CNN’s embattled chief executive, Chris Licht, stepped down on June 7, just two days after apologizing to staff members for disparaging remarks he made in an all-access profile. “I have known Chris for many years and have enormous respect for him, personally and professionally,” Warner Media president and CEO David Zaslav said in a statement. “This job was never going to be easy, especially at a time of great disruption and transformation, and Chris poured his heart and soul into it. He has a deep love for journalism and this business, and that has been evident throughout his tenure. Unfortunately, things did not work out the way we had hoped — and ultimately that’s on me.” It’s been a tough time for CNN — its CEO criticized the network’s journalistic decisions on Donald Trump and COVID-19 in an Atlantic profile while CNN was recovering from its last CEO’s resignation over a relationship with a colleague and low viewership.
When Zaslav tapped a relatively green Licht for the job, an executive who previously ran morning and late-night television, he needed him to steer the ship during a time of record-low ratings. Instead, Licht had a front-row seat to drama: During his 16-month tenure, he produced a disastrous Donald Trump town hall just days after the former president was found liable for sexual assault, a move that continued to alienate CNN journalists who had misgivings about Licht’s editorial decisions. In the wake of the town hall and unflattering profile, Licht apologized to his staff. “I fully recognize that this news cycle and my role in it have overshadowed the incredible week of reporting we just had and distracted from the work of every single journalist in this organization,” he said, according to an audio recording of a morning editorial call on June 5, per The Wall Street Journal. “And for that, I’m sorry.”