CNN’s Dangerous Game…

Posted in CNN on February 17, 2017 by icn2

CNN has been playing a dangerous game this week as things have gone off the rails between the Trump administration and the major media entities not named FNC. Trump has been on the warpath over a series of damaging and in many cases self-inflicted negative stories have been hitting the wires just about every day this week and the whole thing hit a low note with the President’s press conference yesterday…the worst press conference by a national public official that I can remember seeing.

Trump has been really banging the “fake news” drum because it plays to his base and because he apparently doesn’t know the definition of the term “self control”.

While most of the entities that have drawn Trump’s ire have continued to plug along doing what they do and letting their reporting speak for itself, CNN has been going its own way and it’s a decidedly bad one.

In a nutshell, CNN has been making Trump’s point for him.

I can point to three things that surfaced this week which have hurt CNN’s and the rest of the media’s cause.

Exhibit A: Video of CNN en Espanol anchor Carmen Aristegui making a gesture that appears to draw an allusion between Trump and Hitler. After watching that gesture on the video several times I cannot rule out what The Daily Caller’s Betsy Rothstein suggests Aristegui did.

Exhibit B: CNN’s Donald Trump Valentine Card generator

Exhibit C: CNN’s Twitter account linking to a video basically mocking Trump’s various gestures. What does CNN think it is? Mediaite?

Of the three, the Hitler allusion is the worst but it’s also the one that is the least germane because Aristegui doesn’t work for CNN US and because the clip is from last November. If it had been any CNN US anchor that did it there would be headlines blazing.

But the other two happened this week and both are in poor taste. Worse, they help make Trump’s case that CNN is the enemy and is fake news.

We are in the middle of a war here. The war is going to decide what happens to the Fourth Estate. What makes this war difficult to fight, particularly with this occupier of the White House and his fast and loose handling of basic facts that make Clintonian speech look positively antiquated, is that this is not really a substantive fight.

If this were a substantive fight, it would have been over already and a course correction would be ordered by Trump to turn what up until now has been the worst rollout of a Presidency in generations with all the screw ups, horrible PR, self-inflicted wounds, roaming far and wide off the reservation, and…yes I’ll say it…lying.

But this isn’t a substantive fight. It’s an optical fight and the rules are different.

The substance doesn’t matter. Reagan had the Teflon presidency. Nothing stuck to him. That’s not happening with Trump (so far). The stuff is sticking hard and his poll numbers show it. It just doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter because Trump is a master of distraction and has been able to optically fight this even while substantively taking on loads of baggage. He just plays at his base and other fellow travelers by bringing up Conservative stereotypes. Trump yells, “fake news” and even those who look sideways at how his administration has handled things so far will nod knowingly because they either feel aggrieved or have felt aggrieved at one point or another.

This gets into that quicksand that is Media Bias and bubbles and I know better than to go there because it’s too subjective and its a sideshow that will suck all the air out of this discussion. The point is, regardless of the merits, when Trump yells “fake news”, it resonates because some people are looking for those optics.

When you’re in an optical war as the Fourth Estate currently is, anything, no matter how small, can be used against you. You have to be as vigilant as possible to guard against anything that could be either construed or mis-construed as fitting in with the “fake news” narrative.

That’s a tall order for the Fourth Estate because journalism by its very nature is an evolving process. An overwhelming majority of the stories that are currently being used to bolster the “fake news” claim would, in years past, have been viewed as the basic pitfalls of journalism and taken in stride. Those that didn’t would wind up being litigated in court.

But that was then. This is now. And now everyone is wound up so tight on fake news that anything that results in a correction is tagged as “fake”. Flawed headline? Fake news. Wrong date or time? Fake news. Wrong person mentioned? Fake news. Wrong location mentioned? Fake news.

We used to have dividing lines for this stuff. We had categories of journalism where errors and mistakes were dumped in one low crime category and out and out made up stories were dumped into the serious journalistic crimes category (which usually resulted in the perpetrator being fired.)

Those rules are currently inoperative. If there’s one mistake, regardless of the severity…someone somewhere yells “Fake news!”

Those are the optics the Fourth Estate must contend with. It’s easy to throw punches when you set the bar that low. And it makes it harder for journalism to defend itself. But if it’s going to defend itself, it should do so without one hand deliberately tied behind its back.

That’s why CNN making a Trump Valentine generator and linking to someone’s creative critique of Trump’s gestures is so self-defeating in the war over “fake news”. CNN might as well put a banner up on its website and on its Twitter masthead saying, “Yup, we’re the enemy and we’re fake news”.

Journalism can’t eliminate run of the mill mistakes. Those happen all the time. Always have and always will. But journalism, currently locked in a knock down drag out optical fight over “fake news”, can ill afford to hand its critics substance to their optics on a silver platter.

This week, CNN did just that.

Carol Costello Interview…

Posted in HLN on February 6, 2017 by icn2

The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Rodney Ho interviews Carol Costello about her upcoming HLN show and other things…

For now, she said she has to focus on hiring a staff of writers and producers and do it quickly. She said the Los Angeles bureau is growing. Her former CNN colleague Michaela Pereira is already out there, airing a show that airs daily from 11 to 1 p.m. EST.

When I mentioned how HLN seemed to change strategy multiple times in recent years including an ill-fated effort to focus on Millennials, she admitted it was painful to watch at times. But she feels they have the right people in place and are “serious about winning. I do a very successful show now. I would not have gone to another network even in the family if I didn’t want to win.”

She notes that HLN – in a way that touches upon its Headline News roots – “whips through stuff. We won’t waste your time, at least on my show. We won’t carry hearings. We’ll monitor them.”

She hopes to have more “real” voices, fewer analysts and commentators.

I like where Costello’s head is…less analysts and commentators. Not so sure how well that will go down in New York though…since it will (accurately) be interpreted as a criticism of the way CNN, and by extension Jeff Zucker, does things.

Someone Screwed Themselves in the Tamron Hall/NBC Breakup. But who?

Posted in MSNBC on February 2, 2017 by icn2

Nothing about Tamron Hall leaving NBC makes any sense for either side in this drama. Usually when there’s a breakup there’s a winner and a loser. But in this case there are no winners. There are only losers.

For NBC, losing Hall is not just optically bad, it is substantively bad. It would not be an understatement to argue that NBC had invested a lot in her. It elevated her profile across multiple platforms.

Hall’s duties included the following…

– Today’s Take
– Anchoring MSNBC’s 11am hour
– Subbing on Today
– Subbing on NBC Nightly News
– Hosting Dateline Crime on I.D.
– Hosting Dateline Extra on MSNBC
– Hosting the Westminster Dog Show TV coverage on NBCU’s networks

Hall was NBC’s highest profile female African American talent and NBC made extensive use of her. It was in NBC’s interest to keep her with the network given all the investment the network had made in broadening her profile across NBCU. Losing her would open up the network to all kinds diversity based criticisms. The downside far outweighed the upside if NBC let her walk and the network had to have known this.

For Hall, walking away from NBC was an extremely risky maneuver for one simple reason. The likelihood that she could land elsewhere with anywhere close to the same profile and salary she would have gotten by staying at NBC were very low. It’s not a question of “is she worth it?”. It’s a question of “where’s the space and need available at any other network to make it happen?”

Do not underestimate the significance of this question. Consider:

– At ABC, GMA is full. Yes, it’s not killing Today like it was a couple of years ago but the network just reloaded on talent and format changes so it was unlikely to blow that up at this stage. The rest of ABC’s news properties are pretty well set for the long term. There isn’t much need for Hall at ABC.

– At CBS, the same story. Gayle King just re-upped on CBS This Morning and given that show’s upward trajectory there would be little motivation to upset that apple cart. Oprah just signed on with 60 Minutes. While there have been rumors of changes coming on the CBS Evening News, it would be extremely unlikely that CBS, having been burned rotten by the Katie Couric experiment, would take a flier on her. There isn’t much need for Hall at CBS.

– CNN is a little more interesting but equally unlikely. In the immediate aftermath of Carol Costello’s exit to HLN, I could have seen Hall slip in to that slot. But that ship is long gone from port now and to bring Hall in to the network at this point, while not impossible, is certainly less likely than it would have been prior to CNN’s rejiggered dayside lineup announcement.

There are still potential spots in CNN’s dayside to plug Hall into. Inside Politics and Wolf Blitzer’s first hour would be the most obvious shifts. But that means Blitzer and/or King would be displaced. Blitzer still has The Situation Room and he’s been made to give up time on that show in the past. But it would mean the second time King would lose his show and that would be a bitter pill to swallow indeed.

More to the point, there is nothing CNN could offer Hall that would match what she was currently enjoying with NBC. NBC had her all over the place. At CNN, she would be just another face in a very large crowd. To elevate her profile beyond that would put too many network veterans’ noses out of joint.

– FNC? News anchors are not the draw there…they’re interchangeable cogs. It’s the opinion people who rule the roost. Even if the network had the desire or the room to accommodate Hall, both of which I would find highly implausible, the top dog at FNC’s news is Shepard Smith and his profile has shrunk from what it was six years ago. Hall would be taking a considerable profile hit, compared to what she enjoyed at NBC, if she came to FNC.

From my vantage point Hall’s best option was to remain at NBC.

This is what makes what happened yesterday so unfathomable. It was in both parties’ interest for Hall to stay with NBC. That it didn’t happen suggests someone screwed themselves somehow.

But the question of who sabotaged any prospective deal remains a mystery. There’s been some (NBC based) leakage in the press; no doubt to put a favorable spin and try to mitigate any Ann Curry like fallout from taking place…with Megyn Kelly undeservedly playing the role of Matt Lauer. The gist of the leaks was NBC was willing to throw a lot of money Hall’s way and expand her profile on Today to compensate for Today’s Take going away.

The leaks don’t flat out say it but the impression that’s left hanging in the air is that Hall’s camp screwed this up somehow. There’s been nothing so far from Hall’s camp to refute this but I would not automatically assume that lack of response means there’s truth to the charge. They could just be taking the high road knowing that they need to find someplace new now and any public spat would be counterproductive to that end goal.

The last thing Megyn Kelly needed was more pressure. Well now she’s got more pressure. It’s not fair to view it this way but a lot of people are going to be view it this way:

Megyn Kelly pushed Tamron Hall out of NBC.

In my opinion, to make that claim is stupid. Megyn Kelly had nothing to do with Hall and NBC separating. NBC hired Kelly not knowing where she would go, though the smart money immediately moved to the 9 or 10 am hours. Let’s be clear here; NBC is the reason Today’s Take got cancelled, not Tamron Hall and not Megyn Kelly. If NBC didn’t view Today’s Take as weak it wouldn’t have pushed Willie Geist and Natalie Morales out and Billy Bush in. If NBC didn’t view Today’s Take as weak it wouldn’t have reversed itself and thrown Bush under the bus after the Trump video came out. If NBC didn’t view Today’s Take as weak it wouldn’t have considered it as the more expendable of the two shows after Today (the other being the Hoda Kotb/Kathie Lee hour) if the network wanted to find a place for Kelly’s show. Kelly had nothing to do with any of this.

A does not beget B. Megyn Kelly’s arrival does not mean Tamron Hall’s departure. Whatever broke down in the negotiations between Hall and NBC caused Hall’s departure. It was a departure that nobody should have wanted. Both sides lost.

Tamron Hall Exits (MS)NBC

Posted in MSNBC on February 1, 2017 by icn2

CNN’s Brian Stelter writes about Tamron Hall’s abrupt departure…something everyone would have found impossible to contemplate a month ago.

Tamron Hall, a regular host on NBC’s “Today” show and MSNBC, is leaving the network later this month.

Her departure was announced on Wednesday after days of contentious contract negotiations.

Hall had been the co-host of the 9 a.m. hour of the “Today” show and a daytime anchor on MSNBC. Last week executives informed Hall and the “Today” staff that the 9 a.m. hour was being canceled to make room for a new program led by former Fox News host Megyn Kelly.

Hall won’t have a chance to say goodbye on the air. “Yesterday was her last day as an anchor on both networks,” NBC said in a statement. “Tamron is an exceptional journalist, we valued and enjoyed her work at ‘Today’ and MSNBC and hoped that she would decide to stay. We are disappointed that she has chosen to leave, but we wish her all the best.”

Too bad this happened today and not last week. Then Hall might have immediately wound up over at CNN’s dayside operation (provided no non-compete was at play). But with CNN’s roster now set for the moment, Hall would be frozen out. Of course Jeff Zucker could just as easily blow that up to make room for Hall if he wanted her bad enough.

I really don’t see where Hall would land at this point. GMA has too many people. Gayle King just signed a big extension for CBS This Morning. What’s left?

CNN Announces New Post-Costello Lineup…

Posted in CNN on January 31, 2017 by icn2

CNN announced its new lineup after Carol Costello’s departure to HLN and it’s bigger than we surmised…

CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker announced today CNN’s new dayside lineup effective February 6th. John Berman and Poppy Harlow will co-anchor CNN Newsroom from 9-11:00am, replacing Carol Costello who moved to HLN. Berman co-anchored Early Start for the past five years and At This Hour since 2015 and Harlow has been a CNN weekend anchor since 2015. CNN’s Kate Bolduan will now be the sole anchor of At This Hour at 11:00am.

Dave Briggs will join CNN in February as co-anchor of Early Start alongside Christine Romans. Briggs was the co-anchor of Weekend Fox & Friends for five years, most recently co-hosted a program on the NBC Sports Network and was also a CNBC contributor.

4:00-6:00am: Early Start with Christine Romans and Dave Briggs
(beginning February 23rd)

6:00-9:00am: New Day with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota

9:00-11:00am: CNN Newsroom with John Berman and Poppy Harlow

11:00am-Noon: At This Hour with Kate Bolduan

The remainder of CNN’s dayside schedule will stay as is:

Noon-1:00pm: Inside Politics with John King

1:00-2:00pm: Wolf with Wolf Blitzer

2:00-4:00pm: Newsroom with Brooke Baldwin

4:00-5:00pm: The Lead with Jake Tapper

5:00-7:00pm: The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer

Moving Berman off early mornings was long overdue. A bit more surprising was having Kate Bolduan solo but not totally far fetched.

The only question left unanswered is who will get Poppy Harlow’s weekend slot?

CNBC is in Trouble…

Posted in CNBC, FBN on January 30, 2017 by icn2

The Wrap’s Brian Flood has a story which is baaaaad news for CNBC…

Fox Business is finally in a position to surpass CNBC as the go-to network for breaking business news.

The network soared above its arch rival in total viewers every hour of the day from 9 a.m. through 8 p.m. when the Dow Jones reached a record high of 20,000 points last Wednesday.

Fox Business averaged 253,000 business day viewers when CNBC averaged only 178,000. Among the key news demo of adults age 25-54, FBN also averaged 41,000, versus 26,000 for CNBC.

(snip)

Fox Business is on pace to close January with the fourth consecutive monthly win in business day in total viewers. Business day is essentially primetime for CNBC and Fox Business, as both networks focus the stock market and financial programming.

CNBC is expected to pick up a monthly win among the key demo, but Fox Business’ four straight total-viewer victories has never happened in the nine-year history of the network.

Though Flood’s opening sentence is dubious at best – ratings success is a separate issue from the one of who is outscooping whom – there’s enough bad news here that Comcast is going to have to take a keener interest in the goings on at Englewood Cliffs.

NBC Universal pulled CNBC out of Nielsen ratings over out of home sampling issues so they can stall for a bit on responding publicly to the fact that FBN may now be a serious threat to the network’s perceived dominance (though I remain somewhat skeptical when FBN does head scratching things like not offering west coast repeats for new episodes of its most successful taped show Strange Inheritance).

Ultimately, however, the fact that FBN is now pulling in big enough numbers to put CNBC into second place in P2+ means the network has a very large PR stick it can swing around and score real blows against its New Jersey based competitor. Out of Nielsen or not, that is something that the folks who run CNBC can’t ignore for long because nobody else is ignoring it. CNBC is in trouble and if things keep going like this much longer, heads are going to start rolling.

Carol Costello Moves From CNN to HLN…

Posted in CNN, HLN on January 30, 2017 by icn2

Ever since I discovered last year that Carol Costello’s husband had to move to the west coast for work, I have been waiting for the other shoe to drop and today it dropped. Costello announced on the air that she would be leaving CNN U.S. for a anchor role for a HLN show originating out of L.A.

“I have lived apart from my husband for many years,” Costello said at the end of her show today, “but he was always close by because he also lived on the east coast. But last year my husband snagged a fantastic job in Los Angeles, and I kind of miss him,” she said.”

Say no more. But there is a price to pay…

Costello goes from a network with incredible stability to one which has now eclipsed MSNBC circa 1998-2003 as the network with most glaring reboots since it blew up the CNN Headline News format. The only person there who is golden is Robin Meade. Everyone else isn’t safe…and you can add Costello to that list.

Jeff Zucker issued a statement on this news and said a few nice things about the 15 year veteran…

As many of you may have just heard, Carol Costello announced that her last day on Newsroom will be this Friday. While we’ll miss her unmistakable reporting, calming presence on the air, big smile and even bigger laugh on CNN, I’m happy to say she isn’t going far — she’ll be staying in the family and joining HLN in Los Angeles.

During her more than 15 years with us, Carol has been at the forefront of some of the world’s most significant news stories, including the Boston bombing, Pope Francis’ historic visit and our coverage of the Iraq war. She is all heart and grace, and the epitome of a seasoned journalist, making her the perfect fit to join HLN’s powerful bench of anchors.

Carol’s decision to leave CNN was a personal one. After many years balancing a long-distance marriage with her demanding career, she is cashing in her miles and permanently relocating to the west coast. Ken Jautz will be sharing more details about her new LA-based show in the coming weeks.

It’s with infinite gratitude that I thank Carol for being a friend to me, and an influential voice that has helped grow CNN and contribute to our success.

Please join Ken and me in congratulating Carol on this great new role.

Costello’s departure leaves a hole for which there is no clear unambiguous front runner to take over. I could think of half a dozen people who could get it…and still miss the actual choice. It’s pretty wide open.