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CNN chief executive Chris Licht has stepped down

Chris Licht has stepped down as CEO of CNN, the global news network's parent company said Wednesday.

CNN "will be conducting a wide search, internally and externally, for a new leader," David Zaslav, CEO of CNN parent company Warners Bros. Discovery, told staff in a memo sent Wednesday. In the meantime, a four-person committee of CNN executives will serve as its interim leadership, Zaslav said. 

Warners Bros. Discovery tapped Licht to lead CNN in February 2022 but he didn't take the helm until May 2022 because he was still winding down his employment at CBS as a producer for "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert." Licht's predecessor Jeff Zucker stepped down last year after having a consensual relationship with a fellow employee

In his first memo to CNN staff, Licht told employees that he's a journalist at heart who also worked as a television producer for MSNBC's "Morning Joe" and felt "a genuine pull to return to news at such a critical moment in history."

Zaslav praised Licht while announcing his departure, saying Licht "has a deep love for journalism."

"This job was never going to be easy, especially at a time of great disruption and transformation, and Chris poured his heart and soul into it," Zaslav said in the memo. "Unfortunately, things did not work out the way we had hoped — and ultimately that's on me. I take responsibility."

Puck News first reported Licht's departure. Licht couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday. 

Negative publicity 

Licht's exit comes just days after an article published in The Atlantic portrayed him as overly confident, obsessed with his predecessor and quickly losing the confidence of CNN staff.

About six months into Licht's tenure, CNN laid off an unknown number of employees as it grappled with reduced advertising revenue. The layoffs were part of Warner Bros. Discovery's larger goal of cutting costs by up to $3.5 billion. Warner Bros. Discovery also owns Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, TBS, TNT, truTV and Turner Classic Movies. 

When Licht took over CNN, he was tasked with reshaping the network's news coverage to be less partisan than it had been during Donald Trump's presidency. But falling ratings, the abrupt closure of streaming service CNN+ and widespread internal criticism, including over a recent town hall with Trump, scuttled those plans. 

CNN's May ratings were dismal, with its prime-time viewership less than half of rival of MSNBC, while Fox News still leads among the cable networks.

Town hall panned

A month before Licht arrived, the network shuttered CNN+ and laid off most of its staff. Executives said its inability to show live breaking news was a crucial failing. Because of contracts with cable and satellite companies, CNN+ could not stream the CNN television network.

CNN faced immediate backlash after Trump's town hall, where the former president repeated 2020 election lies; dodged questions on abortion; mocked E. Jean Carroll, who accused him of sexual abuse; and celebrated Jan. 6 rioters.

Under Licht's watch, the network also fired longtime anchor Don Lemon. The anchorman came under fire earlier this year after he made comments about women being in their "prime" during a segment about 51-year-old Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley. In April, Variety published a report about Lemon's alleged hostility and misogynistic behavior toward his female colleagues. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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