In case you missed the business news; CNN has a new owner. AT&T has punted its WarnerMedia – the home of CNN – to Discovery, Inc. mogul David Zaslav. Discovery and WarnerMedia will become a standalone company with Zaslav as the Chief Executive Officer.
The folks at CNN are wondering what that means for the Network. It is possible that Zaslav could spin the Network off to yet another buyer – but that seems unlikely. Zaslav is not unfamiliar with cable news. He had played a role in launching MSNBC.
That might suggest that he will be comfortable with CNN’s lean to the left. But that is not the nervous scuttlebutt around the watercooler at CNN headquarters in New York. Zaslav is not known as an idealogue – but a hard-nosed bottom-line businessman. That means he wants growth and profits.
CNN – once the only and temporarily the dominant voice in cable news – has been struggling against the competition from MSNBC. The Network often finds its programs in third place – even its star celebrity anchors. And neither CNN nor MSNBC comes close to the top-rated FOX News Network.
The paralyzing fear at CNN is that Zaslav will take the most obvious approach – forget competing with MSNBC for the limited left-wing market and take on FOX by shifting to the right. That means a rather dramatic change in both content and personalities.
We may already be seeing a little of this change. I have noticed that the CNN morning show – with John Berman and Briana Taylor – is taking a lighter tone. Rather than the drum beat of political attacks on Trump and the GOP, there seems to be more lighthearted banter. There seems to be a bit more non-political reporting. I see more interviews with real Republicans and principled conservatives. I have not done any research, so that is just my impression. Just a small shift.
But there are rumors that the more philosophically and politically strident anchors may be under management review at this point. Zaslav took no time in firing Cuomo – who may have survived under previous management. In view of his ethical misstep in the Jussie Smollett case, Don Lemon may be in trouble. Lemon is still being sued for sexual assault. He may have given Zaslav a couple excuses to dump him, too.
Most of the speculation has centered on the future of CNN media critic Brian Stelter. Less than an objective critic, Stelter has used the platform to be an attack dog against Republicans and FOX News. So far, the strategy of overtaking FOX with constant mendacious attacks has not been working. In fact, it may be backfiring.
If Zaslav wants to increase CNN credibility with views, he is going to have to dump Jim Acosta – and a couple others on his weekend lineup. And Berman Taylor should modify their far left lean. Of course that would be up to the producers since they pick the stories and write the scripts. A true shift at CNN is likely to be seen in personnel changes that we do not see – the folks behind the scenes.
The Cuomo vacancy would be a good opportunity to bring onto the primetime a less partisan personality. If it were up to me, I would move Michael Smerconish out of the shadow of the early Saturday morning spot and put him in primetime. He is not a conservative, but he is not a radical left-winger, either.
But do not expect too much change in the near future. The deal is still being reviewed by regulators. For the record, Zaslav has promised to maintain the integrity and independence of the news operation. What else can he say? We will have to wait and see how Zaslav thinks he can improve CNN ratings and profits.
So, there ‘tis.