In Depth: The CNN – John Roberts Debacle…
We still don’t know exactly how and why things fell apart between John Roberts and CNN, the end result of which had Roberts winding up at FNC. But what we do know is that CNN horribly bungled the Roberts situation.
Last year CNN was involved in a very different bungled change; the exit/push of Larry King and the hiring of Piers Morgan. During that whole saga CNN wouldn’t say anything until the ink was dry. It wouldn’t say it was looking to find a Larry King replacement, even though the stories about Morgan had been circulating for a while, until King “announced” his leaving and a separation deal had been signed. It wouldn’t say it was talking to Morgan, even though it was (though maybe not in legal terms), until it had reached an agreement with NBC Universal. It wouldn’t say for sure that Piers was the one until it had hired him. Sure, all the leaks…many coming from Morgan’s camp…made this whole situation farcical but the point is CNN wouldn’t announce or do a thing until the ink was dry in all these instances.
Now contrast that with what happened with John Roberts. First word leaks out that Roberts is leaving American Morning and CNN issues a “No Comment”. So far, so good. CNN never talks about contracts so this is consistent. Then Roberts has his last day at CNN on Dec 24 and Carol Costello notes at the end of American Morning that Roberts will be staying in the CNN family and Roberts talks a bit about how excited he is about the new projects and being closer to his bride to be. So you have to figure that this is a done deal, right? CNN wouldn’t let things get this far and let it go out over its air if it didn’t have some contractual thing ironed out, right? It wouldn’t put the cart before the horse…the announcement before the ink hits the paper, right?
Wrong apparently. Because one week later Roberts is now headed for FNC and CNN is facing an unmitigated disaster. It announced the move over its own air before the contract had been signed. That’s okay as long as things go as planned. If they don’t…well.
This is a colossal top to bottom failure by CNN’s executive team which let things get out of control with Roberts to such a degree that public pronunciations were allowed to occur without any legal foundation to them, something that it never let happen with King and Morgan. CNN ends up looking feckless. Newly minted President Ken Jautz starts 2011 with a self inflicted black eye. CNN has to face a bunch of questions it doesn’t want to face. Roberts going to FNC would not be the story it is for CNN had it not made it look like he was staying put. Bad show all around.
Update: Could Roberts have been playing coy on his last day? Carpe Diem recounts the final minutes of Roberts’ final appearance on American Morning and correctly notes that the suggestion that Roberts would stay with CNN came not from Roberts himself but from Carol Costello.
There are two active questions here: 1) Was Costello ad libbing in the dark, not knowing Roberts and/or CNN had no intention of getting back together? 2) Was Costello being accurate and something happened after which made Roberts turn to FNC?
Carpe Diem thinks its the former but the evidence for drawing that conclusion based on those final minutes suggests otherwise. Roberts and Costello had been working all week together so the subject of what to do with his last minutes on the air on American Morning surely had to have come up. I don’t think Roberts would deliberately let Costello go out on thin ice he knew wouldn’t hold by making pronouncements that he’d be staying with CNN. There’s nothing to suggest that at that moment in time Roberts wasn’t going to stay with CNN. It’s possible that by that point in time Roberts and CNN had secretly agreed to part ways, but there’s no way of knowing that until someone comes out with the definitive take down on what exactly led to Roberts joining FNC.
However, there is evidence, or actually a lack of evidence, that suggests at the time Roberts and CNN were still working things towards a conclusion that would keep Roberts at the network. That lack of evidence has come, or actually not come, in the lack of a public statement from CNN prior to today wishing Roberts well, which is customary when two sides agree that it’s best to part company. The fact that no statement did come out in the days between Roberts’ sign off (or even before) and today’s news, combined with the internal memo Jautz put out stating CNN’s intention to give Roberts a new role, suggests Roberts and CNN were still on a path to Roberts staying with the network.
What got in the way? FNC of course. The question is how? Hopefully we’ll find out soon enough…