In a surprising turn of events, Chris Licht, the CEO of CNN, is leaving the network amid a loss of confidence in his leadership. The news was first reported by Dylan Byers of Puck News on Twitter, and it was later confirmed by The New York Times. CNN executive Amy Entelis will temporarily replace Licht during the transition.
Warner Bros Discovery, the parent company of CNN, issued a statement regarding Licht’s departure. CEO David Zaslav expressed respect for Licht, acknowledging the challenging nature of leading CNN during a time of significant disruption and transformation. While the search for a new leader is underway, Zaslav expressed confidence in the existing team and their dedication to CNN’s renowned journalism.
The leadership shuffle at CNN comes after a series of missteps and programming issues under Licht’s tenure. The network faced criticism for a controversial town hall with former President Donald Trump and a damaging exposé by The Atlantic that highlighted a decline in staff morale. These incidents, along with other factors, contributed to Licht’s decision to step down as chairman and CEO of CNN.
During the interim period, Amy Entelis, a highly respected CNN executive known for her talent management skills and leadership of CNN Films, will oversee all programming and editorial matters. Her primary focus will be restoring staff morale. David Leavy, recently appointed as CNN’s chief operating officer, will handle the business side of operations, including commercial and promotional aspects.
Licht’s future at CNN had been in question since a profile on him by Tim Alberta for The Atlantic raised concerns about his leadership style and decision-making process. The article portrayed Licht as detached and out of touch with CNN’s staff, leading to opposition from the network’s talent. Subsequent reports revealed that top talent at CNN had lost faith in Licht’s vision for the network.
In an effort to repair relationships, Licht engaged in conversations with staff members following the publication of the profile. However, doubts remained about his long-term prospects as Oliver Darcy, a CNN reporter, stated that Licht had already “lost the room” with the employee base. Zaslav addressed the situation in an editorial call with CNN, providing further clarity on the leadership transition.
I have great respect for Chris, personally and professionally. The job of leading CNN was never going to be easy, especially at a time of huge disruption and transformation, and he has poured his heart and soul into it. While we know we have work to do as we look to identify a new leader, we have absolute confidence in the team we have in place and will continue to fight for CNN and its world class journalism.
Now, after a year of leadership missteps, programming misfires, a disastrous Trump town hall and the near-total decimation of staff morale in the wake of a chilling all-access Atlantic story, Licht will be vacating the C.E.O. position. In the next 48 hours, I’m told, Warner Bros. Discovery will announce that Licht will be stepping down as chairman and C.E.O. of CNN, ostensibly bringing an end to one of the most turbulent periods in the network’s 43-year history.
Licht will be replaced for an interim period by Amy Entelis, the revered longtime CNN executive, talent whisperer and CNN Films chief who served as a loyal deputy for years to Licht’s predecessor, Jeff Zucker. Entelis, who is 72, will oversee all programming and editorial matters—and, perhaps more importantly, shore up staff morale—while Zaz works to recruit a new chief executive. Meanwhile, David Leavy, the Zaslav consigliere who was recently installed as CNN’s chief operating officer, will oversee the business side, including all commercial, operational, and promotional matters. Licht’s handpicked direct reports would appear to be vulnerable in the shakeup.
Zaslav says that, effective immediately in the interim, the acting CNN leadership team is Amy Entelis, Virginia Mosely, and Eric Sherling. David Leavy will continue on business side as COO.
"I have great confidence in this group," Zaslav says.
— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) June 7, 2023