CNN saga: What network chaos means for liberal media correspondent Brian Stelter

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Concha: CNN has officially collapsed

Fox News contributor Joe Concha rips CNN for new hire of Jemele Hill and other mounting scandals at the network on ‘Fox News @ Night.’

Left-wing CNN media reporter Brian Stelter is known for partisan views and attacking conservatives at every turn, but rampant speculation that new management could restore its just-the-facts approach to journalism puts a spotlight on the future of the network’s liberal Jeff Zucker loyalists. 

“I would be a little nervous if I was at CNN,” New Yorker writer Ken Auletta told Stelter to his face during a recent episode of “Reliable Sources.”  

The recently ousted Zucker, who oversaw CNN’s approach to the left over the past decade, was tight with Stelter for years. The former CNN honcho has been long thought to be the main source for Stelter’s 2013 book, “Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV,” which detailed a behind-the-scenes look at the Zucker-led “Today” show on NBC. 

Radar Online website recently suggested CNN’s Brian Stelter served as his now-former boss’ attack dog by smearing the publication hours after it asked about then-president Jeff Zucker’s scandalous romance. (Getty Images)

When Zucker was dismissed from NBC he eventually landed at CNN and handpicked Stelter to join him, poaching him from The New York Times and appointing him as host of the network’s Sunday morning media program in 2013. Stelter has often served as a quasi-spokesperson along the way, regularly downplaying CNN scandals while criticizing conservative outlets.  

Over the years, CNN insiders have told Fox News Digital that Stelter regularly embraced Zucker in full view of the network’s old Columbus Circle newsroom with over-the-top greetings that left staffers thinking he wanted to show off his cozy relationship with the boss.  

Radar Online recently suggested Stelter served as his now-former boss’s attack dog by attacking the publication hours after it asked network management about Zucker’s sexual relationship with fellow CNN executive Allison Gollust. The relationship was initially blamed for why Zucker was forced to resign, as it was not disclosed to human resources, but WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar has since admitted the lovebirds also violated the network’s News Standards and Practices.

Stelter was even dispatched to inform CNN viewers that Zucker resigned, with a somber on-air announcement that included relaying the eyebrow-raising claim from Gollust that her relationship with Zucker “changed during COVID.” 

Industry insiders were perplexed that Stelter relayed Gollust’s message as gospel when the relationship was considered an “open secret” for years. The statement fueled questions over whether CNN’s chief media correspondent knew about the affair before Zucker’s resignation. 

“He worships Jeff, and it’s possible he was in denial,” a media insider familiar with the relationship told Fox News Digital. 

Meanwhile, a bombshell New York Times report was published on Tuesday that provided a new look at the on-going CNN saga, complete with previously unreported details about the network’s recent drama. Washington Free Beacon investigative reporter Chuck Ross scolded Stelter for getting scooped by the Times. 

Brian Stelter has been close to Jeff Zucker for years. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for CNN)
(Kevin Mazur)

“How did NYT beat Stelter to this story? He worked the phones for 14 hours straight and spoke to dozens of sources,” Ross wrote, apparently mocking the CNN media reporter for claiming he vigorously attempted to get to the bottom of the story. 

While media reporters don’t typically break their own employer’s scandals, Stelter has publicly claimed he was trying. 

“We have been at the CNN office in New York for the past 14 hours, and we have been speaking with dozens of sources, including people close to WarnerMedia management and close to Zucker,” Stelter wrote the day Zucker resigned.  

Kilar declared that a third-party probe into CNN’s handling of the “issues” associated with Chris Cuomo and his big brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D., found that Zucker violated company policies related directly to news. The probe featured interviews with more than 40 employees and a review of over 100,000 texts and emails. 

Stelter, who erroneously speculated last year that Cuomo could return to the network after a weeks-long suspension before he was ultimately fired, admitted Tuesday he didn’t know how long the outside investigation into CNN had been going on.

“As I first reported on December 5, CNN retained third-party law firm Cravath to assess Chris Cuomo’s conduct vis a vis his brother’s sexual harassment scandal. What I didn’t know back then was that the investigation was initially ‘commissioned in September,’” Stelter wrote.

Stelter has defended CNN at all costs since Zucker was forced out, firing back at naysayers who’ve accused CNN of losing its way as a news organization over the years.

“CNN is so much bigger than any single individual,” he said. “When something horrible happens in the world or when something wonderful happens in the world, you know where to turn. That’s what CNN is.”

CNN’s Brian Stelter criticized Liberty Media chairman John Malone for saying CNN should "actually have journalists."
(Getty Images)

But Stelter’s defense of CNN has coincided with praise of Zucker, who he has called “larger than life” and said his ousting was a “seismic moment” because he is “a singular figure in American media.”

Stelter’s fate will ultimately be in the hands of Discovery executives, as the company is set to take control of CNN in April following the completion of a much-anticipated merger with WarnerMedia. Discovery CEO David Zaslav will run the combined company and is expected to immediately name Zucker’s full-time replacement. 

Hard-charging Liberty Media chairman John Malone, who sits on the Discovery Communications Inc. board of directors and is considered extremely powerful in the industry, suggested last year that changes would be made to CNN’s newsroom. 

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“I would like to see CNN evolve back to the kind of journalism that it started with, and actually have journalists,” said on CNBC. 

Stelter has since criticized Malone. 

“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. 

Discovery did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Fox News’ Joseph A. Wulfsohn contributed to this report. 

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