Discovery executives flex their muscles as Stelter and Toobin show CNN the door

Discovery’s purchase of CNN earlier this year promised changes to the struggling network, and now those changes appear to be coming to fruition.

The big, though not surprising, news from the media earlier this week involves CNN media critic Brian Stelter leaving the network shortly after publicly criticizing one of Discovery’s power brokers. And unless career self-destruction is the goal, it’s hard to see why Stelter thought it was a good idea to say the following about Discovery’s biggest shareholder, John Malone.

“People who say Zucker-era CNN lacked real journalism clearly weren’t watching CNN directly,” Stelter proclaimed earlier this year after CNN President Jeff Zucker was fired. “My best guess is that they were watching talking heads and reading columnists complaining about CNN. And yes, I’m including John Malone in that.

Yes, you read that right. The network’s top media reporter has publicly accused one of his new bosses of being misinformed while defending his former boss, who has failed the network both from a ratings and credibility.

CNN’s viewership is down more than 75% since Joe Biden took office. This collapse was predicted by none other than former ABC “Nightline” anchor Ted Koppel in 2018, when CNN was enjoying relative success as an anti-Trump network.

“Audiences are on the rise, which means that we cannot do without Donald Trump. You would be lost without Donald Trump,” Koppel told Stelter at the time.

“Ted, you know that’s not true,” Stelter said.

“CNN ratings would be down the toilet without Donald Trump,” Koppel said as the audience at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, laughed.

“You know that’s not true. You play for laughs,” Stelter retorted. “I reject the premise that these networks are making so much money off of Trump,” Stelter said.

No, Koppel was not playing for fun but making an obvious point. And at the right time, after Trump walked off the stage in January 2021, CNN’s ratings fell to levels not seen since the turn of the century. The precipitous drop included the Stelter show, which in June saw its lowest ratings since 2001.

Zucker’s replacement, Chris Licht, was brought in to change the fortunes and general culture of the company.

“It’s a time of change, and I know it’s troubling,” Licht told staffers on Friday, according to the Daily Beast. “There will be more changes and you may not understand it or like it all.”

It wasn’t just about grades, of course, but also about credibility. During the Biden era, Stelter’s flattering interviews with Biden administration officials revealed just how hyperpartisan the once serious show analyzing the intersection between media and politics had become.

“What is the press doing wrong covering Biden’s agenda? When you watch the news, when you read the news, what do you think we are doing wrong? Stelter once asked then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki, a former CNN employee, during an interview with Reliable Sources.

“Are you afraid that given the craziness we’re seeing from the GOP, do you fear this for our children, your children, and mine?” he asked PSAki later in the interview.

The journalist’s departure comes a week after Jeffrey Toobin announced he would not be joining the network. In 2020, Toobin was infamously seen enjoying himself on a Zoom work call as female co-workers looked on. For this breach of journalistic ethics (if that’s what you can call it), The New Yorker, where Toobin had been employed for nearly 20 years, fired him. But CNN was content to put him on paid leave for a few months before bringing him back. Again, credibility matters – and the executives at Discovery and Licht seem to be trying to clean things up.

Brian Stelter will be fine. He will likely move to MSNBC or return to a job he once had as a media reporter for The New York Times.

CNN is changing. The changes, we are told, will continue. More employees, unfortunately, will be laid off.

The question is, can CNN go back to the network it was in the days of Bernard Shaw? In a media environment that increasingly values ​​sizzle over steak and partisan opinion over direct reporting, this can be a very difficult task.

Joe Concha is a media and political columnist and Fox News contributor.

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