Zaslav’s ‘Martian’ Mission

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
William D. Cohan
June 11, 2023

Alas, poor Yorick, as the indefatigable Dylan Byers has documented so brilliantly for the past 13 months, Chris Licht’s demise from CNN was inevitable. And now come the inevitable recriminations and second-guessing: Was he set up from the beginning as David Zaslav’s fall guy for necessary cost cutting? Was he just executing John Malone’s editorial bidding as channeled through Zaz? Was he on his own, doing what he thought C.F.O. Gunnar Wiedenfels wanted, but generating resentment every step of the way among the rank-and-file? 

Look, I feel badly for Chris. For sure, he made plenty of mistakes—among them, keeping his desk away from the action; moving Don Lemon to the morning and his unceremonious firing; the all-access, backstage pass to Tim Alberta, at the Atlantic; the predictably acrimonious Trump town hall—but he’s also suffered a humiliating and public defenestration that seemed way, way out of proportion for a guy who committed no crimes, moral or otherwise, and was just doing the best he could running a linear cable-television channel in decline. But he had to go. He had become the story, and we know how these things go. He was going to remain the story until Zaz took him out to Central Park, in the purple haze, and gave him his walking papers.