Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Why CNN Evicted Brian Stelter and Canceled Reliable Sources

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Why was Brian Stelter, CNN’s star media reporter and host of his? Reliable sources show, pushed out of orbit this week?

Inside and outside CNN, there are two working theories.

But before we get there, let’s talk about why we’re talking about Brian Stelter: Yes, people in the media care way too much about other people in the media. And media reporters – like me – are even more guilty of this. But in this case, what happened to Stelter matters because it can tell us a lot about the future of CNN – one of the world’s most powerful news channels – and of Warner Brothers Discovery, the company that owns CNN along with some of ” the world’s largest news channels. most valuable cultural assets.

That’s the introduction. Here are the theories. Crucially, they are not mutually exclusive.

It’s politics, stupidity

Here’s the juicy one: In this version of events, Stelter is the victim of John Malone, the billionaire cable mogul and the most powerful investor in Warner Brothers Discovery Inc., which now owns CNN and the rest of what used to be Time Warner.

Malone’s politics are fairly right-wing/libertarian, although he was critical of Donald Trump during his administration. More to the point: current and former CNN employees believe Malone’s view of CNN is being completely colored by Fox News. “John Malone doesn’t watch CNN. John Malone only watches CNN through Fox News,” said a CNN employee. “If I watched CNN on Fox News, I’d hate CNN too.”

And Stelter, who spent most of the Trump era criticizing the American right’s embrace of disinformation, was already a target of Fox News hosts like Tucker Carlson, who loved to mock him. Then Stelter’s boss, Jeff Zucker, was pushed out in February, Stelter went after Malonewho had said he wished CNN was more like Fox News because Fox News had “real journalism.”

When asked about this theory by the New York Times, Malone gave one of the most candid confessions you’ll ever see a public person make under the guise of a denial: “Mr. Malone said he wants “the ‘news’ part of CNN to be more centrist, but I’m not in charge or directly involved in it.”

Translation: Yes, this pleases me.

So in this theory, Malone believes Stelter represents the excesses of CNN’s coverage. But presumably, Malone and his executives — David Zaslav, CEO of Warner Brothers Discovery, and Chris Licht, the executive Zaslav hired to replace Zucker — will find other CNN journalists willing to take them off the air, too. Alternative theory: They don’t have to let anyone else go because they made an example of Stelter.

On the other hand, maybe they have to let go of a lot of people because of theory No. 2:

It’s the money, idiot

As I wrote earlier this week, Warner Brothers Discovery is heavily indebted, but Zaslav has told investors it doesn’t matter, in part because he will find $3 billion in savings.

We’ve already seen signs of austerity in the company’s entertainment properties, such as stocking up a… batgirl movie instead of releasing it and getting fired from HBOMax — but plenty more cuts will come this fall. So stilt, who reportedly made nearly $1 million a yearwas an easy cut: his show, along with his daily media newsletter, was a big deal in media circles — see this “Pet of the Day” entry from… David Zaslav – but not a big draw for normals.

Under Zaslav/Light, CNN has already made one major cut: Getting rid of CNN+, the brand new streaming serviceweeks after launch (disclosure: my editor and I are producers of a show cafemadrid Media made for CNN+).

But that may not be enough to help the parent company meet its numbers. In that case, Stelter’s departure could be the first of many, and we’ll spend less time worrying about CNN’s politics and more time worrying about its ability to provide top-notch coverage.

CNN Says Both Theories Are Wrong: It Says Light Removed Stelter And… Reliable sources because it wants a different Sunday morning programming. And CNN spokesman Matt Dornic told me the news service isn’t under pressure from the new owner to cut its workforce, noting that Licht has said he wants to hire more journalists.

But again, there is definitely a way to cut costs by adding people: you let go of expensive people and replace them with cheaper ones.

I hate to say “wait and see” at the end of these kinds of stories. But this is one where we definitely need to see how it plays out. For starters, Stelter’s last show is on Sunday. All I’m sure of is that he wants to use his swan song to talk about all this.


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