You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who's been screwed as thoroughly and with as much sheer audacity by CNN over the past few years as Miles O'Brien.
Yesterday it was announced that after 16 years with the network, Miles is being given the chance to "pursue other opportunities" along with six producers in a move that effectively dissolves CNN's Science and Technology unit.
For Miles, it marks a somewhat anemic end to an impressive tenure at CNN -- sort of like putting down a former champion horse that you yourself are responsible for running into the ground. Miles was once the proud owner of a very nice, largely secure gig as the co-anchor of a daytime show based out of Atlanta alongside Kyra Phillips. But that was before mercurial CNN President Jon Klein decided to inexplicably pull the affable Bill Hemmer off the anchor desk on American Morning and "experiment" with the team of O'Brien (Miles) and O'Brien (Soledad).
The experiment, apparently, wasn't a success. Less than two years later, Klein had another one of his arbitrary "Eureka!" moments, spun the Wheel-of-Anchors and replaced both Miles and Soledad with the current team of John Roberts and Kiran Chetry.
Miles returned not to the anchor desk in Atlanta, but to reporting duties and the occasional fill-in host slot. (He anchored The Situation Room as recently as last Wednesday, during the Mumbai terrorist attacks.)
In other words, Jon Klein offered Miles O'Brien a major promotion -- the chance to helm a flagship show in New York -- if he'd leave behind his stable situation in Atlanta; he uprooted Miles and disrupted the lives of his family only to then turn around 22 months later and say that it just wasn't working out.
That's not "strictly business" -- the nature of the beast.
That's fucking sociopathic.
It's an unwillingness to accept or a complete disregard for the fact that you're capriciously toying with people's lives.
What makes these lay-offs particularly conspicuous, though -- maybe even reprehensible -- is that they come less than two weeks after an article in the New York Observer detailing CNN's lavish spending during its election coverage: the celeb-studded parties, the new show launches, the pricey A-list pundits and, of course, that stupid pretend "hologram." In the piece, Jon Klein boasted to writer Felix Gillette:
"We can afford more people on our air and off our air. So, goddamn it, we’re going to have more people."
Except that, obviously, they can't -- and they're not.
Which makes him entirely full of crap.
Although it's almost superhumanly ironic that Klein is willing to pay for the silly technology but not for the technology unit, it shouldn't really surprise anyone at this point. He's proven time and time again where his priorities lie -- and they're nowhere near the maintenance of true journalistic excellence. It would be amusing if it weren't so sad that Klein's pride in the ability to create a phony, "holographic" image of a human being now serves as a kind of metaphor for his entire way of thinking. He's become the George Lucas of the TV news universe: tinkering like a mad scientist to create a soulless, graphically enhanced feast for the eyes -- minus the actual people required to breathe life into it -- just because he can.
I'm not worried about Miles O'Brien; he's smart and talented and he'll likely find new work quickly -- even in this economy. After all he's been through over the past few years, he may even see this as a godsend.
What concerns me is the future of the rest of the excellent and now unemployed tech staff -- people like Peter Dykstra, who's been with CNN pretty much since the dawn of time. Or Alex Walker, who typically does most of the work while receiving none of the glory.
These are the ones who will really suffer.
Well, they, and you -- the audience.
But hey, at least you'll still have the pretty holograms.
DXM: First Class All the Way/11.19.08
(Also make sure to check out Jacki Schechner's take on this here.)