Plenty Of Behind-The-Scenes Drama In Downfall Of CNN's Licht

Good luck to whomever gets picked to lead CNN -- because they’re gonna need it.

What a cauldron it was revealed to be this week -- a company reacting with alarm over a story in a magazine and then prima-donna air talent getting together to throw fuel on the fire and push for a guy’s dismissal.

After the flames die down in the wake of Chris Licht’s exit as CEO of CNN Worldwide, the question they will still discuss endlessly at CNN will be: Should we do real news or should we do the stuff that sells -- namely, prime-time shows whose nightly subjects are sourced from social-media outrage?

Licht, 51, stepped down earlier this week. That’s right -- he “stepped down,” whatever that means.



“Warner Bros. Discovery (Nasdaq: WBD) today announced that Chris Licht, Chairman and CEO of CNN Worldwide, has stepped down, effective immediately,” said the news release that popped into the inbox first thing Wednesday morning (9:10 a.m. eastern time).

So did he step down voluntarily or was he pushed? It really doesn’t matter. Anyone who read the stories about him on Tuesday knew he was toast.

Those stories reported that Licht felt obligated to apologize to senior editorial staff this week in the aftermath of a feature story published Friday in The Atlantic in which he made comments about CNN that various colleagues did not like.

And so, some of his nice “colleagues” got together to get him fired (or be persuaded to “step down”).

According to reports, these people included the great and powerful stars of CNN: Anderson Cooper, Jake Tapper, Erin Burnett and presumably others. 

Getting fired is a terrible thing to happen to anyone. What kind of people actually push for someone else to get fired?

The CNN news stars “voiced their concerns” about Licht to incoming CNN COO David Leavy as soon as he set foot into the building, the reports said.

Appointed to the post just last week, Leavy was not even supposed to start the job until June 20, but the stars apparently couldn’t wait that long.

I can see it now: Jake Tapper, Erin Burnett and Anderson Cooper all rushing to his office and then getting comically wedged in the doorway like a beloved, old-movie comedy trio I mention all too often in these TV Blogs.

Heaven knows what they complained about. Maybe Licht eats with his mouth open.

One complaint that turned up in some of the stories was that Licht established his office in New York on a high floor that placed him well above the CNN rank and file, thus limiting his face-to-face contact with them. Off with his head!

Seriously, this does not sound like a fire-able offense. In fact, the only real fire-able offense in television, very generally speaking, is failure to generate ratings and revenue. This was clearly the case under the Licht regime. 

Plus, the Atlantic story -- a profile of Licht -- was a concern even before its publication. Much of the Licht coverage this week theorized that the Leavy appointment to the COO job was timed to coincide with the story and to help manage fallout from it that the company may have known was coming.

The story has been characterized as unflattering. In it, Licht reportedly made disparaging comments about CNN in general and his predecessor, Jeff Zucker, in particular.

According to popular belief, the consequence of these statements was that all of CNN lost confidence in Licht and his leadership. 

As the theory goes, this was a big reason why WBD management either fired him or asked him to resign.

A loss of confidence is not a good thing, but the TV Blog believes that if Licht had been successful in raising CNN’s ratings, then this supposed loss of confidence would have been meaningless to WBD upper management, and he might still have his job.

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