Former CNN chief Jeff Zucker says new CEO Chris Licht rejected his leadership directions
Deposed CNN boss Jeff Zucker is publicly and privately criticizing the leadership skills of the network’s current boss, Christ Licht, as he continues to simmer over the terms of his departure from the network in early 2022.
Zucker is reportedly moving on to his next media venture, but still takes pictures of his replacement and the old news network he used to run.
Shortly after Zucker left CNN amid a scandal surrounding an affair with a colleague, he was taken back when his replacement, Licht, seemed disinclined to embrace the leadership of the man who had helped CNN for the past nine years.
“It is not at all surprising that Jeff Zucker, the architect of CNN’s unprecedented success, would have serious doubts about the direction the network has taken since his departure,” said Risa Heller, a spokeswoman for Mr. Zucker.
The report of Zucker’s offer to help Licht, and his concerns, comes just days after an embarrassing profile about Licht and his first year at CNN was released. There has been speculation that Licht could soon be replaced as head of CNN.
Deposed CNN boss Jeff Zucker was reportedly pissed that current boss Chris Licht didn’t embrace his advice on running the network
Chris Licht, who was chosen by Warner Discovery CEO David Zaslav to lead CNN in the post-Zucker era, is struggling to right the ship as viewership continues to fall
Since stepping down from his position, Zucker has been candid, including with a group of Yale students in April, about his version of his dramatic network cancellation.
Zucker, 58, believes CNN’s owners used his relationship with Allison Gollust – the network’s former communications chief – as a pretext to fire him. The pair had failed to report their romantic relationship to the proper parties, despite reports that it was hardly a secret that the pair were entangled.
“I gave them a gun and they shot me with it,” Zucker told a room of Yale students, including Gollust.
Current executives at CNN and Warner Discovery (CNN’s parent company) dislike Zucker’s relatively open criticism of the network and his successor’s job to run it.
However, they are also plagued by the reality of declining ratings and a flight of Light that the ship failed to rectify.
CNN’s news division, which once generated more than $1 billion a year, only brought in $750 million — in part due to the $200 million loss the company suffered in the total shutdown of CNN+ just a month after the much-discussed launch.
After years of sensational coverage of the Trump White House and the COVID-19 pandemic, the network began to weather the so-called Trump slump, and even as the presidential cycle kicks in, the network’s numbers are down 30 percent compared to this time during the 2016 cycle.
Licht and David Zaslav – Warner Discovery’s CEO and Licht’s boss – have said that under Zucker’s administration, CNN became an “advocacy network” for a time, referring to the network’s relentless negative coverage of Trump and his White House.
Zucker vehemently disagrees, arguing that under his watch, the network’s coverage of Trump generated “journalism and financial success,” according to the Times.
CNN, in the wake of Trump’s presidency and under new leadership, has struggled to maintain its viewership and revenue numbers
Zucker and Gollust both left the network after it became known that the pair had a romantic relationship. Zucker has said he believes the relationship, which they have not revealed, was used as a pretext to oust him
Chris Licht is under increasing pressure from his bosses and employees to get to grips with the network. Last week there was an unflattering profile of him in The Atlantic, which follows Trump’s much-criticized town hall
Warner Discovery executives believe that as Zucker tries to figure out his next moves, he’s waging a proxy war against Light, whose leadership he wants to undermine.
Among other things, they believe that Zucker leaked unflattering information about CNN to the press on several occasions.
The spokesperson added that it should not shock anyone that Zucker is “frequently asked, publicly and privately, and regularly by former colleagues, about what he now thinks of CNN.”
As for Zucker’s current business endeavors, the Times report notes that the mega-corporation’s network leader is working to launch a new venture called RedBird IMI, which will have $1 billion to spend on acquisitions in digital media, sports, entertainment. and new industries.
Licht remains the head of CNN, though some on the left have accused him of moving the news giant to the right of the political spectrum. In its time, ratings and controversies have fallen, such as the firing of Don Lemon.
Lemon was fired this spring after 17 years with the network and a series of scandals that eventually forced Licht’s hand, though some reports indicate that Licht had been angling for Lemon’s departure for a long time.
Licht admitted that he wishes he had done some things differently, including taking a slow approach to change
Lemon has been embroiled in controversy in recent months following mounting claims of his misogyny at the network. He was initially demoted to a morning news position and later fired.
The Atlantic piece noted that Licht had grown tired of Lemon and his behavior, telling him that the morning show shouldn’t be “preachy.”
“A lot of people are quarterbacking on CNN Monday morning about what happened,” Lemon told The Atlantic of the mood at CNN. “You have to remember what time we were in. Every day we were attacked by the former government. And that’s no exaggeration… We’ve had bombs sent to this network.”
Licht admitted that there were some things he wished he had done differently, especially that he wished he didn’t join CNN with the enthusiasm of being a different leader than Zucker.
“I intended to try to draw a line between the old regime and the new regime,” said Licht. “I should have just come in slowly, without making these grandiose statements about how different I would be.”