Updated Jun 7, 2023 - Economy

CNN drama, Act 2: Zucker's revenge


Then-CNN President, Jeff Zucker and Chris Licht attend the 2019 Mirror Awards at Cipriani 42nd Street on June 13, 2019 in New York City. Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images

Editor's note: Chris Licht is out at CNN.

Who needs Broadway? The best Shakespearean drama is playing live in Manhattan's Hudson Yards, home of CNN.

The latest act: The New York Times is out this morning with a deep dive on the ways the jilted former head of CNN, Jeff Zucker, is obsessively trying to knife the network's current leader, Chris Licht.

  • This comes two days after The Atlantic twisted its own knife into Licht with a brutal takedown that must've left Zucker smiling, feeling wholly vindicated.

Why it matters: Zucker remains in constant contact with CNN stars and is a coveted source for media reporters — at a time when Licht is struggling to control his image and organization.

Why you should care: CNN remains a dominant player in cable news. Its future as a more clinical, less partisan alternative to MSNBC and Fox hangs in the balance. Right now, its ratings and reputation are getting battered.

🎭 The drama behind the drama: The man behind the curtain is David Zaslav, Warner Bros. Discovery president and CEO.

  • Zucker, who resigned from CNN shortly before Zaslav took over, was his very close friend and golfing buddy. Zaslav replaced Zucker with Licht, a new Zaslav protégé and Hamptons party friend.

🥊 "This is all very sad for Jeff," Ken Lerer — co-founder of HuffPost and former chairman of BuzzFeed, who is best friends with Zaslav and a former Zucker friend — told The Times.

  • "He should move on with his life. It's disheartening to see."

🗞️ The Times article (headline on the Sunday Business cover: "Jeff Zucker Just Won't Let CNN Go Already") says he's "serving as a kind of grievance switchboard for current and former employees of the news network."

  • He has "made no secret of his unhappiness with the terms of his exit from CNN or his low regard for" Licht's performance," Ben Mullin writes.
  • Zucker has griped that Licht "didn’t take any of his pointers" after the two had lunch last year at Zucker's house in the Hamptons, brokered by friends who hoped for a rapprochement.

Risa Heller, Zucker's high-powered spokeswoman, said: "It is wholly unsurprising that Jeff Zucker, the architect of CNN’s unprecedented success, would have deep misgivings about the direction the network has taken since he left."

  • She told The Times he "gets asked a lot, publicly and privately, and regularly from former colleagues, about what he thinks of CNN now."
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