Why was Brian Stelter, CNN’s star media reporter and host of its Reliable Sources present, pushed out of his job this week?
Inside and outdoors of CNN, there are two working theories.
But earlier than we get there, let’s speak about why we’re speaking about Brian Stelter: Yes, individuals in media care approach an excessive amount of about different individuals in media. And media reporters — like me — are even guiltier of this. But on this case, what occurred to Stelter issues as a result of it could inform us rather a lot about the way forward for CNN — one of many world’s strongest information retailers — in addition to Warner Brothers Discovery, the corporate that owns CNN together with among the world’s most respected cultural belongings.
That’s the preamble. Here are the theories. Crucially, they don’t seem to be mutually unique.
It’s the politics, silly
This is the juicy one: In this model of occasions, Stelter is the sufferer of John Malone, the billionaire cable magnate and probably the most highly effective investor in Warner Brothers Discovery Inc., which now owns CNN and the remainder of what was once referred to as Time Warner.
Malone’s politics lean fairly proper/libertarian, although he was additionally critical of Donald Trump during his administration. More to the purpose: Current and former CNN workers imagine Malone’s view of CNN is solely coloured by Fox News. “John Malone doesn’t watch CNN. John Malone solely watches CNN through Fox News,” says a CNN worker. “If I watched CNN through Fox News, I might hate CNN too.”
And Stelter, who spent many of the Trump period criticizing the American proper’s embrace of disinformation, was already a goal of Fox News hosts like Tucker Carlson, who delighted in lampooning him. Then, after Stelter’s boss, Jeff Zucker, was pushed out in February, Stelter went after Malone, who had mentioned he wished CNN was extra like Fox News as a result of Fox News had “precise journalism.”
Asked about this idea by the New York Times, Malone gave probably the most candid admissions you’ll ever see a public particular person make within the guise of a denial: “Mr. Malone mentioned he needs “the ‘information’ portion of CNN to be extra centrist, however I’m not in management or instantly concerned.”
Translation: Yes, this pleases me.
So on this idea, Malone believes Stelter represents the excesses of CNN’s protection. But presumably Malone and his managers — Warner Brothers Discovery CEO David Zaslav and Chris Licht, the manager Zaslav employed to switch Zucker — will discover different CNN journalists they need off the air as effectively. Alternate idea: They gained’t must let go of anybody else as a result of they’ve made an instance of Stelter.
Then once more, perhaps they’ll must let go of lots of people due to idea No. 2:
It’s the cash, silly
As I wrote earlier this week, Warner Brothers Discovery has a heavy debt load, however Zaslav has advised buyers that gained’t matter, partly as a result of he’s going to search out $3 billion in savings.
We’ve already seen indicators of budget-cutting within the firm’s leisure properties — like shelving a Batgirl film as a substitute of releasing it and layoffs at HBOMax — however there can be many extra cuts to return this fall. So Stelter, who reportedly made close to $1 million a year, was a simple lower: His present, alongside together with his each day media publication, was an enormous deal in media circles — see this “Pet of the Day” submission from … David Zaslav — however not an enormous draw for normals.
Under Zaslav/Licht, CNN has already made one important lower: Killing off CNN+, its brand-new streaming service, weeks after it launched (disclosure: My editor and I are producers on a present Vox Media made for CNN+).
But that is probably not something near sufficient to assist the guardian firm hit its numbers. In which case, Stelter’s departure may very well be the primary of many, and we’ll spend much less time worrying about CNN’s politics and extra time worrying about its means to supply first-class information protection.
CNN says each of these theories are mistaken: It says Licht removed Stelter and Reliable Sources as a result of it needs totally different programming on Sunday mornings. And CNN spokesman Matt Dornic advised me that the information service is underneath no strain from its new proprietor to scale back headcount, noting that Licht has mentioned he needs to rent extra journalists.
Then once more, there’s actually a method to scale back prices whereas including individuals: You let go of costly individuals and change them with cheaper ones.
I hate saying “wait and see” on the finish of tales like this. But that is one the place we positively must see the way it performs out. For starters, Stelter’s final present is on Sunday. The solely factor I’m positive about is that he needs to make use of his swan tune to speak about all of this.