One year ago, when Jeff Zucker announced his plans to leave CNN by the end of 2021—due, in part, to frustrations with WarnerMedia chief Jason Kilar, the man who would eventually force him out of his job last week—I started surveying industry sources for ideas on who might replace him.
The ideal candidate, most said, would need to check a lot of boxes: strong leadership experience in the TV news business; an appetite and aptitude for the industry’s digital future; the backbone to stand up to political leaders and make tough editorial calls in moments of crisis; the business savvy to land big-name talent and negotiate complex, global deals; and the charisma and leadership to inspire the loyalty of CNN’s most valued hosts and correspondents. After all, Zucker had checked most, if not all, of these boxes—and most notably the last one, as evidenced by the collective, ongoing mourning over his sudden ouster. On Friday night, CNN sources tell me, Jake Tapper hosted a shiva-like get together at his home in Washington for bereaved colleagues.
A year ago, the list of plausible Zucker replacements was short, and not altogether satisfactory—veteran broadcast news chiefs, star executive producers, and one or two CNN insiders. Some were far more qualified than others, none of them could be described as ideal. “Most people don’t get visibility into how difficult these jobs are,” one veteran broadcast and cable news insider told me at the time. “There are no obvious candidates waiting in the wings.”