It’s fair to say that Chris Licht, the beleaguered chairman and C.E.O. of CNN, is overdue for a lucky bounce, a fact that even his staunchest supporters would concede. His inaugural year running the network has involved a confection of headaches both macroeconomic and small, inevitable and self-made, marred by a $100-million-plus budget shortfall, mass layoffs and cuts, the nuking of CNN+, internal vexation about his management style, a Jake Tapper primetime snafu and some of the worst ratings in the network’s 42-year-history.
And it didn’t help that the Fed’s interest rate journey threw a few monkey wrenches in David Zaslav’s debt-reducing integration process at Warner Bros Discovery. In moments of pique, CNN loyalists often ask themselves WWJZD: What would ousted president Jeff Zucker have done differently? A lot, presumably, but even Ted Turner could not have navigated CNN’s challenges without some errant bloodletting.
This year, Licht has already faced a litany of frustrations: his signature morning show has been beset by a tabloid feeding frenzy regarding reports of a frosty relationship between co-anchors Don Lemon and Kaitlan Collins. More recently, the network managed to miss live footage of the Chinese balloon shootdown, ceding the exclusive to Fox News, and infuriating many inside the building who wondered how such an oversight could occur. (Alas, one does wonder if the Zucker-era administration would have transformed this transient tabloid espionage into a modern poop cruise.) But perhaps most poignantly for the proud journalists who populate the business’s corridors, CNN came in last in the total ratings (behind Fox, MSNBC, and the big three broadcast networks) for coverage of Biden’s State of the Union address—exactly the kind of ratings opportunity that CNN once dominated, especially when a Democrat was behind the podium.