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.