Warner Bros Discovery named British media executive Mark Thompson as CEO of CNN on Wednesday, tasking the man who led two leftist newsgroups with reviving a news network beset by sagging ratings, falling profits and negative headlines.
Thompson – who oversaw the BBC and New York Times Times – takes the reins after Chris Licht was fired in June following a rocky single year as boss, including a divisive town hall with GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, the shutdown of CNN+ streaming service just weeks after its launch and an abysmal profile in the Atlantic.
With Thompson, 66, WBD boss David Zaslav is turning to an executive with experience at the highest levels of the news business, unlike Licht – a former TV producer who had worked on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.
Licht was tasked with bringing the news giant to the center after it was dragged to the left while covering former President Donald Trump under then-leader Jeff Zucker.
It’s unclear which way the man who once admitted a massive left-wing bias at the BBC in the past.
Warner Bros Discovery named Mark Thompson (above) as CEO of CNN on Wednesday
The veteran media executive began his career at the British Broadcasting Corporation, which he joined in 1979 as a production trainee, eventually becoming editor of the Nine O’Clock News and Panorama and later, director of television.
He left the BBC in 2002 to become chief executive of Channel 4, but returned when he was appointed director-general in May 2004, a position he held until 2012.
At the BBC, Thompson presided over a sprawling set of newsrooms for TV, radio and digital, and led the development of the BBC iPlayer, the world’s first streaming service from a major broadcaster.
In 2010, however, Thompson admitted the media corporation was guilty of a ‘massive’ left-wing bias in the past.
‘The organization did struggle then with impartiality. And journalistically, staff were quite mystified by the early years of [former British Prime Minister and Conservative Party Leader Margaret] Thatcher,’ Thompson admitted in 2010.
‘Now it is a completely different generation.
‘There is much less overt tribalism among the young journalists who work for the BBC.’
Thompson (right) is seen in 2017. At CNN, Thompson will lead the network’s strategy, operations and business units, and act as editor-in-chief
During his eight-year tenure as the CEO of the liberal New York Times from 2012 to 2020, Thompson helped transform the Gray Lady into a beacon for newspapers in the internet age by focusing on digital subscriptions.
The Times’ share price grew nearly five-fold in the period, widely outperforming the benchmark S&P 500 index.
Under Thompson’s leadership, the publication targeted stories on Hillary Clinton’s email scandal and a 14,000 piece on Donald Trump’s taxes.
In 2019, Trump sued the New York Times alleging libel as he campaigned for reelection, saying the liberal giant had a ‘systematic pattern of bias’ against Trump. It also noted articles the paper reported about the Russia-Trump hoax and collusion to win the 2016 election.
Thompson’s tenure also faced dissension from inside the operation, including in 2016 when the paper was sued after a report stated that women employees were paid 7 percent less than men. Black and Latino workers fared worse, paying 10 percent less than the typical wage.
Workers said Thompson imported a culture of ‘deplorable discrimination’ from the BBC when he came to America.
Since 2020, Thompson has been the chairman of the genealogy website Ancestry.
At CNN, Thompson will lead the network’s strategy, operations and business units, and act as editor-in-chief, ultimately responsible for all CNN content and overseeing its 4,000 employees worldwide. He will start in the role on October 9.
‘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,’ said Thompson.
‘The world needs accurate trustworthy news now more than ever and we’ve never had more ways of meeting that need at home and abroad,’ he added.
‘Where others see disruption, 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.’
WBD boss David Zaslav (left) tapped Thomson to right the ship after firing Chris Licht (right) – a former TV producer who had worked on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert
Jeff Zucker was president of CNN for almost a decade until he was forced out in February 2022, precipitating 18 months of palace intrigue at the network
Born in London, Thompson was knighted for services to media in the King’s Birthday Honours of June 2023.
In his free time, Thompson is reported by Semafor to enjoy spending time at his home in Maine.
He also holds a series of prestigious board posts at cultural institutions including the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Thompson’s appointment at CNN follows a tumultuous 18 months of palace intrigue at the news network, starting with the ouster of longtime boss Jeff Zucker last year.
Zucker, 58, resigned from CNN in February 2022 after it emerged he had been in an undisclosed romance with his top lieutenant, Allison Gollust, CNN’s executive vice president and one of the network’s highest-ranking leaders.
Last month, Zucker denied a report in Variety that he had been spending the past year trying to drum up support to buy the network from WBD – allegedly approaching billionaires including Jeff Bezos, Roman Abramovich and Gulf sheikhs to encourage their investment.
WBD, which completed the merger to become CNN’s new parent company in April 2022, tapped Licht as the new network boss – but his tenure was marked by controversy.
Unlike Zucker, who enjoyed loyal support in the CNN newsroom, Licht’s tenure was marked by staff discontent that at times verged on open revolt.
In May, Licht presided over the Trump town hall event that was openly branded disastrous by some of the network’s well known on-air talent
The Atlantic published a devastating profile of Licht in June that sealed the executive’s fate
Tasked by Zaslav with shedding the network’s left-leaning image and rebranding it as a down-the-middle, facts-first news organization, Licht’s programming moves and management style rankled many staffers.
The nadir came in May, when Licht presided over the Trump town hall that was openly branded disastrous by some of the network’s well known on-air talent.
The town hall featured Trump repeating his false claims that the 2020 election was stolen, and bashing CNN interviewer Kaitlan Collins as a ‘nasty person’ while an audience of the former president’s die-hard fans cheered and applauded.
Veteran CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour publicly slammed the town hall in remarks to graduating students at Columbia University’s graduate school of journalism.
Weeks later, The Atlantic published a devastating profile of Licht that sealed the executive’s fate.
The 15,000-word article offered withering insight into Licht’s first year, which included firing controversial host Don Lemon, moving the company away from the vision of previous CEO Zucker and blasting CNN’s COVID coverage.