CNN Boss Chris Licht Tells Staff ‘Sorry’ for Losing Their Trust, Says He’ll ‘Fight Like Hell’ to Win It Back

Licht's comments come days after a scathing profile by 'The Atlantic' heightened concerns about his approach to leadership

<p>Mike Coppola/Getty</p>

Mike Coppola/Getty

CNN CEO Chris Licht told employees he would "fight like hell" to win back their trust, just days after a scathing Atlantic profile documented his first year on the job, in the process heightening concerns among network staffers about his leadership abilities.

"To those whose trust I've lost, I will fight like hell to win it back, because you deserve a leader who will be in the trenches, fighting to ensure CNN remains the world's most trusted name in news," Licht said on a Monday morning editorial call, according to journalist Brian Stelter, who reported in New York Magazine that staffers at the network "appreciated his humility."

Stelter (who previously worked at CNN) reported that Licht acknowledged the Atlantic profile in the call, telling staffers, "I know these past few days have been very hard for this group. I fully recognize that this news cycle and my role in it overshadowed the incredible week of reporting that we just had, and distracted from the work of every single journalist in this org. And for that, I am sorry."

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Atlantic reporter Tim Alberta spent months speaking with Licht for the profile, which was published last Friday and painted Licht as an executive who is out of touch with his employees, some of whom seem eager for him to exit the network.

Licht, 51, came to CNN as chairman and CEO in May 2022, a time when — as The Atlantic describes — "Ratings, in decline since Trump left office, had dropped to new lows. Employee morale was even worse. A feeling of dread saturated the company."

Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for CBS News Chris Licht
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for CBS News Chris Licht

But under Licht's leadership, CNN hasn't fully rebounded.

The network came under fire in May for its handling of a primetime town hall with former President Donald Trump — an event that Licht had hoped would "vindicate his pursuit of Republican viewers while proving to his employees that he possessed a revolutionary vision for their network and the broader news media," The Atlantic details.

RELATED: The Biggest Takeaways from CNN's Controversial Town Hall with Donald Trump

But that's not exactly how the televised event went. Instead, Trump steamrolled moderator Kaitlan Collins, making an array of false claims that at times went unchecked (all while the audience laughed, even when the former president made light of recent sexual assault claims for which he was found liable).

The Atlantic reports that Trump himself has questioned "what the network stood to gain from this production," a query echoed by CNN staffers, nearly 100 of whom spoke to the outlet for its Licht profile.

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Will Lanzoni/CNN CNN's Republican Presidential Town Hall with Donald Trump
Will Lanzoni/CNN CNN's Republican Presidential Town Hall with Donald Trump

There have been other signs of chaos at CNN, too, such as longtime anchor Don Lemon's exit from the network in April, which led to a public back-and-forth between Lemon and the network about whether or not the firing was a surprise.

Meanwhile Licht, The Atlantic details, has spent recent months consumed by the bad press surrounding the network, and eager to shrug off comparisons to Jeff Zucker, CNN's former CEO, under whose tutelage the network saw its highest-rated and most popular years before viewership began dropping and an office relationship scandal forced his resignation.

In the wake of the profile, though, Licht shows no signs of stepping down from his role — though reinforcements have been brought in. Last Thursday — one day before The Atlantic profile dropped — former Warner Brothers Discovery CEO David Leavy was hired as CNN’s new chief operating officer.

Leavy's hiring, MSNBC reports, will free Licht up to focus more on programming and editorial strategy and less on logistics.

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But the fallout from the profile persists, at least in the initial days since publication. “It’s very frustrating,” one employee told New York Magazine, “that we learn more about Licht’s motivations from interviews than we do from internal communication.”

Those remarks echoed the staffer concerns laid out by The Atlantic: "Every employee I spoke with was asking some variation of the same question," Alberta wrote. "Did Licht have any idea what he was doing?"

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