CEO Chris Licht apologized to CNN staffers during the network’s 9 a.m. editorial call on Monday after the Atlantic ran a devastating profile of the chief executive on Friday.
“I know these past few days have been very hard for this group. 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,” Licht said, according to a Twitter thread by the network’s former chief media correspondent Brian Stelter.
According to the profile, Licht told former president Donald Trump to “have fun” during his town hall on the network in May and knew that the crowd’s makeup skewed more towards MAGA enthusiasts than the “GOP-leaning independents” CNN originally claimed would occupy these seats. Ahead of the town hall, Licht even made a comment to his deputies about the crowd being “extra Trumpy.” Licht also reportedly told his journalists that “the way to deal with a bully like Trump … was to confront him with facts.”
In addition, The Atlantic reported that Licht told employees that the media empire had “lost its way under former president Jeff Zucker” and that CNN’s approach to Trump had “alienated a broader viewership that craved sober, fact-driven coverage.” Trump’s town hall was part of Licht’s attempt to reconnect with Republican voters.
“As I read that article, I found myself thinking, CNN is not about me. I should not be in the news unless it’s taking arrows for you. Your work is what should be written about,” Licht added Monday. “To those whose trust I’ve lost, I will fight like hell to win it back, because you deserve a leader who will be in the trenches, fighting to ensure CNN remains the world’s most trusted name in news.”
Despite how controversial it was and the tidal wave of backlash it produced, Donald Trump’s town hall was a ratings win for CNN. At 3.3 million viewers it was CNN’s second most-watched town hall since 2016. At the time, Licht defended the live event, saying that it served America “very well.” Licht has also shaken up the network’s programming lineup, and most notably fired Don Lemon, who was seen as weighing down the news channel’s ratings by turning off target viewers.
His response to the Atlantic profile comes a day after CNN hosted a town hall with former South Carolina Governor and GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley. During the editorial call, Licht congratulated host Jake Tapper and the town hall’s production team for their work.
It also follows the appointment of longtime Discovery Inc. executive David C. Leavy as chief operating officer of CNN Worldwide, effective June 20. Leavy, who spent 23 years at Discovery Inc. and its successor Warner Bros. Discovery as a close associate of CEO David Zaslav, will have responsibility over commercial, operational and promotional activities across CNN Worldwide, reporting to Licht.
Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav declined to meet with The Atlantic on the record for the profile, but said in a statement to the outlet that the company has “great confidence in the progress that Chris and the team are making and share their conviction in the strategy.”
A CNN spokesperson did not immediately return TheWrap’s request for comment.