Some of CNN’s biggest liberal stars who were pushed out under previous leadership have been making their return on-air in recent weeks, marking another shift away from a mission to make the network less partisan. 

It has been nearly one year since CNN’s parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery, canned the network’s beleaguered CEO Chris Licht, who was brought on to restore the journalistic credibility CNN had lost during the Trump era. 

Among the changes Licht made were of personnel, particularly jettisoning some of the most anti-Trump voices who had helped redefine CNN as a news organization aligned with MSNBC, which has openly embraced its far-left stance.

However, at least three of them have crawled their way back on CNN’s airwaves. 

Jeffrey Toobin, who was CNN’s chief legal analyst, “decided” to exit CNN after 20 years in August 2022, though it was widely believed he was forced out by the Licht regime.

Former CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin has been making appearances on the network again after leaving in 2022. CNN

Toobin is perhaps best known for being caught masturbating during a Zoom meeting with his New Yorker colleagues in October 2020.

At the time, he was fired from the New Yorker but granted a leave of absence by CNN and was ultimately welcomed back the following year under Licht’s predecessor, Jeff Zucker. 

Toobin has made a remarkable resurgence in recent weeks, making at least 20 CNN appearances, many of them discussing former President Trump’s hush money trial. He is frequently introduced to viewers as a “former federal prosecutor.” 

Don Lemon, another longtime CNN star, was fired last April following several tumultuous months that included losing his solo primetime show, off-set drama on his new morning show and his controversial “past her prime” comments about Nikki Haley

Former CNN host Don Lemon returned as a guest to speak about his canceled show on X. CNN
Lemon said he would “never say never” about a a return to CNN. CNN

Last month, Lemon reappeared on CNN to speak out about his quashed X deal with Elon Musk on “Erin Burnett OutFront.”

In a recent interview, Lemon left the door open about officially returning to CNN.

“Look, I would never say never,” Lemon said, “Most of the people who were involved in my ousting are gone. And so it’s kind of the place that it was, you know, before I got there. So that would be interesting.”

Brian Stelter, CNN’s former chief media correspondent, was fired in August 2022 after Licht’s decision to cancel the network’s long-running media-centric Sunday show “Reliable Sources,” which Stelter hosted since 2013.

Stelter, who made a handful of appearances on CNN late last year during a book tour, reappeared twice during Tuesday’s coverage of the Trump trial. He was introduced as a “special correspondent for Vanity Fair.”

When asked on X whether he was back on CNN permanently, Stelter replied that he was “just visiting.”

A source familiar with Toobin, Lemon and Stelter’s recent appearances tells Fox News Digital that they were simply “guests” and there are no discussions about bringing them back in an official capacity. 

While the three ex-CNNers may not be on the network’s payroll, their return to the network’s airwaves remains a signal of a strong rebuke from current CNN staff against the decisions made in the Licht era. 

Former CNN host Brian Stelter appeared on the network recently to discuss Donald Trump’s trial. Getty Images for CNN

Licht was handpicked by Warner Bros. Discovery chief David Zaslav to course-correct CNN, which continues to lose viewers and has been tainted by a liberal, anti-Trump slant previously embraced by Zucker, who himself was ousted in February 2022 amid scandal. 

During his roughly one-year tenure, Licht struggled to earn the trust of CNN’s rank and file, who rejected assertions that the network had a liberal bias, something Licht was hired to address.

What marked the beginning of the end of Licht’s time at CNN was the now-infamous Trump town hall in May 2023 that sparked an open revolt among his employees.

The following month, after facing further backlash from comments he made in a profile published by The Atlantic, Licht was canned.

In addition to rolling out the red carpet for CNN staffers he had fired, Licht’s programming decisions also appeared to have been reversed. “CNN This Morning,” Licht’s effort to revitalize the Zucker era’s flagship morning show “New Day,” was essentially scrapped earlier this year as part of a weekday programming overhaul (“Early Start” was notably rebranded as “CNN This Morning”).

Licht’s other brainchild, CNN’s weekly primetime experiment “King Charles” starring CBS host Gayle King and former NBA superstar-turned-TNT sports analyst Charles Barkley, quietly ended its limited run this month following dismal viewership. 

“King Charles,” which began airing in November, months after Licht’s firing, debuted to just 501,000 total viewers but its audience only dwindled after (CNN repeatedly pointed to strong streaming numbers, which were never made public).

While CNN always branded “King Charles” as a limited series, it was certainly an effort to help juice the network’s cratering audience by recruiting big-name outside talent. 

Between the programming reversals and the return of previously axed on-air personalities, Licht’s lasting footprint at CNN shrinks even further. 

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