Here’s Our Analysis of The Atlantic’s Chris Licht Profile

By Mark Mwachiro 

“The media has absolutely, I believe, learned its lesson… I really do. I think they know that he’s playing them—at least, the people in my organization. We’ve had discussions about this. We know that we’re getting played, so we’re gonna resist it.”

That was CNN’s CEO and chairman Chris Licht‘s response when asked by The Atlantic’s Tim Alberta about how CNN would cover former President Donald Trump, the leading Republican presidential candidate for 2024.

This question was posed to Licht in 2022, months before CNN announced the live town hall with Trump, an event which has subsequently not been well received internally and externally. Despite moderator Kaitlan Collins‘ valiant efforts, the forum quickly went off the rails as the former president, fueled by the partisan audience, trampled over the entire proceedings.


That raised fears that lessons were not learned.

CNN has doubled down on hosting additional town halls with potential GOP presidential candidates. As the article illuminates, Licht has continuously made efforts to rework CNN — shifting its reporting pendulum from what was perceived as left-leaning back towards the political center.

The Atlantic covers in juicy detail Licht’s rocky first year as CNN chief — the turbulent launch of CNN This Morning, the subsequent firing of Don Lemon, CNN’s mediocre Nielsen ratings, low morale and alienation felt by CNN staff, conflict with former CNN honcho Jeff Zucker, and what appears to be an obsession with what the media reporters write about him. One can argue that the biggest takeaway from the 15,000-word profile though is that all of Licht’s decisions at CNN appear to be aimed at pleasing one person.

Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav.

“Everyone at CNN had long ago come to realize that Licht was playing for an audience of one. It didn’t matter what they thought, or what other journalists thought, or even what viewers thought. What mattered was what David Zaslav thought,” Alberta wrote.

Zaslav had already viewed Licht as the next leader of CNN long before the merger between WarnerMedia and Discovery, Inc. was completed, Alberta stated. He brought Licht to the famed, exclusive Hamptons Labor Day party he throws each year and even asked Zucker for his thoughts on Licht while Zucker was still running CNN. Fast forward and Zaslav conveniently appeared at CNN’s New York offices earlier in the year to offer his conditional support to Licht.

Alberta makes the case that Licht seems to be at Zaslav’s beck and call, answering his calls during his private workouts and trumpeting Zaslav’s talking points as to what CNN’s position is within the larger Warner Bros. Discovery family, which is a “reputational asset.”

When asked to clarify this, Licht said, “CNN, for Warner Bros. Discovery, is a reputational asset,” emphasizing the phrase. “My boss believes that a strong CNN is good for the world and important to the portfolio.”

With the appointment of one of Zaslav’s top lieutenants, David Leavy, to the position of COO of CNN on Thursday, the molding of Licht into more of a Zaslav disciple will continue to generate media interest and potentially unnerve CNN staffers looking for clear and proper direction since joining the WBD family.

Warner Bros. Discovery put out the following statement, tweeted out by CNN’s former lead media reporter:


*This is a TVNewser analysis piece.