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…

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42 Responses to “In Depth: The CNN – John Roberts Debacle…”

  1. I wouldn’t mind knowing how much more coin FNC threw JR’s way..

    Plus, do we know in fact it was JR’s “choice” for the move? Sure his girlfriend/wife is pregnant and it makes logical sense to be in close proximity.

    A couple thoughts:

    1) Weren’t there rumblings about problems on AM?

    2) We know the ratings were crap.

    3) How do we know CNN didn’t boot him off AM and his sourness fueled his pact with FNC?

    I mean it wouldn’t be the first time a network let someone gracefully exit a show without rubbing salt in their wounds. (JR better hope he doesn’t make the PR hacks at FNC mad or he’ll get a reaming!)

  2. Newly minted President Ken Jautz starts 2011 with a self inflicted black eye.

    That says it all right there. Straight right punch directly in the face (when they didn’t see it somehow), with an extra one in the gut for good measure. Fox loves this news, too. They love playing mind games and sucking their cohorts into messing with their competition. They’re basically saying “Na-na-na-na-na-na, what are you going to do now? We got your morning host”.

  3. wheresthebeef09 Says:

    I agree with the overall sentiment of your post, but I think you’re being a bit too dramatic. I don’t think it’s really THAT big of a loss of having John Roberts leave CNN. Granted, it looks bad more from a management perspective (i.e. CNN isn’t able to retain top talent), but from a viewer’s perspective, I don’t think he’ll be particularly missed on CNN. The ratings have spoken, and over the past 6 months, the demo for AM was coming dangerously close to that of Squawk Box. A position in which NO major cable news outlet wants to be in.

    He was good, no doubt, but not a huge loss in the grand scheme of things.

  4. danoregon Says:

    I can only figure Roger Ailes saw an opportunity to make CNN look bad by throwing some extra cash Roberts way. Helps FNC with its journo cred. Good for Roberts. I’ve always seen him as a hard luck case. Heir-apparent to Rather one year off to the cable nets the next.

  5. I mean it wouldn’t be the first time a network let someone gracefully exit a show without rubbing salt in their wounds.

    Graceful exits don’t normally include the one exiting saying he’s sticking around.

    I don’t think it’s really THAT big of a loss of having John Roberts leave CNN.

    It’s not. What makes it a big deal isn’t what happened (Roberts leaving) but how it happened (CNN and Roberts saying he staying only to have Roberts suddenly bolt to FNC after his American Morning farewell where he told the viewers he was sticking around).

    The damage is not substantive. The damage is cosmetic. But cosmetic damage can be very damaging indeed depending on where it strikes. This cosmetic damage strikes at the heart of how CNN counducts itself and is reflected outwards in how the network is viewed. It’s the kind of distraction the network doesn’t need. It would have been far better to have CNN publicly sever ties (not renew) with Roberts and then Roberts jumps to FNC.

  6. Heck, it would have been better for CNN if Roberts had asked to be let out and then negotiated a deal with FNC, ala the way Bill Hemmer left, than to have it go this way.

  7. CNN already had Roberts name off AM, but he’s still on their “anchors” list. Yep, CNN caught with their pants down with a great big surprised expression.

    I thought it interesting that he’s taking a “reporter” job with FNC and not an anchor position. Who knows? Maybe Fox broadcast network will start having its own evening newscast… from Atlanta. Ouch.

  8. Bio page updates are almost never done the same day.

  9. Welcome to oblivion, Roberts. He’s going to be doing fill-in weekend shifts with Juliet Huddy.

  10. “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.”

    ^This sounds like Roberts sandbagged CNN!

    Whether or not CNN screwed up the negotiations; JR obviously knew he wasn’t staying at CNN and when he talked about “how excited he is about new projects and being closer to his bride to be” and that those projects were at FNC not CNN. It’s a pretty classless way to treat an employer who, as far as I can tell, treated him well.

    I don’t see him having any problems adapting to FNC’s well documented policy of telling reporters how to treat stories so as to put Republicans in a good light and paint Democrats & Obama administration as the evil empire. Bill Hemmer, for example, has adapted well to the restrictions on how to refer to policies and programs to please his masters.

    There are lots of people in the CNN stable to replace Roberts without creating much of a fuss but Kyra Phillips may have some interesting times ahead.

  11. “I thought it interesting that he’s taking a “reporter” job with FNC and not an anchor position.”

    The only anchor slots that could go to Roberts are the Bret Baier or Chris Wallace ones and I don’t see either of those two opening up in the near future.

    I’d love to see him on F&F but that’s too much to hope for. 🙂

  12. ‘Welcome to oblivion, Roberts. He’s going to be doing fill-in weekend shifts with Juliet Huddy.’

    He’s going to be senior national correspondent based in Atlanta. I don’t think he’ll be doing many weekend fill-in duties.

    And as for oblivion, when he does his first report on FNC he’ll immediately have more viewers watching than he did when he was grumbling at Kiran.

  13. John Roberts as a fill-in for Bret Bair or Chris Wallace would be fine. If he would do fill-in for any Fox & Friends during the week or the weekend he’d have a smarter woman sitting next to him than he did with Kiran (except for when Ainsley fills in on the weekends – she’s a dolt). Also, if needed he’d be a good fill-in for Shep though I personally like Trace. Overall this is interesting stuff for those of us who watch cable news regularly though as Jeff Greenfield said from a link on another thread we are not that big of a group compared to the folks that watch regular broadcast news.

  14. If all they’re getting out of him is ‘correspondent in Atlanta’, then Roberts got the better end of that deal. Sounds like “semi-retired and still getting paid” to me.

  15. Yes, I do realize “semi-retired” and “still getting paid” are redundant..

  16. harry1420 Says:

    a big loss. not really. seeing how little news fnc does anyway, he’ll be off work most of the time!

  17. missy5537 Says:

    Admittedly, I really don’t know much about John Roberts because I haven’t watched network news since cable news came into existence.

    So all I know about JR is what I’ve read here; that he was on a lowly rated morning news program on CNN. So why is this such a “get”? I could be on a morning show and no one would watch, so FNC could have hired me, for cheap, I might add.

    And since when is Atlanta a major center for news? I know it’s big hub for Delta Airlines, but what big news originates from that area? I agree with Joe that this gig sounds like Roberts will be semi-retired.

  18. ^This sounds like Roberts sandbagged CNN!

    I don’t think so. I think the intent to stay at the time was genuine. The question is what happened in the following 9 days to change that.

  19. Missy, believe it or not, JR is actually a good news man… He just got sidetracked by working on the disaster aka American Morning.

    So, shall I start my watch for how long it takes JR to try and weasel his girlfriend into FNC? Sorry, she gets flustered on breaking news and is basically useless.

  20. I wish him well in his Foxhole, but he’s still the same dull Handsome Anchor he always was. Why does FNC need another Jon Scott?

  21. I’ve thought John Roberts to be on the dull side, myself, but others seem to think he’s pretty good. I’m looking forward to see how he does with this gig.

  22. You know, I read all this stuff about how “dumb” or “liberal” Kiran Chetry is, but my recollection is that she put on a pretty good show and with decent interviews during her time as a weekend or fill-in Fox & Friends host. Maybe the problems with American Morning has been more to do with CNN’s style than about whoever its hosts have been.

  23. I’ve seen AM a few times. Kiran isn’t dumb.

  24. I love how Kiran Chetry is called dumb, but Gretchen Carlson is apparently a full blown genius, or at least not called dumb, as well. If you want to see somebody without a fully functioning brain, it’s Carlson and her beauty pageant ways of thinking and putting together coherent thoughts. She’s just a blond barbie doll sitting on a couch, crossing her legs in a skirt, between two blustering d-bags.

  25. What annoys me about Gretchen is that she’s a well educated woman acting like a ‘blond barbie doll’. She got the Fox memo..

  26. Does she know how to pronounce ‘Issa’?

  27. Does she know how to pronounce ‘Issa’?

    Don’t be coy, Laura..tell the story. I saw it, too. I almost choked.

  28. Suffice it to say that in Julie Banderas’ case, the blank stare is not an anomaly.

  29. Fine..I’ll do it. She asked Greg Jarrett if it was pronounced ‘Eessa’ or ‘Eyessa”. Like she’d never heard of him before. Please.

  30. That’s how dumb she is. If she has EVER watched a debate on the floor of Congress or a committee hearing with Issa involved (which I’m sure she wouldn’t have a second of patience for either one, instead wanting to watch brainless reality show), she would have an idea on how to spell it.

  31. -That’s how dumb she is-

    Is there a “My cable news network is better than your cable news network because its juggies aren’t as dumb as your juggies” contest going on that I’m not aware of? They all keep switching networks. Besides, “dumb” is being the one afraid to ask the question.

  32. Funny thing, people were calling Kiran Chetry dumb, a bimbo, etc for years. And then she went to CNN, and they suddenly stopped. Sort of the opposite of Gretchen Carlson, who only became ‘dumb’ when she left CBS and went to…guess where? And the trashing of John Roberts has already begun because…well, why do you think?

    I mean, this sort of stuff is sooo tranparent.

  33. J$, I realize you’re not just talking to me, but I’ve never liked Roberts, and had never heard of Carlson before FNC. She acts like a talking-point-spewing dolt on F&F.

  34. I wasn’t referring to you at all, Joe. I follow this stuff so I see tons of it.

  35. I follow this stuff so I see tons of it.

    There’s your trouble.

  36. I had remembered seeing Gretchen Carlson on CBS a few times before she joined FNC. Then for the first few months after becoming a host of F&F, she didn’t seem to quite fit in with the light-hearted banter of the show, and there wasn’t much chemistry happening between her and her co-hosts, either. I now think that’s why Alisyn Camerota was added to the weekday show with an expanded role. But Carlson found her groove, the show’s doing very well, and Camerota was sent over to the weekend F&F to fix that catastrophe – which she’s done.

  37. leafbuilder Says:

    Facebook has disabled my account and apparently deleted an unknown number of leafBuilder re-directional links in the process. These links contained re-directional links to leafBuilder’s shopping cart pages. No forewarning was issued along with NO logical reason for disabling the account, but I suspect Facebook has been collaborating with adversaries of mine (whether they knew it or not), and that played a significant role in their recent decision to disable my account. As I see it my adversaries are not happy about the ongoing development of leafBuilder apparel concept, and have been employing numerous ways to suppress the clothing-line. This suppression which has targeted previous business initiatives as well as my recent venture started around 2005-2007, after stating to a Homeland Security law enforcement official (GS-14) that George Bush led us into a war based on false pretense. One official even jokingly referred to me as being a terrorist. Imagine this jerk that probably have never spent a day in the military calling me a terrorist following my statement of Bush’s reckless decision, which by the way robbed our country of valuable resources (life, limb and treasury). Henry Waxman who presided over the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform office was notified of what I thought was ongoing harassment — in which I requested an investigation into certain Homeland Security officials but received no official reply as to the extent his office actually reviewed my complaint. This suppression stems from powerful corrupted elements and individuals I believe to be a part of the CABLE NEWS & MEDIA industry, as well as sources and individuals who are within their circles, possibly including government officials. As for Facebook so long – good luck with whatever corruption reward you. Facebook is not the only platform around, and when your members are made expendable based on “class and citizenry” lies and/or the like, then these type decisions will always come back to haunt you — no matter how much cash you’re immersed in, no matter how powerful the entities or people you work with or for; in the end it’s really about right and wrong so let’s hope you were right. I’d go so far to say that Facebook and my adversaries could not handle my one-man approach to various obstacles and barriers setup for me on Facebook so the easy way out was to get rid of the account. Facebook you can count on people like me to watch your future successes and failures.

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  39. God Lord look at the mess on the morning “news” at CNN now. I’d rather watch the View. I’t just stupid now. Costello seems to be soemwhat legit but Solidad is 100% ignorant and annoying.

  40. John Roberts makes a fine anchor . He has been suing for Chris Wallace and Bret Bair lately. He subbed for Chris Bair for a week and this Sunday morning on Fox network channel , he was subbing for Chris Wallace. I would like to see him get Bret Bair’s place.

  41. I messed up my above post . Need an edit here . I meant to say that John Roberts sat in for Bret Bair for a week that Bair was out. This morning on the local Fox station , he sat in for Chris Wallace. Roberts is a fine anchor and should have got Dan Rather’s job when he left. CBS might be ahead in the ratings had he got it.

    I hope Roger Ailes will find an anchor job for him. I really would not mind that he got Bret Bair’s job.

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