Big Shake-Up Underway at CNN—And It Involves CEO Chris Licht
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Ever since CNN CEO Chris Licht has come in after the network’s purchase by Warner Bros. Discovery, we’ve been chronicling his effort to remake CNN into what he said he wanted — an objective news network — something that it hasn’t been in a very long time.

We’ve seen a lot of people get the boot since he arrived, including Brian Stelter, John Harwood, and most recently, in April, Don Lemon. They all deserved it and should have been axed long ago because of their lack of objectivity—not to mention being bad at their jobs. But it’s been a rocky road because it’s been such a mess for so long. It’s a bit like trying to clear away the sand on the shore, as the waves keep coming in and pounding you.

That’s what it’s been like for Licht, I think. He wanted to attract the Republican viewers back who have given up on the network, while still holding onto the audience that they had — which was largely Trump haters. He had former President Donald Trump on a CNN town hall, thinking that was going to enhance their ability to show all sides. Some doubted why Trump would want to go on CNN, after he’s excoriated them for so long. But not only did it show he was willing to go into the lion’s den, but he also dominated, to a cheering audience. It went well for Trump.

It didn’t go so well for Licht. It both incur a lot of anger from their regular Trump-hating audience members and sparked meltdowns within CNN itself, with employees who were mad at Licht for giving Trump a platform. Instead of the event helping to drag the network back to the center, it ended up further imploding the network—and maybe Chris Licht’s role at CNN—in the process.

Now, the CEO has reportedly “told his direct reports that he is no longer overseeing business operations for the network.” He appears to have lost the “once stedfast support” of David Zaslav, the head of Warner Bros. Discovery.

In the last 48 hours, it has become clear, based on conversations with well-placed sources, that Zaslav’s once steadfast support has wavered considerably. On Wednesday, Licht informed his direct reports that he would be ceding control of all business operations to David Leavy, the chief corporate affairs officer at Warner Bros. Discovery and a longtime member of the Zaslav braintrust. The move, which Licht characterized as his own decision, was in fact an unequivocal vote of diminishing confidence by the parentco in Licht’s ability to manage a business that has endured substantial ratings declines, revenue losses, and reputational damage since he took over.

The revelation backs up reporting from Mediaite published on Thursday noting Leavy’s arrival appointment as COO.

“There’s no way they would put David Leavy down into CNN to work for Chris Licht,” one industry insider told Mediaite. “He’s too important to Zaslav to take what on paper sounds like a demotion. It sure sounds like he’s taking one for the team.”

The report says is that while Licht would be focusing on programming and editorial strategy, Leavy will deal with operational logistics, marketing, and P.R. among other tasks. “[W]hile Leavy will officially report up to Licht, the new org chart belies the true nature of his position.”

This follows an article in The Atlantic that breaks down how bad things have been at CNN, which Brian Stelter referenced in a Twitter thread.

Now if this report is true, I don’t know where CNN thinks they go from here. Zaslav supposedly was behind the attempt to move to the center. But I think the problem is that the network is much more messed up than they’d even understood. So, they can put another guy in there to make the operational decisions, but it isn’t going to change things until you fully clean house.

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