through rallies, Licht said, CNN can control Trump's portrayal through its production decisions, polls and live fact-checking. His skeptics told me they agreed, to varying degrees.

But the closer City Hall got, the greater the fears. The staff found it odd that none of the CNN hosts who interviewed Trump (Anderson Cooper, Jake Tapper, Erin Burnett, Wolf Blitzer, Chris Wallace) were invited to play a role in preparing the event, whether asking questions or suggesting best practices or just ask Collins for advice. Trump speculated on social media that City Hall could turn into a disaster, sparking fears among executives that he might pull a stunt by leaving the set, which in turn raised fears among employees about what exactly the network would holdTrump on set. In the last few days leading up to the event, concerns about the makeup of the crowd rose as Licht's description of the crowd, "extra Trumpy", circulated across Slack channels and SMS threads.

All of these concerns proved valid. Preparation was clearly an issue. Collins did an admirable job, but Trump crushed him at crucial moments; His questions, coming almost exclusively from the candidate's ideological left, served to effectively mobilize the space around him. Not that the room needed a demonstration: the crowd was overwhelmingly pro-Trump, and because CNN wanted an organic atmosphere, few restrictions were placed on attendance. The ensuing applause from the entire audience - I counted at least nine - threw up Collins' pace as an interviewer. So are the sudden bursts of laughter, like when Trump mocked E. Jean Carroll and the sneer that accompanied the mention of Collins.Access to HollywoodTape. By the end of the event, it was essentially indistinguishable from a MAGA rally. People across the room were screaming "I love you!" during commercial breaks and yell "Four more years!" when the program ended.

Inside the meltdown at CNN (8)

As spectators filled the lobby, it was as if the fans were celebrating the home team's victory over a hated rival. People I spoke to praised Trump and hated CNN. Christopher Ager, leader of the state party, summed up his sentiments best: “We knew CNN had new leadership. It felt like they had a different tone, like they were being fair to Trump, fair to the Republicans. But I didn't see that tonight," he said. "That was the old CNN."

Two hundred and fifty kilometers away, against the backdrop of New York, the CNN crew was lost. The original plan called for Scott Jennings, a Republican who is far from enthusiastic about Trump, to join his group of trusted experts at the postgame show. CNN had flown Jennings to New York for the occasion. Hours before City Hall though, a change was announced internally: Byron Donalds would be replaced by Jennings (which aired with another panel much later). Donalds, a Republican congressman from Florida, is a vote-denier, someone who, to use Licht's language, says it doesn't rain in the middle of the rain. It was troublesome enough for some CNN employees that Trump, the original denier of the election, mocked Licht's oft-repeated standards. but why wasDonaldAm I post-match panel-CNN?

This wasn't the only strange change in personnel. Sarah Matthews, a Trump administration official who has criticized her former boss, was scheduled to appear on the pre-game show. But she was abruptly fired in favor of Hogan Gidley, a former White House aide who remained loyal to Trump.

Live TV is a volatile thing. People, settings, and scripts are constantly changing for a variety of reasons. Still, CNN employees had reason to be suspicious. They wondered if some sort of deal had been struck with the Trump team that promised placement of eligible panelists in exchange for their presence on City Hall. At the very least, even without official approval, it seemed obvious that CNN bosses had falsified the reports to make Trump happy, perhaps to keep him from leaving the stage. At one point during the pre-game show, when the wordsSEXUAL ABUSEWhen he appeared on CNN's chyron, one of Licht's lieutenants called the control room. His instructions shocked all who heard them: the chyron had to descend immediately.

When the town hall event ended, two post-game panels started simultaneously, giving network administrators the flexibility to switch between reporting and analysis. A panel moderated by Tapper was a roundtable of journalists dissecting Trump's lies. In the other, led by Cooper, party pundits, including the Donalds, debated among themselves. Based on the mission Licht gave me, Tapper's panel should have starred that night. But that was not the case. Licht asked for a raise in Cooper's board (an early reported fact).Nightclub). This decision may or may not have been made by theveryAbove: In the days after City Hall, Zaslav told several people that Tapper's panel against Trump reminded him of Zucker's CNN. But even this MAGA compatible version wasn't good enough for Donalds. After criticizing the network on television, the congressman left the set, picked up his cell phone in front of the team and its speakers and began talking to CNN on Twitter.

Licht was still dealing with the intensity of the backlash when, later that night, the popular CNN newsletter "Trusted Sources" arrived in his inbox. He read the first line in disbelief: "It's hard to see how America benefited from the lie show that aired Wednesday night on CNN," said Licht's own reporter.Oliver Darcy wrote.

Licht endured ridicule from his competitors in the media. But to be publicly berated by someone on your own payroll, on the biggest night of your career, felt like a new level of betrayal. Licht, who had expressed his ambivalence about the course of events to me just a few hours earlier, switched to war mode.

The next morning, the interview started at 9 pm. m. with a revealing choice of words: "I absolutely and unequivocally believe that what we did last night served America very well."

euMany CNN employeesOn that morning call, he disagreed with Licht. They thought his handling of the event was terrible; They believed that their tactical decisions had essentially ceded control of City Hall to Trump, leaving Collins in an impossible position and embarrassing everyone involved in the production. These views were widespread and almost entirely irrelevant. At CNN, everyone noticed long ago that Light was playing in front of an audience. It didn't matter what they thought, what other journalists thought or what viewers thought. What mattered was what David Zaslav thought.

I was wanting to find out. For months, Zaslav's head of communications, Nathaniel Brown, kept his boss from getting involved in this story. He first informed me that Zaslav would only speak to me without attribution and that any quotes I wanted to use would require approval from him. When I declined, I told Brown that approving the offer was out of the question and that I would only find Zaslav if he allowed open questioning. He reluctantly agreed to my terms, but then tried to pass the time by asking repeatedly, which he did. .that Zaslav was unavailable for an interview. After false starts and a lot of back and forth, the interview was finally set. I was to meet Zaslav in his New York office on Wednesday, May 17th, a week after Trump's City Hall.

On Tuesday night, less than 24 hours before this meeting, Brown called me. "We will only treat this as background information, not a signature," he said. It was a flagrant violation of our agreement, and Brown knew it. He claimed it was out of his hands. But Brown tried to assure me that "with everything going on," thought Zaslav, "I could be of great help to you by providing you with some background information."

It didn't surprise me at all. Over the last year, people who knew Zaslav and who observed his relationship with Light have portrayed him as a control freak, a micromanager, a ruthless operator who flew a helicopter over his beleaguered CNN leader. Zaslav's constant interference in editorial decisions seemed odd and inappropriate to network veterans; Strange was still his apparent light puppet. In that sense, some of Licht's old friends and colleagues told me they felt sorry for him. It was he who was abused while the man behind the curtain did not suffer a scratch. I declined Brown's offer. I told him that this was Zaslav's last chance to defend Licht's leadership and his own. If you wanted to explain something, you could, as agreed, as per protocol. Zaslav refused.

The night before this story was published, Zaslav sent a statement via Brown, which said, "While we know it will take time to complete the important work that is underway, we have great confidence in the progress Chris is making." are making progress and are sharing their progress." Brown also provided his own statement, saying he only canceled our public interview because "there was a period of months between the initial request and the scheduled meeting, it became clear that the premise of that meeting had changed." (That was not the case; in an email two days before the scheduled meeting, Brown had written that they would see me on Wednesday for an "update" call.)

The day after the meeting was canceled, I sat with the lights on for the last time in a restaurant overlooking Hudson Yards. I told him about the perception that Zaslav doesn't let him do his job. The light seemed to momentarily freeze.

"I don't feel any of that," he said. "I feel like I have someone who is a great partner who supports me and knows a lot about this business."

"Do you think this job allowed you to be yourself?" I asked.

"Where does that question come from? What do you mean? Like,myselfhe asked, looking incredulous. Light bit his lip for a moment. “I think it's very different: a CEO's job is very different. Every word you say is analyzed. Every way you look at someone is scrutinized. It's just different. So I try to be as much as possible within the natural limitations of the job."

I explained where the question came from. The people at CNN think it's "performative," I told Licht, as if I were casting the role of a bulletproof tough guy, because that's what Zaslav wants to see. Your associates also believe that you are so intent on selling that image that it destroys your ability to build genuine, meaningful relationships with the key people who want you to succeed.

The CNN team has repeatedly asked me to investigate a certain humility in their leader. Last but not least, they wanted some self-confidence. They expected to see if he knew how badly his tenure had gone and why. But Licht didn't want to bite. At one point, I asked him if he regretted moving his office to the 22nd floor. Licht sat silently for over a minute, cracking his neck, looking around, and at one point, it looked like he wasn't going to answer the question right away. . .absolute.

Finally he exhaled heavily. "I didn't want any of that to come out of it. And it became a thing. Of course."

"Just because it became something?" I asked.

safe," he replied.

Licht would not give me, or more precisely his employees, the satisfaction of admitting this mistake. She certainly wasn't going to admit that everything had gone wrong. Although CNN trailed Newsmax in ratings two nights after City Hall, Licht was unimpressed. Although her staff openly rebelled, a week after Darcy's bulletin, Christiane Amanpour, perhaps the most successful journalist in CNN's history,scolded Licht in a speech at Columbia's journalism school– stayed the course.

Inside the meltdown at CNN (9)

I asked Licht if that was the case.anythingregretted what had happened. The crowd's 'extra Trumpy' cast? (No, said Licht, because he was a representative of the Republican base.) Dedicate the first question to his electoral lies? (No, said Licht, because nothing else, not even E. Jean Carroll's verdict, is as interesting as Trump's attack on the ballot box.) Allow the public to cheer as they will? (No, Licht said, because being instructed to hold back the applause, as debate moderators routinely do, would have changed the reality of the event.) The only point he conceded was that the crowd should have been introduced to viewers at home, raising hand, perhaps, to show how many had already voted for Trump or planned to support him in 2024.

He didn't move at all, not even in the presence of the Rep. Donalds on the postgame show. Licht told me it probably didn't make sense to put a congressman on the expert panel, but said he had no regrets, even after pointing out that Donalds was an election denier who used his seat on the panel to question legitimacy. of Joe Biden's victory in 2020.

Did CNN reach a deal with the Trump team, I asked, that would include seating for guests like the Donalds and Gidley?

"Absolutely not," Licht replied. “I can say unequivocally that there was no deal, there was no deal. Anything."

I shared with him a more popular theory of what had happened. Many CNN employees believed that there was no formal agreement, but rather a consensus: if Trump showed goodwill to appear on CNN, the network had to show goodwill to reserve some.unusualPro-Trump votes for pre- and post-game shows. I noticed that because he was focusing on the big picture of City Hall construction, many of his people believed that this had been agreed to without their knowledge. Was it possible, I asked, that his deputies had reached such an agreement with the Trump team?

"Nnnno," he said, extending the word to buy some time. “But I can, I mean anything is possible. But I think it's more like, 'If we're totally one-sided in our analysis, it won't benefit the public.' He paused. “One of the biggest misconceptions about this city hall is that I did it for the ratings. It's a rented audience," meaning most viewers weren't CNN regulars, "so I didn't do it for the ratings." I certainly didn't do it for profit because it cost us money. And I certainly didn't do it to build a relationship. with Trump. That, by definition, would rule out a lot of conspiracy theory deals."

Maybe it was a conspiracy theory. But over the past year, many of the things that Licht's team had predicted — speculations he thought were incorrect, short-sighted or misguided — have turned out to be true. lemonguerraA morning show disaster. (Licht finally fired him in April.) collinswas notIt's better to co-host in New York than to play in the White House. (The light gave the time 9 hours from this summer.) Lighttivehe was obsessed with the negative press about him. (He confronted Dylan Byers at a party in March, Licht admitted to me, and angered the reporter over his reporting.) Zaslavtattoobe comically intrusive. (In one incident the day afterNew York Postreported that Licht may be fired soon, Zaslav attended a CNN executive briefing and told Licht's subordinates, "This is our date with fate!").

Licht told me that he and Zaslav expected CNN's "gut cleansing" to take two years of work. But there was reason to believe that the schedule was accelerating: not long after our last interview, Warner Bros. Discovery announced the appointment of new CNN COO David Leavy, a confidant of Zaslav whose hiring sparked rumors of an impending power struggle: and possibly even - fueled, the beginning of the end for Licht.

To be fair, Jeff Zucker's early years at CNN were also brutal. There were layoffs and failed shows, and ratings dropped. It wasn't until Zucker found a rhythm with what CNN employees called his "swarm strategy," in which he focused coverage resources on the most popular stories (planes disappearing, the "stern cruise," and ultimately analysis, Trump's candidacy) that CNN has become a ratings behemoth. Licht's poor start did not rule out a comeback. He and his followers told me that there was still time to work.

And yet, there was little in Licht's first-year record to indicate that success was on the way. Its biggest success - getting Charles Barkley and Gayle King to co-host a show - was unlikely to revive CNN's primetime lineup. The "King Charles" show only aired once a week, so Licht was still looking for the win he needed to boost CNN's ratings and perhaps save his job.

At the end of our interview, I asked Licht to put himself in my shoes. If I were him, could I do a positive profile on the head of CNN?

He was silent for a long time. "Absolutely," said Licht finally.

If the answer was "absolutely", I asked, why did it take you so long to think about it?

"I wanted to be sure," he replied.

This wasn't the same man she'd met a year before. Once assured that only he could tame Trump, Licht nevertheless tried to play the role of an indomitable CEO. But now he is tormented by doubts. So much was understandable: Licht lived on an island, surrounded by people who didn't like him, who doubted his vision for the company, questioned his competence, or directly expected his downfall. He hoped Trump's City Council would turn its critics into believers. Instead, his few remaining believers became critics. I've never seen a drop in trust in a company like the week after the CNN town hall meeting. Some employees held off-site meetings where they openly discussed the advantages of mass layoffs. Many began approaching competing media companies for job offers. Many called Jeff Zucker, their former boss, desperate for his advice.

As we sipped our coffee, Licht tried to look unflappable.

"I don't need people loyal to Chris Licht. I need people loyal to CNN," he said.

I pointed out that the only person I needed loyalty from was Zaslav.

Licht nodded slowly and said nothing. Then, just as she was starting to speak, her pulse started buzzing and blinking. Licht looked at her smartwatch. Zaslav called him. He looked at me. Realizing I'd noticed, Licht allowed himself a laugh, a real laugh, then got up from the table and answered the phone.

This article appeared in One Story to Read Today, a newsletter in which our editors only recommend one must-read article.the Atlantic, From Monday to Friday.Sign here.

This story has been updated to include details from a statement by David Zaslav and his spokesperson.


Why is Chris Licht leaving CNN? ›

Why did Chris Licht step down as CEO from CNN? Chris Licht stepped down as CEO of CNN Wednesday morning, after staffers and senior figures at the networks called for his head following a scathing magazine profile. CNN staffers were enraged by Licht's criticism of the network's COVID-19 coverage.

Who hired Chris Licht at CNN? ›

The media mogul David Zaslav handpicked Chris Licht last year to run CNN, handing the reins of one of the country's top news organizations to a longtime show producer.

Why was the CEO of CNN fired? ›

Former CNN head Jeff Zucker, who left the network after disclosing a workplace relationship just months before the WarnerMedia-Discovery merger, had aspirations about turning CNN+ into a New York Times-like subscription product.

Did CNN fire Licht? ›

The final decision to remove Licht was ultimately made by Zaslav earlier this week, the person said. On Wednesday morning, Licht was informed that he was being relieved of his duties as CNN's top executive, a person familiar with the matter said.

Where does Chris Licht live? ›

As of 2017, Licht lived in Manhattan with his wife, Jenny Blanco, and their two sons. Blanco worked at CNN for several years as a producer for Anderson Cooper and then as a director of talent recruiting and development. Licht and Blanco began dating while both were on assignment at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens.

Who is replacing Chris Licht? ›

Licht will be replaced for an interim period by longtime CNN executive Amy Entelis. CNN anchor Kate Bolduan confirmed the news on-air Wednesday.

Who was the CEO of CNN before Chris Licht? ›

Hours after Mr. Licht was forced out on Wednesday, Mr. Leavy sought to move on, telling executives in a meeting that he had nothing but respect for Mr. Licht and his predecessor, Jeff Zucker.

Who is the real owner of CNN? ›

The Cable News Network (CNN) is a multinational news channel and website headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. Founded in 1980 by American media proprietor Ted Turner and Reese Schonfeld as a 24-hour cable news channel, and presently owned by the Manhattan-based media conglomerate Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD), CNN ...

Who replaced Jeff Zucker at CNN? ›

Licht replaced Jeff Zucker as CNN's chief executive last year, with a mandate to make the network move the network more toward the political center.

Why is Chris Licht stepping down? ›

Licht's exit comes just days after an article published in The Atlantic portrayed him as overly confident, obsessed with his predecessor and quickly losing the confidence of CNN staff.

Is Chris Licht married? ›

On April 22, 2006, Chris Licht tied the knot with his wife, Jennifer Blanco.

Who is in charge of CNN now? ›

The network will be managed on an interim basis by a group of three editorial executives — Amy Entelis, Virginia Moseley and Eric Sherling — until a permanent replacement for Mr. Licht is found. The trio will be supported by the recently hired chief operating officer, David Leavy.

When did Chris Licht take over CNN? ›

Licht, 51, who rose through the media industry ranks as a television producer, took the reins at CNN in February 2022 after the abrupt resignation of Jeff Zucker, who stepped down because he had failed to disclose a consensual relationship with a colleague.

Who is the executive producer of CNN early start? ›

About. Eric Hall is an Executive Producer at CNN. Previously at CNN, Hall served as the Executive Producer for CNN This Morning with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow, and Kaitlan Collins and Early Start with Christine Romans.

Who was CNN chief congressional correspondent? ›

In 2021, CNN announced Raju had been promoted as the network's Chief Congressional Correspondent.

Who was fired from CNN? ›

CNN anchor Don Lemon has hit out at the network after his firing, which came after accusations of misogyny and misbehaviour.

Who is the biggest shareholder of CNN? ›

The Vanguard Group, Inc.

Who is leaving CNN? ›

CNN chairman and CEO, Chris Licht is leaving the network after a brief one-year tenure. CNN's Kate Boulduan announced the news on air after staffers were made aware during an editorial meeting.

Who is the owner of CNN networks? ›

The Cable News Network (CNN) is a multinational news channel and website headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. Founded in 1980 by American media proprietor Ted Turner and Reese Schonfeld as a 24-hour cable news channel, and presently owned by the Manhattan-based media conglomerate Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD), CNN ...

Who is the CEO of CNN? ›

Chris Licht, Chairman and CEO, CNN Worldwide speaks onstage during the Warner Bros. Discovery Upfront 2022 show at The Theater at Madison Square Garden on May 18, 2022 in New York City.

How does CNN make money? ›

Revenue Streams: CNN's primary revenue sources include advertising, subscription fees from cable and satellite providers, content licensing, and digital partnerships. Additional revenue comes from merchandise sales and event sponsorships.

How did Ted Turner make his money? ›

He founded the Cable News Network (CNN), the first 24-hour cable news channel. In addition, he founded WTBS, which pioneered the superstation concept in cable television, which later became TBS. Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.

Are Fox and CNN owned by the same parent company? ›

CNN is a part of WarnerMedia, which is owned by AT&T Inc. 3 (NYSE: T). FOX News is housed within Fox Corporation, which has two classes of common stock: Class A Non-Voting Common Stock and Class B Voting Common Stock (NYSE: FOXA, FOX).

Who will be the next CNN CEO? ›

CBS producer Chris Licht is set to be the next head of CNN

"I would like to see CNN evolve back to the kind of journalism that it started with and, you know, actually have journalists, which would be unique and refreshing," Malone told CNBC's David Faber in November 2021, ahead of the acquisition.

Who are the executives at CNN? ›

CNN Leadership
  • Wendy Brundige.
  • Adam Cohn.
  • Johnita P. Due.
  • Amy Entelis.
  • Ramon Escobar.
  • Sam Feist.
  • Robin Garfield.
  • Ken Jautz.


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