Monday, February 25, 2008

How to Lose a Job in 13 Days?

It was the last thing I expected to wake up to, and I'm still not entirely sure how to react.

This morning, CNN U.S. President Jon Klein announced that Ed Litvak -- Executive Producer of American Morning, my former supervisor, the man who fired me two weeks ago -- is resigning. He's leaving both the show and the network under circumstances which, even to the least cynical, would seem slightly suspect. The early inside line is that he's ready to do something that doesn't involve waking up at two in the morning, and Klein's official eulogy does little more than pump the requisite amount of platitudinal sunshine up the ass of the dearly departing without really shedding any light on why Ed is out.

You'd be a fool though not to take the timing, given recent events, into account.

Last week, I wrote a column that not only described in detail my final conversations with Ed Litvak as a CNN employee -- his decision to summarily terminate my employment as a producer, supposedly for maintaining a blog on my own time -- but also excoriated the management of American Morning and CNN in general. I did this because I believed at the time, and still do, that the once-venerated reputation of CNN -- to say nothing of its counterparts in TV news -- has been insouciantly stripped away through one dubious decision after another. I came to CNN four years ago because it was, in my mind, the gold standard of television news; I left believing something else entirely, and how I left has no bearing whatsoever on the issues confronting the network at the moment.

In the week since first publishing my article online, it's made the rounds to dozens of news outlets: I've been interviewed by NPR, Sirius Radio, The New York Times, The New York Observer and The Miami Herald; the story itself has appeared in The Huffington Post, The New York Daily News and on various websites around the world. A lot of people suddenly know Ed Litvak's name, and among those who have an opinion one way or the other, its connotation may not be a positive one.

I wasn't sure how I felt about such a possibility to begin with; now that Ed is being forced out of CNN, it really leaves a lot for me to ponder. And make no mistake, Ed is being forced out. He was appointed EP of American Morning in August of 2006, which means that he likely signed a two year contract at the very least. It's only February of 2008 -- that's damn early to tell someone under contract that he or she won't be renewed.

Although Ed's no doubt walking away with the severance that I was flatly denied -- he'll get what was left on his initial deal if nothing else -- I can certainly empathize: he got screwed by CNN. The irony would be delicious if the whole situation weren't so unfortunate for all involved. The last thing I'm going to do right now is gloat or gravedance, regardless of whether Ed Litvak was wholly to blame for the decision to fire me.

The question is simple though: Was this a case of post hoc ergo propter hoc? Did what happened to me two weeks ago -- the firing itself or the publicity that followed -- have anything at all to do with Ed's own "resignation?"

There are a few possibilities:

The most vocal of my supporters throughout this miasma would probably like to believe that the CNN big shots never authorized firing me and are now making Ed pay dearly for getting rid of an irreplacable doll like myself; needless to say, this is wrong on all counts (although that kind of thinking is certainly appreciated). Ed may have been the one to swing the axe but the execution order was likely a committee ruling that involved at least a manager or two somewhere above his pay grade. Is it possible that a decision was made to fire me and Ed made the "mistake" of not handling it better -- in other words, not offering me something that might presumably encourage me to keep my big mouth shut? Could be. An offer of money in return for the signing of a non-disclosure agreement -- considering that I was a blogger with a relatively large audience, even at the time -- would've been a wise move (though one I honestly can't say I'd have agreed to). It's a fact that my dismissal and subsequent decision to speak my mind about it and what I believe are the problems with American Morning brought scandal to the show and the network, whether you agree with my assessment or not. It cast Ed Litvak and the rest of the show's management team in a bad light and drew negative publicity to a show that's fighting for every rating point it can get. In other words, my comments -- however ineffectual in the big picture -- came at a time when AM really didn't need them. If that's the case, was Ed nothing more than a scapegoat? Did upper-management punish him for not knowing that I'd spent the past year-and-a-half writing outside of CNN in the first place -- for being ignorant of what the people right under his nose were up to?

Back to those ratings though, because they could be the key -- since they typically are. It's true that AM's numbers are less-than-stellar, despite the hard work of a lot of talented rank-and-file people behind the scenes. Maybe Ed's time was simply up; he'd given it his best shot and hadn't fully delivered, so Klein wrote up some glowing prose about all his efforts and sent him on his way. If that's true, then the timing of this morning's announcement is nothing more than a hell of a coincidence, albeit one that once again proves CNN management apparently has its head firmly in its ass, since people now can't help but ask if Ed Litvak's ouster has any connection to mine. If this is indeed a Klein mandate, you'd think he would've at least waited a few more weeks; doing this now looks bad for Ed and for CNN. Then again, Klein is the same guy who canceled Crossfire because Jon Stewart said it was a ridiculous show. (He was right by the way.) Did my calling attention to the problems on the show force Klein to take a closer look at what was going on there? If so, that would seem to vindicate me, as Ed's firing proves my claim that the show is a mess.

Many of the American Morning staff believed for some time that Ed was on his way out; maybe the fallout from my dismissal was the final nail in his coffin -- what drove him into "early retirement."

Or maybe not.

Like I said, we'll probably never know.

My only hope is that Ed Litvak's departure from American Morning will somehow be good for the show, although I'm inclined to think that until someone puts an arm around Jon Klein, writes something nice about him, then pushes him out the door, nothing's going to change. It'll just be more of the same nonsense.

Whoever replaces Ed Litvak though, I wish him or her the best.

You've got a great staff and a great pedigree -- now go make us all proud.


jason said...

Really. Just incredible.

You're right though, if it had anything to do with you theyll never admit it.

Anonymous said...

Klein is an admitted micro-manager, something he thinks he needs to be proud of, he's hated by everyone who ever worked with him and he's been called a world class agitator. Do you honestly think there is anything that goes on within CNN or with any of the staff that he doesn't have full knowledge of? They have spies watching people they dislike so they can get rid of them, they have spies watching you blog after work, so they must have spies watching the ones that Klein adores (although Klein likes to twist it around and call it "protection" but really they just report back to Klein as spies). They interfered in your private life Chez, so they must interfere in the private lives of the ones he loves. They have spies reading the email and responding to it for staff, they have people who lie about and for staff, so they must have people who lie to staff.

This isn't about you Chez or your blog, it's about Klein and the power he has ordained himself with. You need to knock down his house of cards. You can reveal that the most insane is running the asylum. You and other fired CNNers can bring it down.

Anonymous said...

@Anon.6:27PM; I totally agree with you! Jon Klein may have raised the ratings of CNN, but he has turned it into a cartoon version of a cable news channel. It has lost all credibility.

He is more interested in looks than quality. Look at all the bells and whistles he has added to the CNN sets. I guess it is meant to try to distract viewers from the fact that there is little or no substance to the reporting. As much as I like Anderson Cooper, I think he is highly overrated and is there more for his good looks than anything else and the same goes for Kiran Chetry and some recently added bimbo reporters.

Hopefully, sooner or later CNN will find out that all the bells and whistles and good looks in the world cannot make up for quality and substance.

slouchmonkey said...

I think Klein recently switched to Sanka.

Anonymous said...

Truth be told... American Morning isn't in shambles simply because of Ed Litvak or Jon Klein, or even the talent. The people that work on that show are not the most brilliant or talented. Many of them don't care how CNN or even news operates, they're struggling to be noticed. Chez you may have found another way. But I would beg to differ on the talent of that staff. And if the interim EP is any indication, they don't know what has been keeping the 8pm show down for so long either.

Ironically, I agree with what you have to say about the state of the news. Wholeheartedly... even though I still work in the Temple of Doom. I'm not trying to personally attack you, I find that your talents seem to lie in your blogging ability, big time. But I daresay that ignorance is no excuse to the law. Therefore, bloggers be damned. You had it coming... but you're better off, so consider yourself lucky.

Anonymous said...

@7:28 Where is this law about blogging or what you do on your private time away from work written?

You yourself called it "The Temple of Doom" that says volumes about how you feel working there. I have a feeling you're no Indiana Jones. Was that the movie with Hitler in it? So Hitler would be.....hmmmmm.

Jon Klein has what's coming to him also and I just hope I can watch it all unfold and enjoy his downfall. He is evil.

Anonymous said...

Never said I was Indiana Jones, but it seems the people above never seem to know exactly what's going on. Which is why some people might have told him he was EP material. I'm on the technical side, which makes the paycheck, which is why most of us stay, a little easier to swallow. But it doesn't mean we don't know about editorial input. It is hard, as you can imagine, to watch such internal struggles on a daily basis. Thus the temple of doom. And the rules are simple, no outside work, of any kind. There are plenty of people who work on other things... with permission. Maybe some who don't have permission. And I assure you that their time will come as well.

Anonymous said...

And yes, Jon Klein is evil.

Anonymous said...

Truth be told, I don't think anyone ever really believes what anyone reports on the news. The truth is always left out and they only tell you what will sell their shows. If you do believe, it's time for your wakeup call.

I think Chez may be right. We may never know why they are forcing him out now, so close to Chez's dismissal. It's all just a little to suspicous.
I also agree that Chez is proving his talent by blogging and much better off.

I guess we just have to wait for all of this to unfolds.

Just keep doing the interview Chez, you are the news now. Something good will come out of it for you. If it already hasn't.

cajun man said...


Atlanta Guy said...

Let's face it: Kiran and John suck. There's no chemistry and Ed's done nothing to make the show watchable.

Whether or not you were a factor, the show blows and when that happens, the showrunner must go.

Anonymous said...

quote-"Where is this law about blogging or what you do on your private time away from work written?"

My guess is, Chez's personal blog wasn't the least not a fireable offense. However, bloggin for HuffPo was probably a different matter.

If you can't understand why a news organization would have a problem with one of it's employees providing content (with or without compensation?) to a media outlet that clearly has a political bias (HuffPo), then you are lost.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't CNN have people from HuffPo on their own shows from time to time? So this is different because?

Liz M said...

Interesting, though, that they never mentioned HuffPo and specifically referenced his PERSONAL blog. Since he was fired for the content of his personal blog (so said the HR manager), I'm not sure all of the comments about HuffPo are relevant.

Whether you believe writing for HuffPo violated the vague policy that was never provided to Chez, you should recall that HuffPo was never mentioned as a contributing factor towards his termination.

I have to agree with Chez that the timing here is unfortunate for CNN. Perhaps their PR director should be fired for not positioning this better.

Hope all of you CNN employees commenting on this blog are not doing so from work! I'm sure the spies at CNN can track your internet activity.

Grayson: Atlanta, GA said...

Dude, you are cracking me up! I love how you just by-pass all the little people and go straight to the top. I wish you could have witnessed some of the poo-bahs from MSM at the recent Computation + Jourmalism symposium here in the ATL last weekend. I am still crackin' on the title of one lady the AJC trotted out who likely had never read a blog much less sent a Tweet somewhere... "Director of Culture and Change." Like in change as being menapausal I came to realize. I then went on to compare her bulky title to the corporate equivilant of a maxi-pad, vs. a tampon.

This aging news hierarchy, found virtually all over MSM, is making themselves utterly retarded with bureaucracy.

You keep up the good work, hon. I hear tons of lovely tidbits here in the ATL regarding your former work shoppe. Be sure to read Mostly Media to find 'em.

Riles said...

CNN comments aside, I think it sucks when the very people making decisions and altering people's lives "leave" the company like this. As Chez says, the order to fire him probably didn't start and end with Litvak, but I'm sure he had a big part in it. So, if the firing maybe had to wait for a couple weeks, and Litvak resigned in the meantime, Chez could still possibly have a job.

I work for a large company that frequently changes policy and personnel. It's very frustrating to see an exec high up the ladder intiate a large-scale change, and then leave or get pushed out within a couple weeks. It leaves hundreds of others dealing with the dust they left behind.

Anonymous said...

I just want to commend you for your professionalism and integrity with this blog post. You're taking the high road Chez, and it's a beautiful thing. Anyone can get all angry and slam CNN, Klein, Litvak, etc. but I really admire you for sympathizing with Litvak and for wishing his replacement good luck.

You got class man!

Aaron X said...

It's funny, I've been watching CNN for decades, and I never heard of American Morning until now, go figure. I'm sure I've probably seen it, I just never noticed the title of the show, and I'm not much of a morning person.

Chez, by the way I was wondering if he ever ran into the former CNN Headline News anchor Jackie Reed. I know she was before your time at the network, but I thought since you probably move in the same circles you might have run into her.

She's one of the few anchor persons who ever caught my attention at CNN or anywhere else for that matter, not only because she was a cute girl/woman, but she was the snappiest dresser I've ever seen on any news show. I'm not even into fashion, but I used to watch CNN just so I could see the funky fresh hip-hop inspired outfits she used to sport on every show. Fantastic colors and styles, she was by far the best dressed anchorwoman I've ever seen anywhere. Jackie was also pretty damn good at her job as well. She got a gig over at BET, after she left CNN, anchoring the news there until it was discontinued, but her outfits were very drab and toned down over at that network, and the news was also poorly produced, I was very disappointed.

If CNN wants to get their ratings up, I suggest they hire Sister-girl back, because this is one male who used to surf over to CNN every chance I got during her time slot. I loves me some Jackie Reed, Sistah' had it going on fo' sho'.

Anonymous said...

grayson, DUDE, are you suffering from ED? because, as a freakin' woman, i always attribute men who leave menopausal commentary as gender slants to impotency of all sorts, career and bedroom-wise. get a freaking life, moron.

The last cool writer said...

Post hoc ergo propter hoc is a fallacy.
Try Ockham's Razor: Ratings suck therefore the guy in charge got fired.
Rick Davis had you fired, Ed had nothing to do with it.