Brian Stelter dropped by CNN: Why the ‘Reliable Sources’ host was shown the door

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Major changes were expected at CNN when longtime TV executive Chris Licht took over and signaled efforts to restore a less opinionated reputation to the network and improve programming — and the sudden exits of Jeffrey Toobin and Now by Brian Stelter seem to put his vision in place.

Less than a week after Toobin’s exit, the network announced on Thursday that Stelter, the “Reliable Sources” host derided by conservatives for years as a “janitor” for liberal and mainstream media, was out. It will air another show on Sunday.

The writing had been on the wall since high-powered media executive John Malone, a Warner Bros. board member. Discovery, which mentored CEO David Zaslav, said last year that CNN should return to nonpartisan journalism once the liberal network comes under the Discovery umbrella. Months later, on the heels of Zucker’s expulsion ahead of the long-planned merger, Stelter accused Malone of “not watching CNN directly” and relying on talking heads and columnists who complain about the network.

Brian Stelter’s now-canceled show has struggled to attract viewers under the Biden administration.
((Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for WarnerMedia))


Stelter’s fate had long been sealed.

The day Licht was announced as CNN’s new chief in February, everyone around him knew Stelter was toast, a media insider told Fox News Digital. Those in his orbit expected Stelter to be fired because Licht had complained to his peers that the show was bad television. In removing Stelter, Licht’s desires to bring the network back to the middle and purge unexceptional broadcasters overlapped.

Effectively miscast as a political pundit in Donald Trump’s savage era – he went all out on Russiagate, loved Andrew Cuomo’s coronavirus response and once memorably played the hoax cleanup racial Jussie Smollett – Stelter was a Jeff Zucker-era figure who didn’t fit into Licht’s world.

Licht, who accepted the role in February but didn’t officially start until weeks later, was quick to focus on “news,” amid an indication he wanted to steer CNN away from the liberal reputation it she developed under former boss Zucker as CNN and President Trump. became acute mutual antagonists.

Over the next few months, CNN toned down the nonstop “Breaking News” graphic, which became commonplace on the network, and announced that the “New Day” morning show would be “reimagined,” but much of CNN remained. the same. On-air pundits still expressed partisan views, Zucker-era liberals continued to thrive, and low-rated programs were kept on the schedule despite Licht’s goal of “cutting the show” on the network.

CNN CEO Chris Licht wants "put down the show" to the network, according to a source close to him.

CNN CEO Chris Licht wants to “cut the show” on the network, according to a source close to him.
(Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Warner Bros. Discovery)

The status quo began to change last week when Toobin, the CNN legal analyst, announced his split from the network just 14 months after being taken in after a bizarre scandal in which he was caught masturbating during of a Zoom meeting with his New Yorker magazine colleagues in 2020. While Toobin claimed he had “decided” to leave, insiders told Fox News Digital he likely had no choice given of Licht’s goal of restoring the credibility of the network under the new parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery.


The polarizing Stelter emerged as one of the CNN personalities conservatives loved to hate because of his constant criticism of illiberal news organizations and his relentless disapproval of Republicans. NewsBusters editor Curtis Houck, who monitors liberal media, believes Stelter was doing more harm than good.

“Stelter is leaving CNN after damaging both the reputation of the network and the reputation of the wider media like few others could. Posing as a media reporter seeking to help explain the profession of journalism to the public and to show how stories are made and shaped, Stelter in effect exposed the national press to the deceitful liberal partisans they have become by inadvertently displaying their arrogance and childish refusal to accept even mild outside criticism.” Houck told Fox News Digital.

“His spiteful apologies, firings and omissions of major media stories and failures have only deepened his reputation as a liberal media janitor and right-wing hate object,” Houck continued. “With this move and the departure of Jeffrey Toobin last week, these past seven days could mark the beginning of a turning point for CNN under Chris Licht.”

In August, "Reliable sources" with Brian Stelter is down 41% among advertiser-coveted adults aged 25-54 compared to the same month last year.

In August, “Reliable Sources” with Brian Stelter is down 41% among the coveted demographic of advertisers aged 25-54 compared to the same month last year.

However, Houck believes CNN’s “tone and tenor remains indistinguishable” from the Zucker era when it comes to on-air product.

“At the end of the day, that’s what will matter most to viewers in terms of giving them even a shred of confidence,” Houck said.


Licht, who spent the summer assessing who should stay through a thorough review of all talent and executives, still needs to clean up, according to an industry insider linked to CNN.

“Brian Stelter is one of Jeff Zucker’s most embarrassing legacies, and it’s no surprise that he was one of the first people the new regime fired. But canning Stelter is only CNN mixing up the deck chairs on the Titanic,” the insider told Fox News. Digital.

“The partisan liberal rot goes way beyond that,” the insider continued. “Chris Licht will have to bring a hammer to the spot to bring about meaningful change and if the past is prologue it will never happen.”

Stelter first rose in the industry as a TV blogger in college and earned a reputation as a tireless journalist at The New York Times. He wrote a book about morning information wars and was eventually chosen by Zucker to join CNN and take over the Sunday morning media program in 2013, the same year Zucker arrived.

Puck’s Dylan Byers, who previously worked alongside Stelter at CNN, wrote that his former colleague was widely known as “Zucker’s inside media operative” and reported that “many began to wonder if Stelter was vulnerable.” once Zucker was shown the door to a long-planned merger that brought CNN under the control of Warner Bros. Discovery.

“It was a curiosity that resurfaced after Licht was hired,” Byers wrote.


Licht had a ringside seat for one of Stelter’s most embarrassing moments, as he was executive producer of CBS’s “The Late Show” in 2021 when host Stephen Colbert held the CNN reporter’s feet on fire because of the “strange conflict of rules” of its network. regarding then-anchor Chris Cuomo. The exchange was shocking, as Stelter was forced to defend his employer’s handling of Cuomo to Colbert, who was presumably to be friendly with his liberal colleague. weeks later when Zucker was forced to fire Cuomo, largely because of the scandals Stelter was forced to defend.

“In many ways, [Stelter’s] leaving may be the true end of the Zucker era,” Byers wrote.

Legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin quietly parted ways with CNN last Friday afternoon.

Legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin quietly parted ways with CNN last Friday afternoon.
(Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Outkick media columnist Bobby Burack also believes Stelter didn’t stand a chance under CNN’s new ownership.

“He had really become a face of what I think Chris Licht wanted to get away from, which is, you know, a network that will unfairly blanket conservative news media, you know, whether the criticism is still valid or not. It’s become the perception and the perception of a network like this is the reality,” Burack told Fox News Digital, noting that Warner Bros. Discovery “have not been able to fulfill the mission they have set themselves” with Stelter and Toobin on the list.

“As for Stelter, I think he’ll be fine. I know the cool decision now is to bury him, and look, I don’t think he was a good fit for this new era of CNN with Jeff Zucker is gone. But I think he’ll have a market because whether you like him or not, he gets a lot of reactions,” Burack continued. “Overall, it’s a good decision for both parties. For CNN, you’re getting rid of someone who damaged your reputation and who you wanted to change. And for Stelter, he’s probably going somewhere now. more aligned with how he wants to cover the news.”


Others mourned her exit and berated CNN for canceling the show.

“The problem is that killing Reliable Sources doesn’t bring CNN so much closer to the center than it confirms what the network’s worst critics have said, and gives those people the satisfaction of seeing Stelter fired. CNN indeed amplified those voices when it easily defended its longest-running show and made it a part of the network’s future,” Forbes contributor Mark Joyella wrote on Thursday.

It’s unclear what other changes are in store at CNN, where it looks like Licht is finally putting his stamp on the network. In June, Stelter and Jim Acosta were named by an Axios reporter as the faces of the “network’s liberal turn” in the eyes of conservatives. While Stelter is gone, Acosta remains despite a long history of sharp editorialization in his reporting. After an explosive run as a White House correspondent where he constantly clashed with the Trump White House, he began hosting an unapologetically leftist weekend schedule.

The future of CNN’s “New Day” is also unclear, but Licht announced earlier this year that it would be “reimagined.” Current co-host Brianna Keilar has developed a reputation for combative interviews with conservatives, and it’s not publicly known whether she will be part of the revamped morning program set to begin this fall.

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