Dan Abrams Wrecks ‘Dishonest,’ ‘Reckless’ Brian Stelter Over Zucker Fallout

Monday on his eponymous NewsNation show, longtime TV news personality and legal expert Dan Abrams hammered CNN’s Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter over his behavior regarding the ouster of now-ex-CNN boss and puppetmaster Jeff Zucker, calling Stelter “dishonest” for his defense of CNN as a legitimate news network and “reckless” for targeting John Malone, the top share in CNN’s future parent company Discovery.

As part of his nightly segment plugging his site Mediaite, Abrams began by noting “Zucker was ousted presumably about an undisclosed inter-office relationship, but no one really believes that that was the real reason.”

Abrams said that “many have used the incident to criticize CNN more broadly about their ratings, which are way down and their doing much more opinion,” which left Stelter taking “great offense[.]”

After playing a clip of Stelter insisting those who argue CNN’s “lacking journalism” and “all opinions…aren’t watching CNN,” Abrams first granted him the point that “CNN has a very strong news-gathering operation” (which one could concur with based on the shear number of employees).

From there, however, Abrams lowered the boom by noting it’s “a fact that CNN has veered deeply into…the left-leaning opinion territory.” And while one could argue “their ratings would be worse if they were just doing newscasts,” it’s “just dishonest” for Stelter to say CNN hasn’t become a network based on liberal punditry.

“[T]hat’s the bigger problem for me. Just own it. MSNBC and Fox are a bit more intellectually honest about what they do,” he added.

Abrams then addressed Stelter’s argument that CNN’s committed to journalism based on the number of stories on their website and original videos published on February 2 when Zucker resigned: “That is a hell of a lot of news on CNN’s website, which is not what most people are talking about.”

But the former Live PD host then hit on a deeper reasoning for Stelter throwing a tizzy (click “expand”): 

ABRAMS: It seems the defensiveness stems in part from comments made by John Malone, the leading shareholder at Discovery, the thought by some to have been behind Jeff Zucker’s termination because Discovery’s preparing to acquire CNN and this is what Malone said on December — in December on CNBC. 

MALONE [on CNBC’s Squawk Box, 11/19/21]: Fox News, I think, in my opinion, has followed a — a — an interesting project early of trying to have news news. I mean, some actual journalism embedded in — in a program schedule of all opinions. [SCREEN WIPE] I would like to see CNN evolve back to the kind of journalism that it started with and, you know, actually have journalists.

ABRAMS: Ouch.

Abrams called Stelter “either incredibly brave or incredibly reckless” for also using Sunday’s Reliable Sources to wage war against Malone by calling his comments about changing CNN “offensive” and something “Zucker found to be quite disturbing.”

Pointing out its one thing for a Stelter guest like Ken Auletta of The New Yorker to go after Malone and another for Stelter, Abrams wrapped the segment by reacting to a clip of Auletta warning Zucker loyalists to be “concerned” about their futures:

I would too. Any time a new boss comes in and the company isn’t performing well, the key employees should be concerned. Could take some time. Some of the faces on CNN and even the way it does business will likely change whether they like it or not.

(h/t: Mediaite)

To see the relevant NewsNation transcript from February 7, click “expand.”

NewsNation’s Dan Abrams Live
February 7, 2022

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Mediaite Moments; CNN Lovefest for Ex-Boss Could Spell Trouble for Current Hosts]

DAN ABRAMS: Last week, the media world was stunned by the resignation of now former CNN president Jeff Zucker and no way — nowhere were they more stunned than at CNN, where Zucker remains popular. Zucker was ousted presumably about an undisclosed inter-office relationship, but no one really believes that that was the real reason. So many have used the incident to criticize CNN more broadly about their ratings, which are way down and their doing much more opinion. CNN media reporter Brian Stelter took great offense to that. 

BRIAN STELTER [on CNN’s Reliable Sources, 02/06/22]: But the people who say we’re lacking journalism, that we’ve become an all talk channel, that we’ve run off and we’re all opinions all the time, that Jeff Zucker lead us astray, those people aren’t watching CNN.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Mediaite Moments; CNN Future Top Shareholder Doesn’t Love CNN]

ABRAMS: Yes, CNN has a very strong news-gathering operation, but it is also simply a fact that CNN has veered deeply into the opinion territory, the left-leaning opinion territory and look, you can make a solid argument that their ratings would be worse if they were just doing newscasts all day, but to say otherwise about their content is just dishonest, and that’s the bigger problem for me. Just own it. MSNBC and Fox are a bit more intellectually honest about what they do.

STELTER [on CNN’s Reliable Sources, 02/06/22]: On the day Jeff Zucker resigned, CNN published more than 215 stories on the website. Nearly 90 original videos. That’s a hell of a lot of news. It’s a hell of a lot of journalism.

ABRAMS: That is a hell of a lot of news on CNN’s website, which is not what most people are talking about. It seems the defensiveness stems in part from comments made by John Malone, the leading shareholder at Discovery, the thought by some to have been behind Jeff Zucker’s termination because Discovery’s preparing to acquire CNN and this is what Malone said on December — in December on CNBC. 

JOHN MALONE [on CNBC’s Squawk Box, 11/19/21]: Fox News, I think, in my opinion, has followed a — a — an interesting project early of trying to have news news. I mean, some actual journalism embedded in — in a program schedule of all opinions. [SCREEN WIPE] I would like to see CNN evolve back to the kind of journalism that it started with and, you know, actually have journalists.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Mediaite Moments; CNN’s Brian Stelter Attacks Future Top Shareholder…of CNN]

ABRAMS: Ouch. In response in a moment that was either incredibly brave or incredibly reckless, Stelter made clear he did not appreciate that assessment. 

STELTER [on CNN’s Reliable Sources, 02/06/22]: Many CNN staffers found that to be offensive. Jeff Zucker found that to be quite disturbing because he’s looking at that thinking what is Discovery’s key shareholder going to do to CNN?

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Mediaite Moments; Some CNN Anchors Should Be Worries Post-Zucker Era]

ABRAMS: Reminder. Jeff Zucker is no longer the boss at CNN and John Malone is soon to be the critical shareholder of CNN. Now, a longtime media observer and New York — New Yorker writer Ken Auletta also got in on criticizing John Malone. 

KEN AULETTA [on CNN’s Reliable Sources, 02/06/22]: I think what Malone just said when — in the clip you played was comical. It’s just a joke. It’s not real and he’s wrong. 

ABRAMS: Now, Auletta can say that with impunity. But Stelter? Maybe playing with fire. 

STELTER [on CNN’s Reliable Sources, 02/06/22]: Malone’s not going to have as much power as he used to have. [SCREEN WIPE] So, should CNN anchors and reporters be concerned about John Malone’s views of CNN?

ABRAMS: And that is where Auletta offered up a stark reality check. 

AULETTA [on CNN’s Reliable Sources, 02/06/22]: If I was CNN and I was an employee and I — and I loved working under Jeff Zucker for understandable reasons, I would be concerned. 

ABRAMS: I would too. Any time a new boss comes in and the company isn’t performing well, the key employees should be concerned. Could take some time. Some of the faces on CNN and even the way it does business will likely change whether they like it or not.

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