Why Brian Stelter, CNN’s star media reporter and sound host Reliable sources show, kicked out of his job this week?
Inside and outside of CNN, there are two working theories.
But before we get to that, 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 most powerful news outlets in the world – as well as Warner Brothers Discovery, the company which owns CNN along with some of the biggest news outlets in the world. most valuable cultural assets.
This is the preamble. Here are the theories. Above all, they are not mutually exclusive.
It’s politics, fool
That’s the juicy: In this version of events, Stelter is the victim of John Malone, billionaire cable mogul and most powerful investor in Warner Brothers Discovery Inc., which now owns CNN and the rest of what it used to be called Time. Warner.
Malone’s politics tend to lean right-wing/libertarian, although he was also critical of Donald Trump during his administration. Specifically: Current and former CNN employees believe Malone’s view on CNN is entirely influenced by Fox News. “John Malone doesn’t watch CNN. John Malone only watches CNN through Fox News,” says a CNN employee. “If I watched CNN through Fox News, I would hate CNN too.”
And Stelter, who spent most of the Trump era criticizing America’s right-wing embrace of disinformation, was already the target of Fox News hosts like Tucker Carlson, who took pleasure in ridiculing him. Then, after Stelter boss Jeff Zucker was kicked out in February, Stelter lashed out at Malone, who said he wanted CNN to be more like Fox News because Fox News had “real journalism “.
When asked about this theory by The New York Times, Malone made one of the most candid admissions you’ll ever see a public person make under the guise of denial: “Mr. Malone said he wanted ‘the part of CNN’s ‘news’ is more centrist, but I don’t control or am directly involved.
Translation: Yes, I like it.
So in this theory, Malone thinks Stelter represents the excesses of CNN coverage. But presumably Malone and his managers — Warner Brothers Discovery CEO David Zaslav and Chris Licht, the executive Zaslav has hired to replace Zucker — will also find other CNN reporters they want off the air. Alternative Theory: They won’t need to let someone else go because they made an example of Stelter.
Then again, maybe they’ll have to let a lot of people down because of theory #2:
It’s the money, silly
As I wrote earlier this week, Warner Brothers Discovery is heavily indebted, but Zaslav told investors it wouldn’t matter, in part because he’s going to find $3 billion in savings. .
We’ve already seen signs of budget cuts across the company’s entertainment properties – like the mothballing of a bat girl movie instead of releasing it and layoffs at HBOMax – but there will be plenty more cuts to come this fall. So Stelter, who reportedly earned almost a million dollars a year, was an easy cut: his show, as well as his daily newscast, was a big deal in media circles – see this “Animal of the Day” submission from…David Zaslav – but not a huge draw for normals.
Under Zaslav/Licht, CNN has already made a significant cut: Killing CNN+, its brand new streaming service, weeks after launch (disclosure: My editor and I are producers of a Vox Media show made for CNN+).
But that may not be enough to help the parent company achieve its goals. In that case, Stelter’s departure could be the first of many, and we’ll spend less time worrying about CNN politics and more time worrying about his ability to deliver first-class media coverage. .
CNN says both of these theories are wrong: it says Licht got rid of Stelter and Reliable sources because he wants a different lineup on Sunday morning. And CNN spokesman Matt Dornic told me the news service isn’t under any pressure from its new owner to downsize, noting that Licht has said he wants to hire more reporters. .
Again, there is definitely a way to cut costs while adding staff: you drop expensive people and replace them with cheaper ones.
I hate to say “wait and see” at the end of stories like this. But this is one where we absolutely have to see how it plays out. For starters, Stelter’s last show is Sunday. The only thing I know for sure is that he wants to use his swan song to talk about all this.