Chris Licht Made CNN Into the Ultimate Media Reality Show
Daniel D'Addario Chief TV Critic The departure of CNN’s Chris Licht, following his turbulent year atop the cable news network, places a pause on one of the great media stories of the decade so far. But even non-media-junkies can appreciate just how strange and how strenuously rocking had been Licht’s time at the network: It played out across screens. The trouble with being the place that invented the 24-hour news cycle is that those hours can come back to bite when you’re the story. There it was in politics, when Donald Trump’s “Town Hall,” with purported rising star Kaitlan Collins, gear-shifted into the first televised rally of the 2024 presidential cycle — with CNN’s air being used to depict an audience of Trump supporters cheering on his jibes. (No less an eminence than Christiane Amanpour, a CNN icon, registered her dissent in public.) There it was on the business pages, with Licht’s overseeing the dismantling of streaming product CNN+, on orders from Warner Bros. Discovery head David Zaslav, setting the tone for his tenure. There it was at the Oscars, when Michelle Yeoh used her best actress acceptance speech to rebuke anchor Don Lemon’s bizarre on-air comments about a woman’s “prime” years. There it was in the gossip pages, after a Variety story about Lemon’s comportment toward his female co-anchors on the network’s flagship morning show, and then his ouster, leaked into the tabloids, and never seemed to be countered by any good news about the network. And, finally, there it was at length, with an all-access profile by the Atlantic’s Tim Alberta revealing Licht’s contempt for predecessor Jeff Zucker and the depths of his disdain for and, frankly, confusion about CNN’s mission.