The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

Discovery execs flex their muscles as Stelter, Toobin shown the door at CNN

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

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

“The people who say the Zucker-era CNN was lacking in real journalism clearly were not watching CNN directly,” Stelter proclaimed earlier this year after then-CNN President Jeff Zucker was shown the door. “My best guess is that they were watching talking heads and reading columnists complain about CNN. And yes, I’m including John Malone in this.”

Yep, you read that correctly. The network’s top media reporter publicly accused one of his new bosses of being misinformed while defending his former boss, who ran the network into the ground both from a ratings and credibility perspective.

CNN’s viewership is down more than 75 percent 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. 

“The ratings are up, it means you can’t 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’s ratings would be in the toilet without Donald Trump,” Koppel said as the audience at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., laughed.

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

No, Koppel wasn’t playing for laughs but making an obvious point. And on cue, after Trump left the stage in January 2021, CNN’s ratings fell to lows not seen since the beginning of the century. The precipitous drop included Stelter’s show, which in June saw its lowest ratings since 2001. 

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

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

This wasn’t about just ratings, of course, but also credibility. During the Biden era, Stelter’s fawning interviews with Biden administration officials revealed how hyperpartisan the once-serious show analyzing the crossroads between media and politics had become. 

“What does the press get wrong when covering Biden’s agenda? When you watch the news, when you read the news, what do you think we get wrong?” Stelter once asked then-White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, a former CNN employee, during a Reliable Sources interview. 

“Do you fear that given the craziness we’re seeing from the GOP, do you fear that for our kids, your kids and mine?” he asked Psaki later in the interview. 

The media reporter’s departure comes a week after Jeffrey Toobin announced he wouldn’t be rejoining the network. In 2020, Toobin was infamously seen pleasuring himself during a work Zoom call as female coworkers looked on. For this breach of journalist ethics (if that’s what it can be called), The New Yorker, where Toobin had been employed for nearly 20 years, fired him. But CNN merely put him on paid vacation for a few months before bringing him back. Again, credibility matters — and Discovery execs and Licht appear to be trying to clean things up. 

Brian Stelter will be just fine. He’ll probably jump to MSNBC or return to a job he once had as a media reporter for The New York Times.

CNN is undergoing change. The changes, we’re told, will continue. More employees, unfortunately, will be axed. 

The question is: Can CNN return 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 straight reporting, that may be a very difficult task. 

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

Tags Brian Stelter Brian Stelter Chris Licht CNN CNN CNN controversies CNN Newsroom Jeff Zucker Jeffrey Toobin Jeffrey Toobin leftwing media bias Media bias ted koppel

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

More Campaign News

See All
See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video