“The people who say the Zucker-era CNN was lacking in real journalism clearly were not watching CNN directly. 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,” Stelter wrote in his media newsletter.
Malone, the Liberty Media chairman, sits on the board of directors for Discovery Communications Inc., the company set to control CNN in mere months when a looming merger is completed. Discovery CEO David Zaslav has denied he or Malone played a role in Zucker’s resignation.
Last year, Malone made headlines during an appearance on CNBC when he declared CNN should revert to nonpartisan journalism once the liberal network is under the Discovery umbrella.
“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 said.
Stelter explained to readers that many current CNN employees were hurt by Malone’s rhetoric.
“That phrasing – especially the words ‘actually have journalists,’ which implied CNN currently doesn’t – was highly offensive to many staffers. I reported on Sunday’s ‘Reliable’ that it was disturbing to Zucker, too,” Stelter wrote. “Malone’s comments stoked fears that Discovery might stifle CNN journalists and steer away from calling out indecency and injustice.”
CNN staffers have been openly critical of the decision to show Zucker the door after their now-former boss exited the company last week, citing an undisclosed relationship with longtime lieutenant Allison Gollust. The rationale immediately raised eyebrows as their intimate relationship was widely known. There is now widespread speculation that Discovery will shake things up once it controls CNN after a series of scandals and poor ratings have tarnished the network.
“Do outsiders like Malone have ideas that could improve CNN as an institution? Quite possibly so. Savvy journalists are always open to feedback and constructive criticism,” Stelter wrote.
Stelter, who was handpicked by Zucker to join CNN and is known to be close with his now-former boss, has been defending CNN at every turn despite the network’s cloudy future.
“I would be a little nervous if I was at CNN,” New Yorker writer Ken Auletta told Stelter to his face on Sunday.
Malone did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“CNN’s ratings problems are so severe now that it could well take years and a major strategic redirection to recover,” DePauw University professor and media critic Jeffrey McCall told Fox News Digital.
Zaslav will lead the combined company called Warner Bros. Discovery when the deal closes, which is expected to happen in the first half of 2022. Zaslav was asked about Malone’s comments about CNN needing to “evolve back to the kind of journalism that it started with,” last week and dismissed Malone as just one of many decision makers at Discovery.
“John is going to be a board member of this company, and I am the operating [officer], Zaslav said Friday on CNBC.
Zaslav’s comments contradicted a Deadline report that Malone “made it known that corporate procedures had to be followed to the letter in regards to Zucker,” therefore, “being that WarnerMedia’s standards of business conduct require disclosure of relationships that develop with a boss and subordinate, Zucker’s goose was officially cooked.”