Yesterday, CNN announced that they were cancelling Reliable Sources, which is/was oleaginous Brian Stelter’s media criticism show. Oh, and that means that Brian Stelter is no longer with CNN (after this weekend) and sadly all the people who put his show together were pink-slipped, too. A lot of people are fired, not just Stelter.
While Stelter had his good/bad points —and let’s be clear, Stelter was never a journalist, he was a blogger who made it big, first to the NYTimes and then CNN after selling his blog, TVNewser for a lot of money— it does mean that only one network has a media criticism show: Howard Kurtz of Fox News’ Media Buzz., and boy howdy, that’s saying something stupid.
Anyway, Vanity Fair has a piece up about this, and this is the key paragraph:
Whatever the case, Stelter’s defenestration is the first major programming decision to come down under new CNN chief Chris Licht, who summoned the anchor to his office with the bad news on Wednesday afternoon, according to Puck’s Dylan Byers. (Licht, for his part, firmly told employees during a town hall this spring that Malone is not running the show and that he’d never even met the guy.) I got a tip around 1 p.m., but within minutes it was already all over town. “It was a rare privilege to lead a weekly show focused on the press at a time when it has never been more consequential,” Stelter told NPR’s David Folkenflik. (He was in the middle of something with the family when I got him on the phone for a hot second, and didn’t have anything to add beyond that.) Stelter was tight with former CNN boss Jeff Zucker, who championed his media coverage across platforms. (The “Reliable Sources” newsletter is an influential nightly must-read for industry wonks.) With Zucker gone, Stelter found himself without a key ally and therefore in a more vulnerable position under new management. Another knowledgeable source told me word on the street is that CNN is looking at a broader revamp of its Sunday programming, but a spokesperson didn’t immediately get back to me with a comment.
…which makes it sound like court politics, and when the former king is killed, so is the court jester. CNN is a major force of reporting, one of the few news gathering organizations that still have bureaus around the world, and a return to that would be welcomed.
The next ‘graf has a warning of things to come:
What I can tell you, based on my own recent reporting, is that Licht isn’t making any of these changes in a vacuum. Zaslav has been closely involved in driving Warner Bros. Discovery’s vision for CNN, doubling down on its traditional global news-gathering function and moving away from the partisan reputation it garnered—fairly or not—during the Trump years. Hence all the talk of diversifying CNN’s contributor ranks, and the olive branches to Republicans, which Licht handed out recently on a romp through Capitol Hill. “I think they share a vision for CNN,” an insider who knows both men told me. “But at the end of the day, Licht is executing his vision on how to get there. No one is telling him what to do or how it works.” Whether Stelter’s exit augurs any additional shake-ups is yet to be seen, but we won’t have to wait long: Licht is expected to put more of a stamp on the network come fall.
Licht has a reputation for fixing problem shows, but he has never had a network before, so this is his vision, as the anonymous source declares. Let’s also recall Licht rescued The Late Show with Stephan Colbert by refocusing politics into the show, and it worked.
Is Licht a one-trick pony? Maybe, probably, but the problems at CNN run much deeper than just Reliable Sources. Let’s now turn to our powerhouse panel ™ …
UPDATE 1: This totally scans.