With ratings plummeting and Chris Licht losing support in the newsroom, his ousting as CNN’s CEO may have been predictable. But it still doesn’t sit right with Stephen A. Smith.
On the latest episode of The Stephen A. Smith Show podcast, the popular sports talker took a deep dive into Licht’s firing from CNN, expressing remorse for the now-former cable news executive.
“I feel bad. I’m not gonna lie,” Smith said. “First things first, they’ve had no one that comes remotely close to replacing Chris Cuomo. I’m just gonna say that. I like Chris Cuomo…Strictly as a television host and commentator, CNN has had no one in my estimation that remotely compares to Chris Cuomo. And, in a perfect world, I think they should go back and get him! That’s right, I said it…If you’re a centrist, tilting left, he’s the perfect guy.”
Licht took over as the CEO of CNN nearly three months after Cuomo was fired by the network. But according to Smith, Licht was put in a tough spot having to replace a person he deems nearly irreplaceable in Cuomo.
Realistically, CNN’s current issues exceed Licht. And they certainly go well beyond the need to fill Cuomo Prime Time. Cuomo’s ratings paled in comparison to the prime time shows on Fox News and MSNBC, but he did host the highest-rated prime time hour on CNN before being unceremoniously let go.
“I feel sorry for him,” Smith continued of Licht. “I feel very, very bad for him. And I’m going to tell you why I feel very bad for him. He’s being blamed for a demise and a plummeting of a network that was never on top…I respect the hell out of CNN, but it’s a numbers game. And the fact of the matter is they’ve been in last place for a long time.”
“Chris Licht came on board, and maybe he said some things in an effort to ingratiate himself with the right to get them as a part of his network again. Maybe, in some people’s eyes, he went about it wrongly because he was too willing to talk about what he thought plagued the network with the previous regime.”
“In the end, what was his goal? His goal was to find an audience,” Smith added. “If you’re trying to be number one, you’ve got to try something new! He leaned and tilted to the center. And he might have gone about it the wrong way by having the Trump town hall and making sure the audience was filled with pro-Trump supporters.”
Licht’s removal from the top of CNN seemed to be a combination of the network’s floundering ratings, mounting distrust from the newsroom, and the highly-criticized Trump town hall. In the days prior to his ouster, The Atlantic released a bombshell 15,000-word piece on Licht, which painted an unflattering picture of his tumultuous tenure with CNN.
“I feel bad because it was a sinking ship,” Smith said before reading off a bunch of cable news ratings to prove CNN’s struggles. “Even at their height, when they were getting record ratings for themselves because of Trump being in office and riding that Trump coattail to ratings, they were still third to MSNBC and Fox News. What did you expect him to do, just go along to get along to stay in last place?”
Licht attempted to rebuild CNN under the mandate provided by Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav to move the network off the sensationalized, hyper-partisan commentary that was relished during Trump’s presidency. The former CNN CEO may not have been set up for success, especially as WBD sought to cut costs, but his decision-making didn’t help his cause. Licht’s leadership was brought into question, and his attempts at replacing Cuomo and creating a new morning show with Don Lemon, Kaitlan Collins and Poppy Harlow failed. As did his efforts to reach a more bipartisan audience.