The Chris Licht Gut Punch

In this era of tightening and “right-sizing,” as Licht likes to put it, CNN seems poised to return to something more basic: a cable news channel with a website. Photo: FilmMagic/HBO
Dylan Byers
October 28, 2022

Chris Licht, the chairman and C.E.O. of CNN, is fond of saying that he doesn’t pay attention to the media’s coverage of his tumultuous early tenure, nor what his critics say on Twitter. In conversations with associates and other executives, who spoke to me on the condition of anonymity, Licht says that his boss David Zaslav has given him a clear mandate and total support to reposition CNN as a centrist, nonpartisan network, regardless of how that’s perceived or what it means for ratings. 

And that seems unequivocally true. Indeed, Licht’s stated view on the press coverage, plenty of which has been negative, mirrors Zaz’s own ostensible attitude toward critics of Warner Bros. Discovery. A rarified media executive, Zaz believes he’s building toward a long-term vision that will endure criticism until its complete, but that the ends will more than justify the means.

Licht is human and, to be fair, he is new in his job, and it’s a new kind of job for him. He developed a reputation as a wunderkind executive producer during stints at Morning Joe, CBS This Morning, and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, which he resurrected after its disappointing entry into the market. But in these previous gigs, Licht had to manage a handful of key talent and a couple hours of programming. In his capacity at CNN, he’s not only in charge of scores of elite talent and executives, but also a 24/7/365 international news behemoth and brand that is as globally identifiable as Coca Cola.