Brian Stelter has been fired at CNN, and Greg Gutfeld is sad.
A little back story:
Thirty years ago, CNN debuted a news analysis program, “Reliable Sources,” with Bernard Kalb as host.
In 1998, Kalb was followed by Howard Kurtz, who hosted the show – not without controversy – until 2013. As “Politico” put it, “Kurtz’s run has been plagued at times by a handful of whopping mistakes.”
At the time, Politico went on to say, “While Kurtz has dinged Fox News from time to time for its coverage, … he was never part of the pack of Fox haters, and he has maintained an open line of communication with network boss Roger Ailes over the years.”
He moved to the rival network, signing on to anchor a media show, “Fox News Watch.”
After Kurtz left, the CNN show went through several on-air host auditions. CNN management ultimately settled, much to the Curmudgeon’s surprise, on one of the least effective and appealing of those, as the show’s permanent host, the mediocrely talented and not-particularly-telegenic Brian Stelter.
At the outset, we hoped Stelter was going to continue to offer a fairly balanced approach to media analysis. But it wasn’t long before his broadcast devolved into an obviously adversarial relationship with all things Fox.
The only “reliable” part of Reliable Sources was Stelter’s highly personal, one-sided weekly broadcast, seasoned by a fervent dislike for, and repeated potshots at, Donald Trump and Fox News.
The Curmudgeon watched for a while – actually a few months – in hopes that the show would regain the same degree of balance and fair reporting that had been the case when Kurtz and Kalb were there.
But we eventually tuned out the angry, personal, Stelter diatribes, in favor of the much more evenhanded approach by Kurtz, whose program, which eventually morphed into “Media Buzz,” at least attempted some sense of balance.
Now along comes new management at CNN.
Less radioactive to Republicans
According to David Bauder of the Associated Press, “The news network, now under the Warner Discovery corporate banner and led since spring by CNN Worldwide Chairman Chris Licht, is trying to inject more balance into its programming and become less radioactive to Republicans.”
So far, CNN’s philosophical makeover has proven underwhelming, except for this: Finally tired of the Fox News-bashing Brian Stelter, the network has replaced him.
With … well, ... nothing.
Which leaves Media Buzz as the only remaining media analysis program on the air.
Stelter did not depart gracefully. According to The Guardian, he “used his final episode [on 21 August] to make a pointed rebuke of the network's new bosses and their intention to pursue a more ‘neutral voice’ to its coverage.”
Stelter didn’t have to suffer the indignity of unemployment very long.
The Daily Mail said: “Former CNN woke wonder boy Brian Stelter has landed a fellowship at Harvard, mere weeks after he was ousted from the news network amidst a staff shakeup.”
Stelter announced that “he was joining the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School this fall as its Walter Shorenstein Media and Democracy Fellow." According to the article, "Walter Shorenstein Fellows typically hold the position for one semester to a year. It is unclear how long Stelter's will last.”
In the face of Stelter’s constant harangues, Media Buzz host Howard Kurtz consciously refrained from negative remarks or calling out the rival program during his broadcasts or commentary.
The same wasn’t true of Fox News commentator Greg Gutfeld, on both “The Five,” which he co-hosts, and his late-night program “GUTFELD!”
Gutfeld delighted in taking potshots at Stelter, often making him the object of jokes, memes, drop-ins, skits, and unflattering photography. Indeed, Gutfeld expressed disappointment that Stelter had lost his job, because Stelter had been a natural butt of Gutfeld’s comedy.
But Kurtz handled Stelter’s departure with a classy commentary. Here’s what he said on the air:
Now, for another story you might have heard about. When I came to FOX nine years ago, to launch “Media Buzz,” I made it a personal policy not to talk about the rival show on CNN. Well, that program has now been canceled.
Look, TV is a tough business. Ratings bounce around, talents get let go, including hard-working staffers, so I’m not going to get personal; I’m not going to knock anybody … just wish them well.
But I will say this: Chris Licht, the new president of CNN, made clear when he took over in the spring that he wanted less extreme partisanship on the network … a return to its roots. And that makes sense.
The problem is, after six years of bitterly anti-Trump, and relentlessly anti-FOX, programming, CNN had surrendered that reputation. And it had plenty of company in the business.
Then the “sugar high” of Trump-driven ratings wore off with the former president’s departure.
Now, when you have two media shows going head to head, and the one with less than half the ratings is taken off the air, that might be considered part of the story, but most mainstream accounts, except for The Washington Post, didn’t bother to mention “Media Buzz” – which is fine. Many also didn’t mention that the other show, on CNN, had been my show.
I helped build that franchise, and I was very proud of being fair to conservatives, liberals, independents, and everyone else. It was a different era at CNN.
Now, everybody makes mistakes – including me – but “fairness” is the brand I brought here, where there are also very strong opinions of commentators, as well as many journalists who try their best to “play it straight.”
In this hyper-polarized era, as I’m reminded every few minutes, not everyone wants balance. They just want you to be “on their team.” But I believe we’ve shown there’s a loyal audience that craves fairness over partisanship.
So now, there’s only one media analysis program on national television, and you’re watching it.
The Curmudgeon would not have found it possible to be equally charitable.