Posted 12 days ago
Pending layoffs, anxious staffers, gaping holes in primetime. CNN CEO Chris Licht has put his stamp on the network since he took over for scandal-plagued Jeff Zucker earlier this year, but as 2022 nears its end, it hasn't been an easy transition.
Licht took control of CNN earlier this year after a long-planned merger put it under control of the newly formed Warner Bros. Discovery. The new regime was thought to be the adult in the room, after CNN saw a dramatic shift in its reputation under Zucker from just-the-facts newsgathering to left-leaning editorializing. He's been on the job less than a year, but the network is now facing looming layoffs and widespread viewership issues that have the network on pace for historic lows.
Many staffers are beset by dread and a feeling of uncertainty as many have no idea if they’ll be employed by Christmas. Cuts are expected to be done by early December, as Licht previously admitted in an October memo that noticeable changes would soon "affect people, budgets, and projects" throughout the company. According to a Puck report, after initially telling staffers layoffs weren't in the offing, Licht was tasked by boss David Zaslav with making a further $100 million in cuts as part of a broader Warner Bros. Discovery budget-slicing effort.
One insider described "huge nerves" within CNN, as evidenced by a town hall moderated by anchor Alisyn Camerota last week where Licht took questions from tense staffers. According to a source who saw the meeting, Licht was noncommittal about who would be laid off, but it's rumored the list of who's on the chopping block is already finalized.
Licht was also asked whether he could still be trusted after he'd indicated earlier this year that layoffs weren't on the horizon. A CNN spokesman told Fox News Digital Licht also noted in June that there was going to be an assessment of which resources should go where at CNN and there could be "some changes there," but layoffs were not seen as on the table at that moment.
The CNN insider said Licht was making painful but necessary decisions when it came to finances, praising his handling of a difficult situation.
"The Zucker era was like the roaring 20s, people were spending money hand over fist," they said. "There is a lot of fat. It sucks, but these layoffs are probably necessary."
Perhaps Licht's splashiest effect on CNN so far has been his slow but steady purge of some of the faces of CNN's left-wing shift over the past decade. Media correspondent Brian Stelter, who focused almost solely on conservative media criticism, and outspokenly liberal White House correspondent John Harwood – both Zucker-era hires – were shown the door in the past few months. Liberal legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, who was brought back to the airwaves after his embarrassing Zoom scandal, also was pushed out this year.
"I know the firings of Brian and John were kind of ideological, who on air are just viewed as hacky. John Harwood is such a hack, you know? Brian Stelter means well," the insider said.
Licht has other problems besides personnel, though. Chris Cuomo, CNN's top-rated anchor for years, was fired last year by Zucker, and with Don Lemon out of primetime as well as the face of its new morning show, there is still no permanent solution at two of its most critical time slots.
CNN’s ratings this year are nightmare fuel for most cable news executives, although Zaslav has insisted that he doesn’t care about viewership and wants to solely focus on restoring credibility to CNN.
"The bosses only say ‘we don’t care about ratings’ until they see the balance sheet," a former CNN producer recently told Fox News Digital when CNN pulled the plug on Jake Tapper’s short-lived primetime experiment.... (Read more)