CNN employees are fearing for their jobs as CEO Chris Licht vowed in an interview to “right-size” the company — and to wean the left-leaning cable-TV network from what he called a “sugar high of ratings and outrage.”
Licht, who took the helm at CNN in April following the scandalous departure of former network boss Jeff Zucker, has completed a months-long evaluation of the newsroom’s operations, according to CNBC — a review that has sent tremors through the 4,500-strong newsroom.
Sources told CNBC that Licht is planning to trim “parts of CNN that have become bloated over time” following corporate parent Warner Bros. Discovery’s edict to cull more than 1,000 people off of its payroll by year’s end.
It is unclear how many CNN staffers will be laid off, but “many” of the cuts are going ot be announced this year, those in the know told CNBC.
The Post has sought comment from CNN.
Licht has reshuffled CNN’s lineup by moving big names including Jake Tapper and Don Lemon. One of his most high-profile decisions was the termination of “Reliable Sources” host Brian Stelter, the network’s longtime media reporter.
But Licht denied to CNBC that Stelter was let go because of his vocal, left-leaning positions that included harsh criticisms of former President Donald Trump as well as Fox News.
Licht said the narrative about Stelter’s dismissal was “painfully inaccurate.” He told CNBC that he fired Stelter, who was not offered another position at the network, because he thought “Reliable Sources” should be web-based rather than a one-hour weekly TV show.
He is also denying the perception that he has told anchors and reporters to be more centrist in their on-air dispatches and commentaries. Licht said he wants to steer CNN away from stories that provoke outrage.
“The brand is the most trusted brand in the world when it comes to journalism, right up there with the BBC,” Licht told CNBC. “I think what happened a little bit here in the past was it’s easy to take the quick sugar high of ratings and outrage. So, I’m trying to do no harm to a great brand.”
Fox News has dominated CNN in the ratings. MSNBC usually comes in second place in the ratings race with CNN a distant third. Fox News is a subsidiary of the Fox Corporation, the sister company to The Post’s corporate parent, News Corp.
Licht is taking his marching orders from Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav, who has handed down a mandate to “right-size” the cable news channel. The media conglomerate that was formed as a result of the merger between Warner Bros. and Discovery has been on a cost-cutting spree.
It shuttered the fledgling CNN+ streaming service less than a month after it was launched. The company also killed off the highly anticipated comic book spinoff film “Batgirl” and shelved TV shows including “Final Space” and “Infinity Train.”
“When [Zaslav] called and offered me the job, he told me what he was looking for out of CNN,” Licht told CNBC. “And I said, ‘That’s exactly the kind of network I would like to see’.”
“There’s no daylight between his vision for this network and my vision for this network,” Licht said of Zaslav. “The only reason why I took this job is because it was him in charge. I thought, I can deliver this for him.”
The new network boss is also planning on taking a much different tack than his predecessor, Zucker.
Zucker quit as CNN president earlier this year after it was revealed that he was carrying on a years-long consensual relationship with his top marketing officer, Allison Gollust.
Whereas Zucker was a micromanager who would involve himself in minute details of his network’s shows, Licht plans on delegating more to his deputies. The hands-off approach is reportedly stoking fears among employees that he’s “evaluating them” from afar.
“I love the control room, and I love the feeling of sending a text and seeing it show up on screen 10 minutes later, but there’s so much happening that we’ll be paralyzed if everyone is waiting to hear from me,” Licht told CNBC.
“That’s just not how I operate.”
Licht said that he has started planning for how CNN will cover a possible Trump run for the presidency in 2024. He told CNBC that while CNN will book pro-Trump voices, it will not allow guests who push disinformation.
“The analogy I love to use is some people like rain, some people don’t like rain,” Licht told CNBC. “We should give space to that. But we will not have someone who comes on and says it’s not raining.”