Chris Licht, the beleaguered chairman of CNN, is stepping down, marking an abrupt end to the executive's rocky 13-month tenure.
The company announced his departure Wednesday at its daily editorial meeting. It marks a rapid and spectacular fall for the executive leading the influential cable news channel.
David Zaslav, chief executive of parent company Warner Bros. Discovery, called in to the meeting shortly after informing Licht of the decision.
Zaslav told CNN staffers that Licht's job was "never going to be easy" and said he wished him well.
"For a number of reasons, things didn't work out and that's unfortunate," Zaslav said, according to a CNN report. "It's really unfortunate. And ultimately that's on me. And I take full responsibility for that."
Zaslav told CNN employees the company would be "conducting a wide search" internally and externally for the network's new chief, a process expected to take "a while."
Licht has been under intense fire since last week, when a lengthy Atlantic magazine profile of Licht outraged top executives within the company, along with the rank and file.
Licht expressed regret Monday to staffers about the Atlantic piece, by journalist Tim Alberta, in which Licht disparaged CNN coverage under his popular predecessor Jeff Zucker. The magazine story portrayed Licht as an isolated leader primarily concerned with Zaslav's mandate that the network be more hospitable to Republicans and address the perceived need to restore trust with viewers.
Amy Entelis, a veteran TV news executive most recently in charge of the network's long-form content, will be part of a transition team that will find a successor for Licht. She is also considered a candidate herself in the search.
Entelis will be joined on the team by Virginia Moseley, executive vice president in charge of the network's news operation; Eric Sherling, executive vice president of programming; and David Leavy, who was named chief operating officer last week.
Many insiders took Leavy's appointment as a sign that Licht's days were numbered.
Licht's departure comes after a tumultuous period for CNN that has been marked by cost-cutting pressures, programming missteps and declining viewership.
His ouster is the latest blow to Zaslav, who has confronted a raft of controversies since taking over as the big boss overseeing CNN, Warner Bros.' film and TV studios and HBO.
Zaslav appointed Licht with the notion that CNN needed an overhaul. Zaslav said publicly that the network had swerved too far into becoming a left-leaning advocate and needed to be more centrist in its approach to the news.
Most insiders took that as a mandate to put more Republicans on the air as guests. It was taken a step further by giving former President Donald Trump — now a candidate for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination — a town hall forum. Trump had been at war with CNN since 2016 and had not appeared for an interview since.
The town hall conducted May 10 in New Hampshire was the beginning of the end for Licht.
CNN anchor Kaitlan Collins questioned Trump for 70 minutes in front of an audience of Republican voters at St. Anselm College in Goffstown. But the crowd gave the event the atmosphere of a Trump rally as audience members cheered the candidate's answers, even when he disparaged E. Jean Carroll, the woman who was recently awarded $5 million after a jury found Trump liable for sexually abusing her in 1994.
Trump also repeated his false claims that his 2020 election loss was "rigged" and that then-Vice President Mike Pence could have saved him from defeat by not certifying the election.
Collins' attempts to perform fact-checks in real time have often proved futile. Critics said CNN should have known better than to give Trump a forum where it would be impossible to filter out misinformation.
Licht defended the town hall decision the following day, saying the event was newsworthy. But the harsh assessments of its execution only escalated in the following days.
Veteran CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour publicly said she disagreed with the decision to present Trump in the format. When many CNN journalists supported her remarks on social media, it was a sign that Licht had lost the troops.
With Licht already on shaky ground, the Atlantic published Alberta's story Friday under the headline, "Inside the Meltdown at CNN," which gave a detailed, inside look at Licht's first year on the job.
Licht gave full cooperation for the story and Alberta had extraordinary access during rehearsals for the town hall and preparation of the network's failed morning program, which was the first programming initiative under Licht's leadership.
The story reinforced the perception of many CNN insiders that Licht did not understand the culture of the operation and appeared too concerned with undoing the work of Zucker, who allowed more personality and opinion on the network.
The story, which included firsthand descriptions of Licht working out with his physical trainer, proved to be a major embarrassment for Licht, and insiders believed his departure would be imminent.
The communications team that signed off on the Atlantic story are expected to follow Licht out the door.
(L.A. Times staff writer Meg James contributed to this report.)
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