DANIEL VAUGHAN: Stelter’s firing signals more storms on the way for media

In news that shocks hardly anyone, CNN is canceling the show Reliable Sources, and its host Brian Stelter is leaving the network. A media reckoning has arrived for cable news networks that relied exclusively on Donald Trump for headlines and ratings. The Trump bump is gone, a recession is on the horizon, and ad revenue is vanishing.

NPR carries Stelter’s water.

Stelter gave this story to National Public Radio (NPR), “In a statement to NPR, Stelter says he’s grateful for the show and his team’s examination of ‘the media, truth and the stories that shape our world.'” While the reporting suggests Stelter is leaving, given the other journalists and commentators ousted from CNN, it’s hard to see this as anything other than a purge.

NPR dutifully totes water for Stelter by insinuating that Stelter got fired because of one of the new investors in CNN. “Among those publicly joining in on the broader criticism of CNN as having become politicized was the investor John Malone, a major financial stakeholder of the new WarnerDiscovery conglomerate. During an episode in February, Stelter cited Malone more than a dozen times in coverage of the Discovery deal for CNN and its sister properties, expressing some concern about the investor’s influence.”

Stelter is using NPR to frame his ouster to say he was a fearless truth-teller. Reality couldn’t be further from the truth.

NPR frames Stelter’s predecessor on Reliable Sources, Howard Kurtz, as a Fox News lackey. The story says, “Kurtz now hosts a show with a similar format on Fox News called MediaBuzz, which will become, at least for now, the only major national television show analyzing the news business and journalism. In his time at Fox, Kurtz has rarely held his own network to account.”

Stelter is what he accused Fox News of being.

Even assuming that bizarre and shameless shot at Kurtz is accurate, what NPR (and Stalter) skip over is that Stelter was an even worse offender. NPR says, “As Stelter later conceded, he was slow to recognize the depth of the ethical problems posed by former CNN star Chris Cuomo in advising his brother, then governor of New York, on how to handle accusations of sexual harassment.”

Slow to recognize? CNN formed itself into the mouthpiece of a governor responsible for the worst response to COVID-19 in the country. Cuomo’s direct actions led to the deaths of thousands early on in the pandemic. CNN then allowed the two Cuomo brothers to yuck it up on air. They clowned around while defending the governor from his COVID-19 response and the numerous #MeToo allegations.

One of Stelter’s most famous moments of the Trump era came when he claimed that Michael Avenatti could run for President. Avenatti is the former lawyer for porn star Stormy Daniels. Avenatti made a home at CNN, “Avenatti appeared on CNN a whopping 74 times over a 10-week period. At the height of Avenatti’s fame, he spent his rare time away from CNN’s greenroom partying with the network’s anchors while regularly appearing on late-night shows, MSNBC and ‘The View.'”

Stelter was slow to recognize any ethical issues with Avenatti. Remember, this is a lawyer now serving jail time for identity theft and fraud. Unrelated, Avenatti blocked this author on Twitter after disliking criticism sent his way.

A media recession is on the way.

Beyond Stelter, what’s happening at CNN is a much larger story. The media is experiencing the depths of the Trump Slump. The New York Times called the media’s relationship with Trump “complicated,” because he made them mountains of money. They focused on Trump all the time because it meant a ratings bonanza.

That would be harmful by itself, but there’s more. For all the debate over whether or not we’re in a recession, money doesn’t lie. Media outlets are experiencing less money coming in from ads on cable television, websites, and newsprint. It’s not just a Trump slump; it’s a much broader slowdown in the economy.

Media outlets can say whatever they want for the Biden administration on whether or not we’re in a recession. These same outlets are positioning their personal budgets for a downturn and cutting “star talent” to save money. CNN was leaking it was going to clean house back in June. The shocking part is that these firings are coming before the midterms, which usually provide a boost to ratings.

More cuts are coming…

As David Burge quipped on Twitter, “Sure, it’s so easy and ‘fun’ to cruelly ridicule Brian Stelter for losing his job. And this is my entire point – it’s so easy, and also fun.” He’s right. It’s easy. Stelter getting a pink slip while CNN cancels an entire program that had survived other recessions is telling about the clean-up underway across the media.

The Trump bump is gone. Ad dollars are vanishing. Recession is on the horizon. If you accept these precepts, the time to prepare is now. Cutting fat like Stelter, who helped destroy the reputation of an entire news network, is an easy choice.

There’s also more clean-up on the way, at CNN and elsewhere. A perfect storm is brewing in the press, and Stelter is one of the first casualties.