Friday, September 24, 2010

End of an Error


Now that Jon Klein's finally been beamed out of CNN via hologram, let's take a quick look back at just a couple of his greatest hits. Jon, we'll miss you. Journalistic integrity, on the other hand, won't.

"Miles To Go" (Originally Published, 12.4.08)

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.

"First Class All the Way" (Originally Published, 11.19.08)

"We can afford more people on our air and off our air. So, goddamn it, we’re going to have more people."

-- CNN US President Jon Klein


There's an article in the latest edition of the New York Observer that's really worth taking a look at.

It deals with CNN -- specifically the "Nothing Succeeds Like Excess" mentality the network adopted with respect to its election coverage and the amount of money it had to spend to make it a reality.

Observer columnist Felix Gillette (who, in the interest of full disclosure, wrote a profile on me back in February of this year) chronicles the inordinate number of sponsored debates, the celeb-graced parties, the mobile control rooms, the expensive A-list pundits, the SkyCams, the real-time focus group meters, the risky new show launches and, of course, the pretend holograms -- all of which cost CNN a small fortune.

Gillette talked to network president Jon Klein, who I have no doubt was doing his best used-car-salesman-on-crank routine at the time. Gillette writes:

"'When you have the wind at your back in the form of a very profitable streak, then you’ve got the wherewithal to try things, to embrace innovation, to not cringe,' Mr. Klein told The Observer on Monday morning.

If it had taken place, say, 20 years ago, the spectacle of CNN’s 2008 shopping spree might have blended into the cacophonous jangle of a city awash in media companies awash in cash. But these days, everywhere you turn, the once reliable bon vivant institutions of New York journalism look tired, anxious and ready for bed. ABC News recently relegated its executives to 'B-level' hotels. This year, for the first time since the dawn of the printed word, Condé Nast is forgoing its holiday party at the Four Seasons. Cash bars are in.

All of which makes CNN’s current swagger, from its battery of technology to its cornucopia of talking heads, seem that much more freakish—the aberrance of opulence in the leanest of times."


What's interesting about all this though -- about Klein's bravado in the face of harsh economic times -- is what's not in article.

Last week I got an e-mail from a close friend of mine, one of my former co-workers at CNN, informing me that he was among a group of CNN employees who'd just been laid off -- reportedly, eight people on the American Morning staff. The official word is that the layoffs are the result of restructuring and not a product of budget cuts -- but that's tough not to question when standard operating procedure at CNN is to find new positions within the company for employees to move to should their old ones become obsolete.

A new baby boy, a treacherous job market, the holiday season looming, and now this: out of a job. It's not as if my former co-worker fell into the bottom performance percentile among his peers at CNN, either. On the contrary, he was quite good at what he did. Still, he now joins the growing list of people cut loose from jobs in the media over the past couple of months. Almost a dozen personal friends of mine have been let go from one media position or another and are now looking for work.

Meanwhile Jon Klein's throwing parties and tossing around money like he's Diddy.

In this unsettling economic climate, somebody will have to either pay outright for CNN's magical regenerating checkbook or simply hedge the network's bet. Either way, it obviously won't be Klein.

As we all know by now, it's rarely the people at the top who suffer.

The New York Observer: "The Corpulent News Network" by Felix Gillette/11.18.08

(Incidentally, when you click the link to read the article, make sure to check the address bar at the top of the screen. No idea whether that was an accident, the working title of the piece, or just a really subversive little joke -- regardless it's hilarious.)

It's worth mentioning that even though Klein is out, his replacement, at least temporarily, is Ken Jautz. He's the current chief of HLN, the network which, while entertaining overall, has given us such blights on the landscape of cable television as Showbiz Tonight and -- wait for it -- Nancy Grace. In other words, who knows -- the worst may be yet to come.

1 comment:

CNNfan said...

There is no two ways about it.
Losing your job sucks. Gloating about someone else losing their job sucks even more.