The embattled CNN chief executive, Chris Licht, apologized to his employees on Monday after an Atlantic magazine profile revealed he had been aware of the “extra-Trumpy” make-up of the crowd at a widely criticized town hall with the former president last month.
According to the Atlantic, Licht had also been critical of CNN’s performance under his predecessor, telling employees they had alienated potential viewers through hostility to Donald Trump.
In an editorial call Monday morning, Licht – who had committed to a number of interviews for the Atlantic profile – apologized for his involvement in the piece.
“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 told employees, according to Brian Stelter, a former media correspondent at CNN.
“As I read that article, I found myself thinking, CNN is not about me,” Licht said.
“I should not be in the news unless it’s taking arrows for you. Your work is what should be written about.”
Licht, who was appointed chairman and CEO of CNN in May 2022, was criticized after the network’s decision to host a town hall with Trump. The hour-long event, in early May, saw the former president railroad CNN’s moderator and issue a series of lies and conspiracy theories in front of a pro-Trump crowd.
At one point, Trump mocked E Jean Carroll, the columnist whom a New York jury found he sexually assaulted in a department store; he also referred to Kaitlan Collins, the beleaguered CNN moderator, as a “nasty woman”, to cheers from the audience.
The Guardian reported that following the town hall, “the mood inside CNN was dour amid widespread reports of internal disgust”.
According to the Atlantic profile: “Licht wasn’t scared to bring a bunch of Maga enthusiasts onto his set – he had remarked to his deputies about the ‘extra Trumpy’ make-up of the crowd CNN was expecting – and he damn sure wasn’t scared of Trump.”
CNN did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
After the article was published Licht was subjected to a barrage of criticism from media watchers, including Bill Grueskin, a Columbia Journalism School professor.
“It wouldn’t be fair to say a trained seal could do a better job running CNN than Chris Licht. It’s just that, after reading this piece, it feels like we should give the trained seal a shot,” Grueskin said.