Looks like the Jeff Zucker regime at CNN is going to be quite a bit different from predecessor Jim Walton's tenure. Managing editor and evp Mark Whitaker is out at the Turner news network, as are the venerable odd couple of TV punditry, Mary Matalin and James Carville. Bill Bennett and Maria Cardona are reported to be leaving the channel as well (though Cardona will stay on at CNN Español), as is Redstate.com editor Erick Erickson. Meanwhile, CNN has hired 20/20 co-anchor and ABC News legal expert Chris Cuomo.
Whitaker, a magazine veteran who ran Newsweek for eight years until 2006, joined CNN in 2009 after a brief run at NBC News, taking a print-era title at the gigantic news organization and installing ink-and-paper journalists like Ross Douthat, Ryan Lizza and Ron Brownstein as contributors. After Jon Klein was fired from his role as president of CNN U.S., Walton hired Whitaker to run the network alongside Ken Jautz, who had led HLN to such major ratings gains that it frequently outperformed its much larger sister network. Whitaker was deeply invested in bringing gravitas to the news division; he once hosted a behind-the-scenes panel discussion for media reporters at which the net's foreign correspondents discussed their experiences abroad. While CNN's coverage of international events has undeniably improved, breaking news stories have generated virtually all of CNN's ratings successes over the past several years. The network has attracted awards, but not regular viewers.
It makes sense then that Whitaker would feel out of place at a reworked CNN where Zucker has stated his intention to shake up the low-rated network and favor documentary and nonfiction content (which can be sold to advertisers and scheduled).
"[W]ith Jeff Zucker’s arrival, we have a new leader with his own forceful ideas about where to take CNN’s reporting, programming and brand," said Whitaker in an internal memo. "For him to succeed, I believe he deserves his own team and management structure and the freedom to communicate one clear vision to the staff. I have shared that conclusion with him, and he has agreed to let me step down as managing editor and move on from CNN."
Whitaker will not be replaced. A spokeswoman said that Zucker "comes from an editorial background and will lead the editorial direction at CNN Worldwide." For his part, Zucker sent out a statement thanking Whitaker for his work and wishing him the best.
It remains to be seen what Zucker will do to counter the vitriolic opinion programming that tends to dominate cable news in prime time (and in which arena CNN has never managed to register a compelling presence). Zucker reportedly likes Erin Burnett, whose show Outfront gets major real estate—a premiere at 7 p.m. and a rerun at 11 p.m.—and the network's other prime-time stars, Anderson Cooper and Piers Morgan, are practically synonymous with the brand.
It's also not clear whether Zucker will continue to pare CNN's contributor roster. Erickson, Bennett, Carville and Matalin are mostly notable for their partisan enthusiasm; one wonders if S.E. Cupp, Hilary Rosen and Douthat are worried about whether or not to start writing book proposals.