on June 2 The Atlantic Ocean published a deeply reported look at the rocky tenure of Chris Licht, who became chairman and CEO of CNN Worldwide last year. The colorful 15,000-word profile features his unvarnished opinions, as well as intimate access, including a morning session with the polarizing manager’s physical trainer, whom Licht refers to as his “one-man focus group.”
Staff writer Tim Alberta has expanded his subject over a period of months, during which a contentious Light has covered a series of tumultuous episodes at CNN, including the departure of host Don Lemon and a poorly received town hall event with former President Donald Trump. The article portrays a brash executive struggling to run a media conglomerate’s news division amid widespread distrust among his rank and file, while also catering to the whims of his own fickle, meddlesome boss: Warner Bros. Discovery chief David Zaslav.
Today, rigorous, all-access journalism from top executives is increasingly rare, largely because of the significant risk of failure. (Like David Wirtschafter, then president of William Morris, infamous learned when The New Yorkers wrote about him in 2005; the agency lost Sarah Michelle Gellar and Halle Berry as a result, and he formally apologized.) Occasionally, however, prestigious publications successfully entice top figures enamored with such cachet to speak with unusual candor. Here are just five standout moments – among many others – from one of the most revealing media profiles in recent history.
IN FRONT OF CITY HALL LIGHT TOLD TRUMP TO “HAVE FUN”
Licht, who believes the former president has done “really bad things” during his term and provoked the media with “outrage porn,” urged the former president backstage just before the May 10 event in New Hampshire. day after Trump was found guilty of sexually assaulting writer E. Jean Carroll. The head of the network was also aware in the run-up to town hall that the composition of the crowd would be “extra Trumpy”.
LIGHT FIGHTS ON CRITICISM FROM DEMOCRATS
Licht reportedly called Clinton-era Secretary of Labor Robert Reich to rebuke him for a critical column on CNN under his tenure and told friends he would “destroy” Democratic strategist Kurt Bardella for his own column. “You have a certain segment of society that has had an unfettered megaphone for the leading journalistic organization in the world,” he told The Atlantic Ocean. “And at the slightest indication that that organization might not just take things they get from that part of the population, it must be that a fascist is running the network, and he wants to move it to the right… The fact that I want to give space to the (argument) that this thing everyone agrees on might be wrong doesn’t make me a fascist right-winger trying to steal Fox viewers.
HIS TRAINER IS AN IMPORTANT ADVISER
Light refers to his trainer Joe Maysonet, who has helped him lose about 50 pounds over the past three years, as his “therapist,” “coach,” and “one-man focus group.” Maysonet, who Licht says is “super fucking liberal,” has been critical of his CNN plans. “See my boy Jamie Raskin on MSNBC the other day?” Maysonet said during a workout, referring to the Democratic representative from Maryland. “Sweep the floor with your Republican boys!” Light replied, “They’re not my boys.” (At another point, when Alberta asked if he’s conservative, Licht replied, “I would never put myself in a category. I guess it depends on what we’re talking about.”)
LIGHT BELIEVES THAT APPROACHING DIVERSITY SHOULD BE EXTENDED TO RACE
According to The Atlantic Ocean story, Licht created a “dustup with his own diversity, equality, and inclusion staff after making some pithy remarks” at a conference about his own views on recruiting, namely that CNN’s newsroom would benefit from more reporters who are deeply religious, who own guns, and who grew up with food insecurity. “I said, ‘A black, a brown, and an Asian woman who all graduated from Harvard in the same year is not diversity,'” the director recalled to the magazine. He added: “I think ‘Defund the police’ would have been treated differently if the newsrooms were full of people who had lived in social housing.” When The Atlantic Ocean asked why, Licht replied, “They have a different relationship to their need for the police.”
THE JEFF ZUCKER FIXATION
Alberta, the writer, narrows the shadow of Licht’s predecessor, Jeff Zucker, who maintains a cadre of loyalists at the network. Licht is convinced that Zucker used Puk media columnist Dylan Byers, an ex-CNN employee, to undermine him with leaks and spin. (Licht admitted to angrily confronting Byers about the situation in March.) Elsewhere in the feature, during a training scene with Maysonet, Licht hoists a long metal pole. “Zucker couldn’t do this,” he says. It is unclear whether the comment was intended as a joke.