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Embattled CNN names ex-NY Times CEO Mark Thompson third boss in 18 months

Beleaguered CNN has a new boss again, marking its third different chief since February 2022. 

Former New York Times CEO Mark Thompson has been appointed to the role of Chairman and CEO of CNN Worldwide, parent company Warner Bros. Discovery announced Wednesday. 

Thompson, who starts Oct. 9, will inherit a newsroom that has seen five leaders in less than two years when counting interim bosses.

“There isn’t a more experienced, respected or capable executive in the news business today than Mark, and we are thrilled to have him join our team and lead CNN Worldwide into the future,” Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav said. 

Mark Thompson

Former New York Times CEO Mark Thompson has been appointed to the role of Chairman and CEO of CNN Worldwide.

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Zaslav also handpicked the last boss, Chris Licht, who was shown the door after a little more than a year on the job after he failed to turn around the long-troubled news network. Licht was chosen by Zaslav in 2022 to replace Jeff Zucker, who was forced out ahead of a long-planned merger that put CNN under Zaslav’s control. 

CNN executives David Leavy, Amy Entelis, Virginia Moseley and Eric Sherling had been serving as interim bosses since Licht’s departure. 

Licht made it clear he wanted to “tamp down spectacle” that was rampant during the Zucker era, reaching out to disaffected Republicans and axing some prominent left-leaning news figures, including Don Lemon and John Harwood.

But liberal staffers who craved the Zucker era never embraced Licht, who came to CNN from CBS’ “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. He enraged the network and liberal critics when CNN hosted a rowdy town hall with former President Trump, and Licht later participated in an Atlantic profile that presented an unflattering portrait of his leadership.

He was finally fired in June, and it’s unclear if Thompson plans to revert to the Zucker tone or will take on a new era.

“I couldn’t be more excited about the chance to join CNN after years of watching it and competing against it with a mixture of admiration and envy,” Thompson said. “I see opportunity. I can’t wait to roll up my sleeves and get down to work with my new colleagues to build a successful future for CNN.”

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CNN chris licht jeff zucker

Jeff Zucker, left, was replaced by Chris Licht in 2022. Licht was fired a little over a year later. (Mike Coppola/Getty Images)

Thompson, who is British, ran The New York Times from 2012 to 2020. Prior to that, he was CEO and editor-in-chief of the BCC from 2004-2012. In 2005, news circulated that Thompson apologized for biting a colleague in 1988. The BBC downplayed the incident. 

Thompson is now tasked with leading CNN’s strategy, operations and business units that employ roughly 4,000 people. He will act as editor-in-chief, ultimately responsible for all CNN content, the network said.

An insider told Fox News Digital that they’d reserve judgment on the pick, saying some others had expressed optimism while others “just shrug” since he’d be operating under the same management.

CNN has been plagued by ratings issues in recent years, regularly failing to compete with the viewership totals of other cable news channels, particularly during primetime. CNN has averaged 583,000 primetime viewers in 2023, compared to 1.9 million for Fox News and 1.2 million for MSNBC. 

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Among total day viewers, CNN has settled for an average audience of 473,000 in 2023 compared to 1.2 million for Fox News and 769,000 for MSNBC. 

In August, CNN averaged only 147,000 primetime viewers among the advertiser-coveted demographic of adults age 25-54, finishing behind basic cable offerings including Investigation Discovery, Comedy Central, Bravo, Food Network and HGTV. 

Leavy, Entelis, Moseley and Sherling will continue in their roles, reporting to Thompson.

Fox News’ Kristine Parks and David Rutz contributed to this report. 

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