Did CNN’s Brian Stelter lose his job due to politics or cash?


An image of Brian Stelter seated onstage, speaking and gesturing with his hands.
Dependable Sources host Brian Stelter in 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. | Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Pictures

Two theories in regards to the departure of CNN’s star media reporter — and what it tells us about CNN and the corporate that owns it.

Why was Brian Stelter, CNN’s star media reporter and host of its Dependable Sources present, pushed out of his job this week?

Inside and outdoors of CNN, there are two working theories.

However earlier than we get there, let’s speak about why we’re speaking about Brian Stelter: Sure, folks in media care method an excessive amount of about different folks in media. And media reporters — like me — are even guiltier of this. However on this case, what occurred to Stelter issues as a result of it might inform us loads about the way forward for CNN — one of many world’s strongest information shops — in addition to Warner Brothers Discovery, the corporate that owns CNN together with a few of the world’s most beneficial cultural belongings.

That’s the preamble. Listed here are the theories. Crucially, they aren’t mutually unique.

It’s the politics, silly

That is the juicy one: On this model of occasions, Stelter is the sufferer of John Malone, the billionaire cable magnate and essentially the most highly effective investor in Warner Brothers Discovery Inc., which now owns CNN and the remainder of what was once known as Time Warner.

Malone’s politics lean fairly proper/libertarian, although he was additionally vital of Donald Trump throughout his administration. Extra to the purpose: Present and former CNN workers consider Malone’s view of CNN is fully coloured by Fox Information. “John Malone doesn’t watch CNN. John Malone solely watches CNN through Fox Information,” says a CNN worker. “If I watched CNN through Fox Information, I might hate CNN too.”

And Stelter, who spent a lot of the Trump period criticizing the American proper’s embrace of disinformation, was already a goal of Fox Information 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 stated he wished CNN was extra like Fox Information as a result of Fox Information had “precise journalism.”

Requested about this idea by the New York Occasions, Malone gave some of the candid admissions you’ll ever see a public particular person make within the guise of a denial: “Mr. Malone stated he needs “the ‘information’ portion of CNN to be extra centrist, however I’m not in management or immediately concerned.”

Translation: Sure, this pleases me.

So on this idea, Malone believes Stelter represents the excesses of CNN’s protection. However 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 nicely. Alternate idea: They received’t have to let go of anybody else as a result of they’ve made an instance of Stelter.

Then once more, perhaps they’ll have to 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 received’t matter, partly as a result of he’s going to seek out $three billion in financial savings.

We’ve already seen indicators of budget-cutting within the firm’s leisure properties — like shelving a Batgirl film as an alternative of releasing it and layoffs at HBOMax — however there will likely be many extra cuts to return this fall. So Stelter, who reportedly made near $1 million a yr, was a straightforward lower: His present, alongside along with his day by day media e-newsletter, was an enormous deal in media circles — see this “Pet of the Day” submission from … David Zaslav — however not an enormous draw for normals.

Underneath Zaslav/Licht, CNN has already made one vital 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+).

However that will not be something near sufficient to assist the father or mother firm hit its numbers. By which case, Stelter’s departure could possibly 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 incorrect: It says Licht removed Stelter and Dependable Sources as a result of it needs completely different programming on Sunday mornings. And CNN spokesman Matt Dornic advised me that the information service is underneath no stress from its new proprietor to cut back headcount, noting that Licht has stated he needs to rent extra journalists.

Then once more, there’s definitely a approach to scale back prices whereas including folks: You let go of high-priced folks and change them with cheaper ones.

I hate saying “wait and see” on the finish of tales like this. However that is one the place we positively have to see the way it performs out. For starters, Stelter’s final present is on Sunday. The one factor I’m positive about is that he needs to make use of his swan tune to speak about all of this.

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