CNN boss Chris Licht hasn't won over rank and file at the network, insiders say

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The shade of Jeff Zucker still haunts nan halls of CNN arsenic nan network's existent main tries to triumph complete staffers who proceed mourning their fallen, scandal-plagued captain. 

Chris Licht has been tasked to transportation retired nan ngo directed from CNN's caller genitor institution Warner Bros. Discovery. Its CEO David Zaslav has been nationalist astir his desires for CNN to beryllium much balanced, saying successful an question and reply past year, "America needs a news web wherever everybody tin travel and beryllium heard; Republicans, Democrats." 

Licht officially took nan reins successful May 2022 aft Zucker was forced retired arsenic CNN president conscionable complete a twelvemonth ago, and immoderate CNN labor are still longing for what they spot arsenic nan bully aged days, moreover though Zucker's tenure was marked by its leftward lurch, sagging ratings and aggregate scandals.

"There are group who don't look to get that nan Jeff-era CNN isn't moreover possible," a CNN insider told Fox News Digital. 


The insider compared nan "Zucker loyalist" mindset to nan 2022 movie "Don't Worry Darling" wherever staffers are "refusing to admit their world isn't existent and getting angry astatine anyone who challenges it."

"I deliberation astir of nan anchors person woken up, it's nan rank and file," nan insider said. "And it's not moreover astir Jeff. It's much nan era."

Chris Licht oversaw "The Late Show pinch Stephen Colbert" earlier taking nan domiciled of CNN CEO.

Chris Licht oversaw "The Late Show pinch Stephen Colbert" earlier taking nan domiciled of CNN CEO. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Warner Bros. Discovery)

While nan anchors person "woken up" to nan reality that Zucker won't beryllium returning, they aren't needfully "believers" successful Licht, either, according to nan source. 

CNN declined to comment. 

Insiders constituent to really Zucker was known for "micromanaging" arsenic nan CNN leader and that he was hands-on erstwhile it came to programming decisions. Licht has taken a different approach.

"They consciousness for illustration they had guidance pinch Zucker. He was a micromanager," a 2nd CNN insider told Fox News Digital. "He’d look astatine ratings each 5 minutes. He was very hands-on pinch booking guests. Chris Licht is simply a spot much hands off. For immoderate reason, nan rank and record astatine CNN admit Jeff Zucker’s attack to leadership." 


"Life was easier for galore of them nether Jeff and Warner Media," nan first insider said, referring to CNN's erstwhile genitor institution earlier nan firm merger that resulted successful Warner Bros. Discovery. "They had personification telling them precisely what to do, and they sewage paid good to do it. Licht expects group of that caliber to do unthinkable activity without him micromanaging." 

What mightiness person been Licht's first obstacle erstwhile boarding CNN was to face its talent astir its wide cognition among a ample swath of Americans.

"I emotion each nan group astatine CNN, but journalists, reporters and analysts genuinely judge they are impartial and they are appalled to deliberation they are viewed arsenic left-leaning," nan 2nd CNN insider told Fox News Digital. "They were aghast astatine nan thought they did thing little than adjacent and balanced." 

The insider praised Licht, who they opportunity has "done a batch to correct nan ship," but he still has his activity trim retired for him.

Jeff Zucker, left, was replaced by CNN president and CEO Chris Licht successful 2022.

Jeff Zucker, left, was replaced by CNN president and CEO Chris Licht successful 2022. (Mike Coppola/Getty Images)

Licht wasn't fixed a honeymoon play erstwhile he joined CNN, which had suffered a devastating rustle conscionable days anterior pinch nan implosion of its streaming work CNN+, thing that was developed during nan Zucker era and was meant to beryllium portion of nan ex-boss's long-lasting bequest astatine nan network. 

One root said a "big root of contention" among staffers was erstwhile CNN was deed pinch layoffs successful November aft they were told by Licht successful June he didn't expect specified occupation cuts. Another insider astatine nan clip said morale had collapsed astatine nan network.

Licht's latest trial was addressing nan situation plaguing morning show big Don Lemon. The 56-year-old infuriated colleagues pinch his sexist remarks earlier this period astir women for illustration GOP statesmanlike campaigner Nikki Haley, 51, being "past their prime" owed to their age. Lemon issued aggregate apologies, not each of them well-received, and Licht said he had agreed to "formal training." But immoderate astatine CNN don't work together pinch really he handled it arsenic Lemon returned to nan airwaves past week.

"I don’t cognize why Don sewage different chance," said nan 2nd CNN insider.


Ultimately, it's a matter of trust. Insiders opportunity it isn't that staffers dislike Licht but alternatively they simply miss Zucker, whose tenure from 2013 to 2022 saw CNN veer sharply to nan near and go defined by its overt hostility toward Donald Trump.

"Zucker was retired successful nan trenches during elections and debates. They went done nan wars pinch him, and they haven’t gone done that pinch Licht," nan insider said. 

His tenure has been rocky to opportunity nan least. 

In summation to nan behemoth undertaking of restoring CNN's journalistic credibility, Licht desperately needs to move astir nan network's flailing viewership, which has only gotten worse nether his watch. One programming headache Licht inherited was CNN's vacant 9 p.m. clip slot emptied by nan 2021 firing of Chris Cuomo. The void successful primetime further expanded erstwhile Licht pulled Lemon from his solo gig for a caller greeting show pinch Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins, a move wide considered a demotion contempt Lemon's insistence to nan contrary.

Embattled CNN big Don Lemon was fixed different chance by his leader Chris Licht pursuing his sexist comments connected nan greeting show he co-hosts pinch Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins.

Embattled CNN big Don Lemon was fixed different chance by his leader Chris Licht pursuing his sexist comments connected nan greeting show he co-hosts pinch Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins. (Mike Coppola/Getty Images for CNN)

Expectations were precocious for what is Licht's first pet task astatine CNN, since his resume includes launching MSNBC's "Morning Joe" and revitalizing "CBS This Morning" arsenic its executive producer. The show, "CNN This Morning," stumbled correct retired of nan gross successful November pinch lackluster viewership, moreover falling short of Zucker's brainchild "New Day." 

Constant tabloid play and reported tensions betwixt Lemon and his co-hosts already successful nan first 3 months of "CNN This Morning" awesome that Licht hasn't recovered nan magic formula. Sources antecedently told Fox News Digital that Licht is good alert that nan show needs improving. 

But Licht's biggest situation is filling nan primetime holes near by Lemon and Cuomo.


While CNN's 8 p.m. ET anchor Anderson Cooper often pulls double work pinch back-to-back hours of programming, Licht still needs a imperishable fix. A little tally by Jake Tapper heading into past year's midterms – which Tapper insists was meant to beryllium impermanent and not a "tryout" for a imperishable primetime occupation – was a ratings bust. CNN's Alisyn Camerota and Laura Coates person been filling successful Lemon's vacant slot successful nan meantime, besides pinch lackluster results.

Reports successful caller weeks indicated Licht was eying large names from extracurricular nan web to move CNN primetime around. Basketball commentator and NBA fable Charles Barkley confirmed that he's discussing hosting a show pinch Gayle King, who Licht antecedently worked pinch astatine CBS. However, Barkley told nan New York Post that him hosting a show 5 nights a week will "never" happen, which will only prolong Licht's programming dilemma. 

Charles Barkley confirmed that he is speaking pinch CNN astir perchance co-hosting a caller show pinch CBS big Gayle King.

Charles Barkley confirmed that he is speaking pinch CNN astir perchance co-hosting a caller show pinch CBS big Gayle King. (Getty Images)

It had besides been reported that CNN was looking astatine comedians to perchance beryllium placed successful primetime, peculiarly pursuing nan occurrence of Fox News' "Gutfeld!", which has quickly go nan most-watched late-night show connected television.

Before taking nan CNN gig, Licht served arsenic executive shaper of "The Late Show" and helped Stephen Colbert and CBS ascend to nan apical of late-night during nan Trump era. Names that were allegedly floated astatine CNN included Jon Stewart, Trevor Noah, Arsenio Hall and Bill Maher. 

A CNN spokesperson antecedently told Fox News Digital, "Chris is having conversations pinch dozens of culturally applicable individuals from nan worlds of news, sports, intermezo and comedy."


Earlier this month, CNN announced that it would beryllium airing Maher's "Overtime" segments connected Friday nights, which were antecedently released connected YouTube instantly pursuing HBO's broadcast of "Real Time," a spot of Warner Bros. Discovery. 

Despite nan viral buzz that was generated, CNN did not reap nan use from its in-house exclusive arsenic viewership connected Friday nights has not seen a boost. 

With each nan turmoil that has unfolded successful caller months, Warner Bros. Discovery leader David Zaslav signaled he still has assurance successful Licht, saying connected nan company's fourth-quarter net telephone Thursday, "Chris Licht and nan squad are focused connected building an plus for nan agelong word crossed cablegram and integer that is worthy of that awesome world brand… I judge we are connected nan correct path."

Joseph A. Wulfsohn is simply a media newsman for Fox News Digital. Story tips tin beryllium sent to and connected Twitter: @JosephWulfsohn.