A Month In, Chris Licht Is Approaching CNN Leadership Role Differently Than Jeff Zucker Did

By A.J. Katz 

He’s barely a month into the job, but Chris Licht‘s leadership style at CNN is already very different from how Jeff Zucker led the network for more than eight years before exiting in February.

The New York Times writes that Licht is “working to undo the showman-like tendencies that Mr. Zucker, a former Today show producer, embedded in CNN’s DNA over his nine-year tenure,” adding, “Mr. Zucker placed sportscaster-style microphones on pundits and encouraged political anchors like Jim Acosta to embrace adversarial reporting about Donald J. Trump, leading to coverage that could seem like advocacy. Oversized groups of partisan guests dialed up the moral dudgeon nightly.”

Licht wants to steer clear of that.


Zucker led the morning editorial calls, Licht is not doing that. Zucker was often in the anchor’s ear during interviews, while Licht appears less inclined to micromanage, which the Times writes, “is an approach that is consistent with his producing philosophy in past jobs. Mr. Licht has told associates that he prefers empowering deputies to make decisions for themselves, even if mistakes can sometimes occur.”

Again, this is a significant departure from what many at CNN have become accustomed to. “They are wishing for more specific direction from the top, not less,” the Times writes, citing network sources.

Licht is a veteran producer who has managed shows, but not entire global news organizations. He has brought on a close friend to help him look for new sources of revenue at CNN, although this friend doesn’t appear to have experience in TV or news. That’s probably the point.

The Times writes that this person is Chris Marlin, “a friend for decades and a business executive who most recently worked at Lennar, the giant Florida-based home constructor. Mr. Licht met Mr. Marlin, who grew up in a trailer park in Arkansas, when he was 17 at a Washington conference for high school students.”

Marlin has been “an object of curiosity and unease at CNN. Some employees have taken to calling him ‘Fish Man,’ a takeoff on his maritime surname.”

Marlin has reportedly suggested focusing more attention on CNN Underscored, a consumer-focused shopping guide, and extending the CNN brand “into foreign markets like China.”