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The CNN Green Room Massacre

Chris Cillizza
Chris Cillizza speaks onstage at a CNN event in 2020. Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for WarnerMedia
Dylan Byers
December 2, 2022

On Thursday morning, ahead of a long-anticipated day of corporate bloodletting, CNN C.E.O. Chris Licht let his some 4,000-plus staff know that he would be spending the entire day in the executive conference room of his New York headquarters, door open, so that employees could talk directly with him about the new round of layoffs that has now left hundreds of people jobless. The optics were notable. When Licht took this job, seven months earlier, he had made a point of distancing himself from the newsroom, ensconcing himself in a corporate office five stories above the fray, and establishing a chain of command that allowed him to avoid direct, day-to-day communication with the vast majority of his staff. This was a meaningful departure from his predecessor, Jeff Zucker, who kept his office on the newsroom floor and texted and emailed with employees at all hours. 

Licht’s latest gesture was a sign of maturation. In his first months on the job, the former executive producer of Morning Joe, CBS This Morning and The Late Show had made a number of missteps evidencing his inexperience in the executive role—including, most notably, telling his employees that there would not be layoffs, and also planning a trip to Abu Dhabi ostensibly for sales meetings, a family vacation, and a Formula One race during a company-wide travel freeze. Now, on the most challenging day of his tenure to date, he was demonstrating compassion and courage: he would not hide while people lost their jobs. Instead, he would be there to answer questions, to comfort, and to assuage anxieties. “That’s actual leadership,” acknowledged one veteran media executive who has been critical of Licht. “That’s not easy.”