Licht Been Ein Beginner!

So Chris Licht is now the latest, and arguably one of the most deserving, ex-employee of those who have attempted to do the bidding of Yosemite Zas, whisked out of the presidency and CEO position of CNN mere days after a scathing, lengthy profile in THE ATLANTIC revealed that not only was he well aware of the makeup and the potential incensidary quality of the recruited studio audience he had for his much-ballyhooed Donald Trump town hall last month, he was privately giddy about it and not only shared that with some of his staff members but apparently also his chief adviser–his personal trainer.

As THE WRAP’s Loree Seitz recapped, on a day when the air quality in New York City was poor enough to cancel the Yankees, Liberty and several Broadway shows, not to mention actually drive people to want to wear face diapers again (they actually DO work against smoke, go figure), Licht should have had a sense yesterday was going to be particularly gloomy for him, based upon this little nugget dropped into her article reporting on Licht’s gratitude for the opportunity, not to mention his boss’ reaction:

According to the New York Times, Zaslav invited Licht to meet him in Central Park Wednesday morning at 7:00 a.m., where Zaslav broke the news of Licht’s termination to the former CEO in the same spot where he was first offered the job.

Zaslav elaborated on the decision in a memo sent to staffers, which solidified Licht’s exit as effective immediately.

“I have great respect for Chris, personally and professionally,” Zaslav wrote in the memo. “The job of leading CNN was never going to be easy, especially at a time of huge disruption and transformation, and he has poured his heart and soul into it. While we know we have work to do as we look to identify a new leader, we have absolute confidence in the team we have in place and will continue to fight for CNN and its world class journalism.”

Wow.  Talk about an invitation for an outdoor meeting that the likes of which had not be seen since Adriana La Cerva was invited to take a ride out to the country by Silvio Dante.  You know, that show that was a more enduring hit on Licht’s now-former sister network than his town hall project where, per Seitz’ report, Licht told the former president to “have fun” during the live event.

The live event that THE SLATE’s Justin Peters pretty much spot on summed up in this professional post-mortem:

The nadir of Licht’s time at CNN was probably the embarrassing town hall the network hosted with Donald Trump in May, a cringeworthy hour in which the former president and current frontrunner for the 2024 Republican nomination lied and sneered and blustered in front of a friendly crowd for an hour, essentially unimpeded by host Kaitlan Collins. When CNN cut to its commentators at the end of the town hall, they were shocked and silent, mirroring the dominant reaction in living rooms across America. Licht tried to defend the town hall in an all-staff meeting the next day, claiming that “America was served very well by what we did last night,” and later scolding CNN reporter Oliver Darcy for being too critical in his postmortem of the event.

If that sounds more to you like the way that a talk show producer would handle things rather than the CEO of a news network, then we’re at least sympatico on that point.  The fact that we know any of this via an article that Licht and the PR braintrust ostensibly encouraged, and allowed to be released at a highly tumultous time where Zaslav himself has been dragged into the spotlight that Licht needed to apologize for putting the network into, underscores his naivete and demonstrates how he was in so far over his head in this job, one could barely even see his nose bobbing for air.

Unsurprisingly, not long after Licht’s news dropped, this story by THE WRAP’s “Rocky” Harris followed:

Top leaders of CNN’s PR team who oversaw The Atlantic’s disastrous profile of Chris Licht have been fired, TheWrap has confirmed. EVP and global head of communications and marketing Kris Coratti Kelly and head of strategic communications Matt Dornic were among those ousted.  Corratti Kelly had joined CNN just 11 months ago after serving as The Washington Post’s communications chief and general manager of Washington Post Live. She tepped into the role after Allison Gust left the company as the organization investigated former anchor Chris Cuomo’s firing.

Her last name is Gollust, Rocky.  As in the woman whose most egregious sin according to Warner Brothers Discovery management was to fail to disclose that she and her boss, and Licht’s revered predecessor. Jeff Zucker, had fallen in love.   What Harris did get right was how all of that mattered to Licht, and seemed to drive every choice he made:

Atlantic writer Tim Alberta… painted the former exec as a boastful “badass” who is obsessed with his predecessor Jeff Zucker, while the CNN staff’s faith in him continued to slip away.

It’s both ironic and karmic that the day that their replacements were both shown the door, plenty of pundits, including the aforementioned Darcy, identified Zucker and GOLLUST as far superior executives.  Licht in particular was seen as being unable to hold a candle to Zucker.

Despite his insubordinate public whining, Darcy was indeed accurate that Zucker did a far better job.  Zaslav worked for NBC at the same time Zucker ran the network.  For as reviled as he was as an entertainment executive, regularly called “The Human Penis” by notable underlings from the creative side who saw Zucker as thoroughly unqualified to hold the same job that Brandon Tartikoff and Warren Littlefield once had, Zucker was perfectly suited to run a news network, based upon the great success he had in his youth running THE TODAY SHOW.  The same kind of success Licht enjoyed as the producer of what still is late night’s most-viewed show when in production, THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT.

Licht made questionable choices, devoted his energy to personal grudges, and showed utter incompetence in messaging any semblance of control, amplified by having a snarky staff with friends at publications more than willing to throw him under the bus.  But one thing that Licht did do was at least try to do what his boss asked of him.  Indeed, Alex Weprin’s piece in THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER reminds who truly is calling the shots:

(W)hile finding a new leader for CNN is likely occupying Zaslav’s time, there is also the question of what happens to the strategy that Licht was executing, a strategy that Zaslav has championed.

“Our view is there’s advocacy networks on either side, and that we have the best journalists in the world,” Zaslav said at a MoffettNathanson conference May 18. “We need to show both sides of every issue.”

And for Zaslav, that has meant making CNN a safer place for Republicans to appear.

“Republicans are back on the air, the Republicans weren’t on the air,” Zaslav added at the conference. “As I’ve said, to a number of them, and Chris has said to them, they’re not going to get one more vote on Fox News, they already got that. CNN should be the place that people come for the best version of the truth and for journalism. And that’s what we’re building.”

And in terms of raw numbers, which is what all of this ultimately boils down to. Zaslav is perfectly justified in his pursuit of these viewers.  As we’ve consistently reminded, not everyone who has defected from FOX News since Tucker Carlson’s departure has found their way to Newsmax, though enough of them have to reduce CNN often to number four in what should still be a three-horse race among news networks.  And scant few have apparently figured out how to get their fix of him on Twitter so far, and FOX has already filed a suit that may quickly abort that option for the time being.

So opportunity does still exist for Licht’s replacement to do better.  For the time being, as MediaPost’s Wayne Friedman reported yesterday, the network will be led by a bullpen by committee:

While it seeks a replacement, Warner Bros. Discovery says CNN will be led by Amy Entelis,executive vice president of talent and content development; Virginia Moseley, executive vice president of editorial, and Eric Sherling, executive vice president vice president of US programming, as well as David Leavy, chief operating officer, who will focus on the commercial side of the business.

I went through such an experience at Sony, where a gang of five attempted to fill the void left by Steve Mosko after his unceremonious departure from a job he did far better than Licht did his.  That didn’t work and didn’t last long.  I assure you this is temporary, though it’s crystal clear Leavy, an unapologetic Zaslav syncophant, will continue to be involved.

So since arguably the most qualified free agent on the market–Zucker–isn’t likely to be an option, may I offer up this thought to Zaslav, if he’s looking for an experienced leader who knows how to attract the viewers he seems to covet.

Remember Bill Shine?

For those who may have forgotten, Wikipedia recaps these more recent resume highlights:

In 2014, Shine was promoted to FNC’s senior executive vice president of programming.[26] Shine worked alongside of FNC chairman and chief executive officer Roger Ailes for two decades. After Ailes left Fox, the new executive chairman, Rupert Murdoch named Shine and Jack Abernethy as co-presidents of Fox News in August 2016.[27][28] Shine headed the network’s news and programming operations.

Yes. I’m aware Shine left FOX on acrimonious terms, accused of sexual harassment and racial discrimination.  None of those charges were publicly proven, and at least FOX News PR defended Shine even as he was being forced out–they didn’t provide access to his morning meetings with his trainer, or spiritual adviser, or dealer, or priest, or anyone he may have privately confided in.  Yes, he served in the Trump administration after that.  He’s not the first person with ties to him that has been hired by a news network–rising CNN star Kaitlyn Collins covered him for the network, for example.  And more recently, he has more quietly been consulting for Newsmax, that network that has been beating CNN on many nights in many hours of primetime.

I freely admit that I’m a notch biased since Shine and I are both alumnae of SUNY Oswego.  When we were both younger and less castigated I’d sometimes sit down with him when I’d be in the New York office.  I can’t say he revealed much, but we at least talked about what was going on, and we’d shake our heads as blonde female anchors or those aspiring to be would be taking their walk of shame down the long corridor that separated his office from his boss, Roger Ailes.   It was clear to me that he was much more responsible for the nuts and bolts of what was going on than Roger was.  Go rewatch the movie BOMBSHELL if you’ve forgotten what Roger may have been more focused on.

So if Bill could handle that kind of situation and boss, Yosemite Zas and the post-Licht CNN is relative pablum.

Reportedly, CNN founder Ted Turner, though in rapidly declining health, is upset about the kind of attention his baby has gotten.  Turner was mercurial and himself guilty of a few inter-office dalliances.  But he knew who to hire to run the place, the likes of auspiced experienced journalists like Tom Johnson.  People who commanded respect from his staff. And Turner took chances, ironically helping many FOX stations establish news presences long before there was a FOX News Channel.  I personally was involved with the group that established reciprocal arrangements with stations to establish de facto news bureaus around the country.  For years, especially during CNN’s coming of age during the first Gulf War, CNN benefitted from FOX talent.

So please, spare me the kind of moral consternation about bringing in someone with Shine’s alleged baggage. This is a network that is in desperate need of an adult in the room.  Someone with experience.  Someone WAY more qualified than Chris Licht was.  Or is.

And if the likes of Oliver Darcy disagree, well, sir, remember that whether you personally approve it or not, you’re NOT the sheriff in charge.  You work, at least for now, for someone who carries a far bigger six-shooter than you, and can certainly afford a better gun case.  You’re more than free to join Licht on the unemployment line, you whistleblowing putz.

You at least have more on your resume than Licht did.  Perhaps there’s a late night show somewhere you’ll be happier at.

Maybe Bill Shine might be a tad too radical a choice.  But one thing is for sure.  Whoever comes in next will need to be less of a beginner.

Good luck, Zas.

Until next time…






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