Former CNN CEO Chris Licht was fired Wednesday after losing the faith of the long-struggling network’s liberal employees, who longed for the previous regime’s more partisan strategy, according to insiders and media watchdogs alike. 

"He got cancel cultured because he wanted to level the ideological playing field," a CNN insider told Fox News Digital, while another said his departure was "inevitable." 

Licht made it clear he wanted to dial back the left-leaning opinion programming that engulfed the network under his predecessor, Jeff Zucker. He made overtures to Republicans who had been alienated by its past coverage and fired some of its well-known liberal anchors and reporters, but Zucker-era staffers remained throughout the company. 

Licht didn’t exactly turn the place into a network that would be relished by conservatives. Left-wing reporter Jim Acosta kept his weekend show, an entire morning program was built around Don Lemon, and CNN’s media reporters continued to criticize conservative press at every turn. 


Chris Licht

Former CNN CEO Chris Licht was fired Wednesday after a tumultuous year on the job. (Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)

But the same workforce that grieved when Zucker was shown the door became enraged last month when Licht offered former President Trump a chance to appear in a CNN town hall. Licht was publicly criticized by CNN reporters such as Christiane Amanpour and Oliver Darcy, while Anderson Cooper told viewers he understood if they decided to ditch CNN forever. 

Employees got even more upset with Licht when an unflattering profile in The Atlantic revealed he told Trump to "have fun" prior to taking the stage. CNN’s journalists were even more alarmed that Licht suggested Zucker-era COVID coverage may have been a tad too extreme and fear-inducing. Between the backlash to the town hall, the magazine profile that exposed what many insiders already felt about Licht's leadership style, and nonstop critical leaks from within, Licht lost the newsroom. 

One media insider said Licht was never given a real chance, saying that Zucker played a hand in undermining his replacement.

"Feel really bad for him," they told Fox News Digital. "He never really had a chance in that culture to succeed. The leaks came fast and furious from day one. Zucker's hand was all over the attacks, and he knows how to work the press masterfully."


Fox News contributor Joe Concha said an "internal coup" resulted in Licht’s firing because too many CNN employees yearned for the network’s Zucker-era "activist" programming. 

"I get a kick out of this yearning for the good old days of Jeff Zucker's CNN being held up as a model for success. Because at last check, the network had lost more than 70% of its audience when Licht began in 2022 compared to the year before. Its credibility was in shambles because of the cheesy, over-the-top opinions being presented as reporting by those who are supposed to be non-partisan anchors," Concha told Fox News Digital. 

"Licht was a horrible executive, don't get me wrong… but one thing he and his Discovery bosses got right was putting more Republicans on the air and trying to widen the audience net in the process while restoring some credibility," Concha continued. "That was the mission. But if your troops aren't on board with that mission… then that mission will fail." 

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Veteran CNN journalist Christiane Amanpour confronted her now-former boss Chris Licht over the network's Trump town hall. (Mike Marsland/Getty Images for SeriousFun/Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)

David Marcus penned a Fox News Digital opinion piece this week that put a spotlight on Licht's efforts to pull in a more diverse audience falling flat with staffers. 

"The lesson here is clear: no real conservative voices, the kind that actually reflect the views of the vast majority of Americans on the right, will be tolerated by the crybaby lefty loons in the CNN newsroom," Marcus wrote. 


Insiders have said there is a sense of relief that he's out. Licht was "hated" and "people are genuinely happy Chris is gone," Mediaite reported.

Pundit Stephen L. Miller wrote that "Zucker's inmates still run the asylum at CNN" and Licht failed to drain his "swamp." Conservative Media Research Center editors Curtis Houck and Tim Graham discussed Licht’s failed quest on their NewsBusters Podcast

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CNN reporter Oliver Darcy publicly criticized Chris Licht during his time as CEO of the network.  (Screenshot/CNN)

"He tried to go in and say, ‘CNN is going to do the news again. We are going to talk about more than one story a day,’" Houck said as Graham chimed in, "They all were like, ‘No, we don’t want to be the news.’"

Former CNN political commentator Mary Katharine Ham was hired at the network in 2016, when the brand began to see increased ratings from its coverage of Trump's explosive campaign and then his presidency. As Trump rose to the White House, CNN under Zucker took on a resistance-style tone in its coverage. Licht expressed desire to tamp that down when he took over in 2022, but his language about CNN's reputation as an advocacy network rankled on-air talent and staffers from the start.

"I think it's unfortunate because it sounds like he had the right diagnosis for what was causing a lot of the problems with the brand," Ham told Fox News Digital. "But it's pretty clear from all I've seen, he had no plan for enacting the change that was necessary."


"What Zucker incentivized trashed the brand from when I joined, right? It was [politically] left of me, of course. But it was a trusted, basically centrist-y news source, and it became something very different," she added. "And I don't think [Chris] should be faulted for that part of his mission. Execution is another issue... I think that what he was trying to do was probably the right thing. But you do have to consider that basically everyone there disagrees with your mission and how to finesse that."

Former CNN host Brian Stelter, who was fired by Licht last year, wrote this week that staffers are worried Zaslav will replace Licht with someone who also has ostensibly nonpartisan aspirations for the network. It's become a point of faith among left-leaning media critics in recent years that the goal of covering "both sides" fairly is unacceptable because of the extremism of Trump's Republican Party.

"Many are concerned that he will remain committed to a ‘both sides’ vision that sounds strategically wise in the boardroom but tactically fails on live TV," Stelter wrote Wednesday in the Washington Post. 

While a "both sides vision" is ideally a chance to appeal to both Democratic and Republican viewers, Stelter has painted it as standing up to the "truth" versus allowing lies. He added "Licht’s lieutenants feel like the past year’s worth of programming decisions have confused the audience," but they weren’t the only ones perplexed. 

"The anchors have been confused, too," Stelter wrote. "Will they be rewarded internally for interrupting when a guest says something bogus, or will they be chastised by the boss? Will they be respected for defending democracy and plain old human decency or will they be maligned as being ‘opinionated?’"

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Chris Licht, right, lasted barely a year as CNN CEO after replacing Jeff Zucker. (Mike Coppola/Getty Images)

Other media onlookers have taken similar stances and view the CNN debacle as Zucker-era truth-telling prevailing against the need for a less biased CNN. 

The Atlantic’s David Graham wrote that Licht "wanted to turn CNN back into the neutral arbiter of truth that it once was (or seemed to be) without understanding that such a role is impossible in today’s fractured, polarized cable-news environment." 

Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple penned a piece, "Chris Licht is out, and so is CNN’s centrist folly," that suggested the plan to "recalibrate the network’s political sensibility toward the center" simply failed. 

"Well, the centrist jersey isn’t fitting too well, either — considering that it apparently means defanging truthful coverage, giving voice to an election denier," Wemple wrote. 

The New York Times’ Jim Rutenberg, a former media columnist, called the notion of a nonpartisan news operation a "dead idea from a bygone time."


"Zucker’s fans at the network — and they are still legion — will say that if his incarnation of CNN at times appeared to run hot and angry, it had done so in defense of the truth," Rutenberg wrote. 

Licht released a statement on Wednesday evening. 

"This was an exciting but incredibly challenging assignment and I learned a lot over the past 13 months. I’ve been lucky enough to have had a successful, fulfilling career and I look forward to my next chapter. I wish the team at CNN the very best, always," he said. 

Fox News’ Joseph A. Wulfsohn contributed to this report.