Was Brian Stelter’s firing about changing the tone at CNN or was it about something else?

Source: Hot Air

As we learned last week, CNN has canceled Reliable Sources and fired host Brian Stelter. Originally he was going to announce the show was ending himself on Sunday but word leaked out ahead of time.

The decision to sack Stelter was made despite the fact that he just renewed his contract with CNN last year, back when Jeff Zucker was still in charge. CNN’s new CEO, Chris Licht, reportedly wants to see changes in how CNN operates and in this case that likely means paying Stelter a substantial amount of money to end his contract early.

“It’s interesting they’re buying out contracts with so much time left on them,” a CNN insider told Fox News Digital. “They’re not waiting. They’re eating it because they want the changes, and they’re not going to wait out deals. Most deals were done in [Jeff Zucker’s] last year, so this shows time on contract isn’t going to get in their way if they want change.”

A CNN spokesman confirmed reports last week that Licht, who was tasked with running the company earlier this year when a merger put the network under control of Warner Bros. Discovery, had told team members on a morning editorial call that more changes were on the way.

“There will be more changes… you might not understand it or like it all,” Licht told staffers. “Give us some time, see how things develop.”

The insider added more contributor cuts are likely forthcoming, and the moves have caused consternation within the network that has already dealt with more than its share of upheaval over the past year.

So there are reports that Licht is interested in getting away from the rivalry with Fox News and that more changes are coming. However, if the goal is to move CNN back toward the center, it’s hard to explain why they are holding on to Jim Acosta and Don Lemon. The Wrap reported they are both expected to stick around.

Don Lemon and Jim Acosta, two of CNN’s most opinionated and outspoken on-air journalists, are expected to stay at the network despite its new direction to a less overtly left-wing bent, an individual with knowledge of the network’s plan told TheWrap…

The rumor mill has understandably turned to Lemon, who in recent years has been overtly opinionated and politically progressive in his anchoring of the primetime news slot — whether discussing the Black Lives Matter movement, misdoings of the Trump administration or the Supreme Court overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Acosta, the chief domestic correspondent, has equally been a topic of the rumor mill, as someone who’s frequently trolled on Fox News for his vigorous reporting style, and challenging Republicans who defend, for example, denying the integrity of the 2020 presidential election.

The fact that Licht fired Stelter but not Acosta or Lemon raises the possibility that there’s something else going on here. In a separate story, the Wrap pointed to a possible explanation.

The media correspondent frequently took strong positions against the misinformation of the Trump administration and got into on-air scuffles with Fox News, which he frequently called out for inaccurate and misleading reporting…

Those exchanges got the attention of John Malone, a Warner Bros. Discovery board member who owned in 2021 more than 93% of Discovery’s Class B shares and remains a major stakeholder in the company post-merger. In late 2021, Malone made waves with a CNBC interview when he said CNN should return to nonpartisan journalism once under Discovery’s control. “I would like to see CNN evolve back to the kind of journalism that it started with, and actually have journalists, which would be unique and refreshing,” Malone sniped at the time.

Stelter called out Malone in February, accusing the billionaire of criticizing CNN without actually watching it and creating an atmosphere of anxiety in the newsroom. “Malone’s comments stoked fears that Discovery might stifle CNN journalists and steer away from calling out indecency and injustice,” Stelter wrote in his widely read media newsletter at the time.

Two senior Warner Bros Discovery executives denied that Stelter’s ouster was influenced in any way by Malone, calling the decision to cancel “Reliable Sources” entirely Licht’s.

Despite the denials, not everyone is convinced Stelter’s dismissal had nothing to do with his comments about Malone or Malone’s feelings about him. I have no inside information here but if the goal was really to clear the hackiest hacks from the airwaves you wouldn’t be leaving Jim Acosta and Don Lemon in place. So something doesn’t add up. Stelter’s ratings were pretty bad but as the Wrap points out, all of CNN’s ratings are pretty bad.

There is one final twist to this story. Stelter apparently got the message that he was being fired for being too much of a resistance journalist. He spent part of his final show defending himself.

“I know it’s not partisan to stand up for decency and democracy and dialogue,” Stelter said as he signed off for the last time on Sunday.

“It’s not partisan to stand up to demagogues. It’s required. It’s patriotic. We must make sure we don’t give platforms to those who are lying to our faces. But we also much make sure we are representing the full spectrum of debate and representing what is going on in this country and this world.”

So even as CNN is firing him for being too partisan, he is defending his partisanship as “patriotic” and defending no-platforming as necessary. Maybe it’s that certitude that he always knows who the good guys are and who the villains are that was too much for CEO Chris Licht. Whatever the case, it really does say something that he was over the line but Acosta was not. Hopefully Stelter will wrestle with that one a bit as he comforts himself with the millions CNN just paid him to not show up to work.