Embattled CNN boss Chris Licht issued a groveling apology to network staffers on a daily editorial call Monday morning, days after an embarrassing profile was published.
It was the first time Licht, 51, spoke publicly to his employees since the self-aggrandizing profile in The Atlantic revealed his doubts with the direction of the news network during his first year at the helm.
‘This experience has been tremendously humbling,’ Licht said on the call. ‘And to those whose trust I lost I will fight like hell to win it back.’
The 15,000-word Atlantic article gave insight into Licht first year, which included firing controversial host Don Lemon, moving the company away from the vision of previous CEO Jeff Zucker and blasting CNN’s COVID coverage.
Ratings have also tanked for CNN since Licht took over.
‘I fully recognize that this news cycle and my role in it overshadowed the incredible week of reporting that we just had and distracted from the work of every single journalist in this org,’ Licht told the staff. ‘And for that, I am sorry.’
Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav is said to have been displeased with the piece, entitled ‘Inside the Meltdown at CNN,’ and agreed it was mishandled, according to those familiar with his thinking who spoke to CNBC on the condition of anonymity.
Chris Licht, 51, issued a groveling apology to CNN staffers amid calls for his resignation after a scathing profile piece revealed his doubts with the news network’s direction
Warner Bros Discovery CEO David Zaslav (pictured last month) is said to have been displeased with the profile piece
In the profile, Licht spoke out about CNN’s approach to covering former President Donald Trump before he took over last year, and said it alienated viewers with its coverage of COVID-19 as he offered a journalist unfettered access
In his brief remarks, the CNN boss said he did not recognize himself in the Atlantic piece but understood employees’ frustrations and is intent on earning their trust, according to sources.
He also admitted: ‘I should not be in the news unless it’s taking arrows for you.’
Licht, though, seemed perplexed by some portrayals in the article, telling staff members ‘there are parts of that article and characterizations made where I don’t recognize myself. But there are those of you who do.
‘This experience has been tremendously humbling,’ he added. ‘And to those whose trust I lost I will fight like hell to win it back.’
Licht also announced during the morning phone call he would move his office to the 18th floor next month, and in the meantime, will spend his time on the 17th floor of CNN’s headquarters to make himself more accessible to editorial staff, which is mainly on that floor of the company’s New York City Hudson Yards headquarters.
But the CNN boss did not say why he agreed to participate in The Atlantic’s profile and have reporter Tim Alberta follow him from personal training sessions at the gym to backstage network programming meetings.
And he gave no indication that he plans to step aside from the top position at CNN despite calls for his resignation.
Licht offered no indication that he plans to step aside from the top role at the news network after an embarrassing Atlantic article
Licht started off his remarks Monday by congratulating Jake Tapper for his town hall with presidential candidate Nikki Haley before he started discussing the profile.
‘I know these past few days have been very hard for this group,’ he said, according to former staffer Brian Stelter.
‘I fully recognize that this news cycle and my role in it overshadowed the incredible week of reporting that we just had and distracted from the work of every single journalist in this org. And for that, I am sorry.’
‘As I read that article, I found myself thinking CNN is not about me,’ he continued. ‘I should not be in the news unless I’m taking arrows for you. Your work is what should be written about.’
Licht then promised to win back staff members’ trust ‘because you deserve a leader who will be in the trenches, fighting to ensure CNN remains the world’s most trusted name in news.’
After he spoke, Virginia Moseley, a top CNN editorial executive, took over the call, saying: ‘We all agree with you, Chris, that what makes this place so special is those reporters and that reporting.’
Licht took over at the helm of CNN last year, but its ratings have remained historically low
Ousted CNN anchor Brian Stelter, who remains close with some employees at the network, said they are telling him they think Licht should be fired for his remarks
Staff members at CNN have expressed shock at the access Alberta had to the CEO and some remarks he made about the networks’ coverage of certain events.
One staffer told The Hollywood Reporter the profile offered a lot of ‘tea leaves’ that employees were analyzing and debating, while another said they felt they learned more about Licht’s direction for the network from the piece than they did from his own internal town halls.
A third told New York Magazine the CEO is ‘just giving haters on the right more ammo to bash us while giving skeptics on the left more ammo to justify turning us off. How does any of this help anything?’
Licht took over at the helm of CNN last year, but its ratings have remained historically low as he and other executives work to maintain a prime-time audience while also launching new morning programs.
The news division, which once generated more than $1billion annually, raked in just $750million – partially due to the $200million loss the company took on the total shutdown of CNN+ just one month after its highly publicized launch.
Following years of sensational coverage of the Trump White House and the COVID-19 pandemic, the network began enduring the so-called Trump slump, and even with a presidential cycle heating up, the network’s numbers are down 30 percent relative to this time during the 2016 cycle.
David Leavy took over as COO of CNN earlier this month, apparently in hopes of containing the fallout from the story. He is pictured here in 2018
Some staff members at the network now believe he should be fired, according to Stelter, who spoke with New York Magazine about the sentiment inside CNN.
‘That anti-Licht sentiment is shared by many in the CNN rank and file, and has existed to some extent for months, but The Atlantic article cemented it,’ he tweeted Sunday.
‘In the words of three employees “He’s over.” “He’s done.” “There’s no coming back from that profile.”‘
Senior anchors, reporters and correspondents have even reportedly been phoning new COO David Leavy to express their frustrations.
Leavy was originally scheduled to begin his new position on June 20, but network executives said he would take on the COO role on June 1, apparently in hopes of containing the fallout from the story.
He is expected to spend more time focusing on programming, but has already reached out to top talent.
According to Stelter, Zaslav has been telling employees that Leavy will provide more adult supervision.