CNN CEO Chris Licht Exposed: Five Takeaways From Bombshell Profile

On June 2, The Atlantic published a deeply reported look at the rocky tenure of Chris Licht, who took over as chair and CEO of CNN Worldwide last year. The colorful 15,000-word profile features his unvarnished opinions, as well as intimate access, including a morning session with the polarizing executive’s physical trainer, who Licht refers to as his “one-man focus group.”

Staff writer Tim Alberta drew out his subject over a period of months, during which an embattled Licht has dealt with a series of tumultuous episodes at CNN, including anchor Don Lemon’s departure and a poorly received town hall event with former president Donald Trump. The article portrays a brash manager struggling to lead the news division of a media conglomerate amid widespread distrust among his rank-and-file while also catering to the whims of his own fickle, meddling boss: Warner Bros. Discovery chief David Zaslav.

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These days, rigorous, all-access journalism of top business executives is increasingly rare, largely due to the significant risk of fallout. (As David Wirtschafter, then-president of William Morris, notoriously learned when The New Yorker wrote about him in 2005; the agency lost Sarah Michelle Gellar and Halle Berry as a result, and he issued a formal apology.) However, on occasion, prestige publications successfully lure top figures who are enamored by such cache to speak with unusual candor. Here are just five striking moments — among many others — from one of the most revealing media profiles in recent memory.


Licht, who believes that the former president did “really bad shit” in office and provoked the media with “outrage porn,” gave the former president the break-a-leg prodding backstage just before the New Hampshire event, held May 10, the day after Trump was found liable for sexually abusing writer E. Jean Carroll. The network head was also aware in the lead-up to the town hall that the makeup of the crowd would be “extra Trumpy.”


Licht reportedly called the Clinton-era labor secretary Robert Reich to rebuke him for a critical column about CNN under his tenure and told friends that he would “destroy” the Democratic strategist Kurt Bardella for his own column. “You have a certain segment of society that has had an unfettered megaphone to the leading journalistic organization in the world,” he told The Atlantic. “And at the slightest hint that that organization may not be just taking things that are fed to them from that segment of the population, it must be that a fascist is running the network, and he wants to move it to the right … The fact that I want to give space to the [argument] that this thing everyone agrees with might be not right doesn’t make me a fascist right-winger who’s trying to steal Fox viewers.”


Licht refers to his trainer Joe Maysonet, who has helped him lose about 50 pounds over the past three years, as his “therapist,” “coach” and “one-man focus group.” Maysonet, who Licht notes is “super fucking liberal,” has been critical of his CNN plans. “You see my boy Jamie Raskin on MSNBC the other day?” Maysonet said during one workout, referring to the Democratic representative from Maryland. “Wiping the floor with your Republican boys!” Licht responded: “They’re not my boys.” (At another point, when Alberta asked if he’s a conservative, Licht responded: “I would never put myself into a category. I think it depends on what we’re talking about.”)


According to The Atlantic story, Licht created a “dustup with his own diversity, equity and inclusion staff after making some spicy remarks” at a conference about his own views on recruitment, which is that CNN’s newsroom would benefit from more reporters who are deeply religious, who own guns and who grew up food-insecure. “I said, ‘A Black person, a brown person and an Asian woman that all graduated the same year from Harvard is not diversity,’” the executive recalled to the magazine. He added: “I think ‘Defund the police’ would’ve been covered differently if newsrooms were filled with people who had lived in public housing.” When The Atlantic asked why, Licht responded: “They have a different relationship with their need with the police.”


Alberta, the writer, limns the shadow cast by Licht’s predecessor, Jeff Zucker, who maintains a cadre of loyalists at the network. Licht is convinced that Zucker has used Puck media columnist Dylan Byers, an ex-CNN employee, to undercut him with leaks and spin. (Licht admitted to angrily confronting Byers about the situation in March.) Elsewhere in the feature, during a workout scene with Maysonet, Licht hoists a long metal pole. “Zucker couldn’t do this shit,” he says. It’s unclear if the comment is meant as a joke.

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