Amid the fallout from an absolutely devastating 15,000-word profile portraying him as an aloof, press-obsessed leader who’s lost the newsroom, CNN boss Chris Licht told disgruntled staffers on Monday that he understands the network “is not about me” and he’ll “fight like hell” to win back their trust.
In an Atlantic magazine feature that was nearly a year in the making, writer Tim Alberta extensively detailed Licht’s succession of ousted CNN chief Jeff Zucker—revealing a brutal portrait of the man hand-picked by Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav to reinvent CNN as a “centrist” news channel.
In the end, Alberta found that not only had Licht lost the support of CNN staff amid debacles like the Trump town hall, but that Zaslav may also be souring on him too. A new chief operating officer was named just as Alberta’s piece published last week, and numerous reports over the weekend found CNN staffers saying their confidence in Licht has been shaken. “He’s over,” one employee told former CNN media reporter Brian Stelter, who was fired by Licht last year.
At the top of the editorial call on Monday morning, according to sources familiar with the matter, Licht first congratulated anchor Jake Tapper for moderating a Sunday night town hall with GOP presidential hopeful Nikki Haley.
He then addressed the elephant in the room, telling staff that he planned to remain as CNN chief in the wake of Alberta’s tough profile.
“I know these past few days have been very hard for this group,” Licht said. “I fully recognize that this news cycle and my role in it overshadowed the incredible week of reporting that we just had and distracted from the work of every single journalist in this organization. And for that, I am sorry.”
He added that when he “read the article,” he found himself thinking that “CNN is not about me.” Licht also declared that he “should not be in the news unless it’s taking arrows” for the network’s staff since “your work is what should be written about.”
Licht went on to say that “I will fight like hell” to win back “those whose trust I've lost,” proclaiming that the network deserved “a leader who will be in the trenches” and assure that CNN “remains the world's most trusted name in news.”
Elsewhere, Licht also confirmed that he was moving his office down from the 22nd floor of CNN’s New York headquarters in order to be closer to the network’s news team on the 17th floor. One point of contention highlighted in Alberta’s piece was that staff feel that Licht is too out of touch with the channel’s rank-and-file, which was typified by his decision to take an office a few floors above the newsroom. Zucker, meanwhile, had famously kept his office among the news staff.