Zaz Brings in the Pain Sponge

David Leavy, the newly implemented C.O.O. at CNN and a longtime member of the Zaslav braintrust.
David Leavy, the newly implemented CNN C.O.O. and a longtime member of the Zaslav braintrust. Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
Dylan Byers
June 2, 2023

Last Spring, shortly after Chris Licht became chairman and chief executive of CNN, he received a gift from Jay Sures, the Hollywood power agent who has long represented many of CNN’s most high-profile anchors and correspondents. The gift was a framed bulletproof vest with Licht’s name affixed on it. 

It was a tongue-in-cheek goodwill gesture, of course, and a nod to the fact that any newly minted C.E.O. was destined to come under fire from critics inside and outside the building. After all, Licht inherited an empire that had been burdened by years of reputational warfare with Trump; a staff that was reeling from the sudden defenestration of its widely revered leader, Jeff Zucker; and corporate overlords at Warner Bros. Discovery who intended to slash jobs and cut costs while refashioning the network to satisfy some John Malone-approved vision of a more centrist, G.O.P.-friendly broadcast that discouraged journalists from speaking their minds—a mission Licht had ostensibly been charged with executing.

For most of the last thirteen months—through his early leadership missteps, layoffs, programming misfires, ratings declines, the Trump town hall, and the depletion of staff morale—Licht has kept the framed vest on the floor, leaning against the wall. In that time, he has endured more scrutiny and criticism from employees, industry insiders and critics than perhaps any other contemporary media executive, almost all of it cataloged in this column.