NY Mag’s ‘Chasing Fox’: The Takeaway for CNN

By Alex Weprin Comment

CNN is, in many respects, the focal-point of the New York magazine cover story on the cable news channels. Given its precipitous ratings decline, and the high profile staffing changes in recent weeks (see Klein, Jon), along with new programming that starts tonight (see, Spitzer, Parker), CNN is home to much behind the scenes action in the world of cable news.

Among the revelations: Klein tried to poach Keith Olbermann from MSNBC.

“One of the premises was we would have put MSNBC out of business,” Olbermann told author Gabriel Sherman.

CNN Worldwide president Jim Walton pushed back, however, and the deal never happened. It also revealed a new look at the reasoning behind “Crossfire”‘s cancellation, which happened after host Tucker Carlson told bosses he accepted a job with MSNBC:

When Carlson left to go to lunch at the Palm, Klein issued a press release of his own that said he was canceling Crossfire, essentially spinning the story that he was ousting Carlson and canceling the show. At lunch, Carlson was surprised when he received a call from the Times’ Bill Carter asking him to respond to Klein’s press release. Carlson was livid, but there was nothing he could do. It was a PR masterstroke for Klein, who earned plaudits in the press for kneecapping Crossfire.

The article also paints a sobering picture of the realities facing Klein and CNN as the cable news business was transformed by new media and the rise of opinion shows:

Klein faced a possibly insoluble cable-news riddle: How do you build the kind of excitement that draws in viewers without being partisan? At a Time Warner board meeting this spring, Walton was forced to defend CNN’s ratings issues. The pressure on Klein ratcheted up. In April, Klein began talks with British talk-show personality Piers Morgan. In June, he announced that he would hire the famously black-socked and disgraced former governor Eliot Spitzer. Klein faced stiff internal resistance to hiring Spitzer. When one CNN executive expressed to Klein the concern that viewers risked being turned off by Spitzer’s hooker scandal, Klein had snapped, “I don’t give a fuck.”

Much more about CNN in the NY Mag article.