Anderson Cooper on the 'Drama' at CNN: 'Morale Was Hurt,' But the Network Is 'Back on Track' (Exclusive)

The journalist tells PEOPLE he's hopeful that CNN is headed in the right direction under new leadership

<p>CNN</p> Anderson Cooper talks about the turmoil at CNN


Anderson Cooper talks about the turmoil at CNN

Anderson Cooper is addressing how the recent turmoil at CNN — including the brief and controversial tenure of former president Chris Licht and the firing of anchor Don Lemon — has affected staffers.

Cooper, 56, who has worked at the network for more than two decades, tells PEOPLE “morale was hurt by all the drama, and that’s unfortunate, but I think things feel like they are back on track.”

CNN announced Aug. 30 veteran news exec Mark Thompson, who has worked for the BBC and the New York Times, would take the reins as president beginning Oct. 9, and Cooper is encouraged by the new leadership.

“He sounds great,” says the journalist.

Reports of trouble at the cable news network began in late 2021 when president Jeff Zucker fired primetime anchor Chris Cuomo for privately advising his brother, former New York governor Andrew Cuomo, as the latter navigated sexual harassment allegations.

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Two months later, in Feb. 2022, Zucker himself resigned from his position after he admitted to having a consensual relationship with one of his employees. “I was required to disclose it when it began but I didn’t. I was wrong,” he said in a statement obtained by Politico.

Then in April, CNN shut down its streaming service, CNN+, a month after its launch.

Licht, a former executive producer of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, took over as president that spring, and aimed to shake up the schedule and implement other changes, which resulted in a drop in ratings, according to the New York Times.

Anderson Cooper posed for People in Connecticut Sept. 4
Anderson Cooper posed for People in Connecticut Sept. 4

In one of the most high-profile shuffles, he moved Lemon from his primetime slot to the morning show. There, Lemon made controversial statements, including his remark that Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley was “past her prime.”

Lemon was ultimately fired in April 2023 — a move he bashed in a statement on X (formerly Twitter). “After 17 years at CNN I would have thought someone in management would have the decency to tell me directly,” Lemon wrote.

In June, The Atlantic published an unflattering profile of Licht, titled “Inside the Meltdown at CNN,” in which he disparaged the network’s coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as Zucker, his predecessor. He was fired days later. The article “was the nail in the coffin," a source told PEOPLE at the time.

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Cooper now says seeing CNN in the headlines on a constant basis was not ideal.

“It's never great to be in a place where you read the paper in the morning and there are stories about where you're working,” says the host of Anderson Cooper 360.

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<p>Victoria Stevens</p> Anderson Cooper posing for the PEOPLE photo shoot at his home in September 2023

Victoria Stevens

Anderson Cooper posing for the PEOPLE photo shoot at his home in September 2023

“And obviously this is an organization I care a lot about. They have been extraordinarily good to me, and I think the quality of what CNN does, the correspondents they have, the producers they have are extraordinary,” he continues.

“You see it at its best when some event happens and we're able to get people from all over the globe who are there in various countries all around the world just to descend on a place and report on a story,” adds Cooper.

The newsman was on vacation in Colombia with his friend and ex-partner, Benjamin Maisani, 50, and the two sons they are co-parenting, Wyatt, 3, and 19-month-old Sebastian, when CNN announced Thompson would be taking over.

Cooper had advanced notice, he says: “I was given a heads-up before it hit publicly, and I've spoken to him. He's obviously got incredible experience.”

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