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Tipsheet

Stelter Says People Are 'Not Watching CNN' if They Think Its Biased or Lacks Real Journalism

Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

CNN anchor Brian Stelter claimed Sunday that CNN is comprised of hard news journalists that engage in real journalism and that criticism of the network comes from people watching commentators on other networks.

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He explained twice on Sunday – both on his morning show and in his newsletter – that critics who say CNN is all talking heads and no real journalism do not watch the liberal network and thus, have no real sense of what kind of programming is delivered to its audience.

In mourning the recent resignation of former network president Jeff Zucker during the broadcast of "Reliable Sources," Stelter argued that CNN will "always have flaws" but that those who knock the network for "lacking real journalism" are not watching it and instead consume media slamming the network as purely partisan commentary.

He said that while Zucker's departure was "shocking" to CNN staff, it was not led by him alone and emphasized that the network was made up of thousands of individuals.

"This place is not perfect, it will never be perfect," Stelter said. "We will always have flaws, we will always screw up, we will always have to run corrections, we will always have to keep working to make it better and better and better every single day. That is the goal."

"But the people who say we're lacking journalism, that we've become an all-talk channel that we've run off, and we're all opinions all the time, that Jeff Zucker led us astray. Those people aren't watching CNN. They're not watching CNN. They're watching complaints about CNN on other channels that don't know what they're talking about," he continued, likely referring to the constant criticisms from Fox News personalities.

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Stelter then showed a map of the locations of all of CNN's bureaus around the world, which he said is more than "almost any other news organization on the planet."

He pointed out that, last Wednesday, the day Zucker resigned, the network "aired more than 135 reporter hits, 135 reporters in the U.S. and around the world." 

"I’m talking about dozens of live shots from international correspondents in just one day," he said. "On the day Jeff Zucker resigned, CNN published more than 215 stories on the website, nearly 90 original videos. That's a hell of a lot of news. It’s a hell of a lot of journalism. Do some of the anchors say provocative things? Yes. Do some of those clips get played over and over again on other channels and mislead people about what CNN actually is? Yes."

And in the newsletter co-authored with CNN media reporter Oliver Darcy, Stelter again claimed that people "are not watching CNN" if they believe the network was not engaging in real journalism under Zucker's leadership and even took a shot at John Malone, who sits on the board of directors for Discovery Communications Inc., the company that will soon control CNN once the merger is completed.

"The people who say the Zucker-era CNN was lacking in real journalism clearly were not watching CNN directly. My best guess is that they were watching talking heads and reading columnists complain about CNN. And yes, I'm including John Malone in this," Stelter's media newsletter reads. 

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Stelter was referring to a CNBC interview appearance Malone made last fall, when he said he hoped CNN would revert back to being the hard news journalism platform that it once was.

"I would like to see CNN evolve back to the kind of journalism that it started with, and actually have journalists, which would be unique and refreshing," Malone said at the time.

According to Stelter's newsletter, CNN's reporters took issue with Malone's comments.

"That phrasing – especially the words 'actually have journalists,' which implied CNN currently doesn't – was highly offensive to many staffers," the newsletter reads. "I reported on Sunday's 'Reliable' that it was disturbing to Zucker, too. Malone's comments stoked fears that Discovery might stifle CNN journalists and steer away from calling out indecency and injustice."

The CNN anchor also claimed in the newsletter that the "audience rushes in" when news breaks despite the network suffering a significant decline in the ratings over the last year.

"Here's what I know to be true: When news breaks, CNN knows what to do," Stelter wrote. "When something horrible or something wonderful happens in the world, the CNN machine clicks into high gear. And, because I study the ratings spreadsheets every day, I know this too: The audience rushes in. 'The world turns to CNN,' as one exec remarked to me. That can sound hyperbolic or braggadocious, except that it's true."

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But CNN was only able to bring in an average of 493,000 viewers in January, a 74 percent drop off from last year. And during coverage of breaking news events in recent months – including Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer's retirement announcement, President Joe Biden's second formal press conference and the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict – CNN struggled to bring in viewers, falling behind both Fox News and MSNBC in the ratings, according to Nielsen Media Research.

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