I get that as in every other field of modern entertainment, when it comes to TV news, a rumor is just a rumor. I also get that a rumor generated by The New York Post is often even less than a rumor. But given what we've seen lately, particularly what we witnessed last week from the network, the rumor that Soledad O'Brien is on her way out at CNN sounds anything but implausible.
The Post's "Page Six" is reporting that CNN is now in the final stages of a deal that would move Erin Burnett to mornings beside Chris Cuomo; the result would be a morning show more in line with new CNN boss Jeff Zucker's Today show sensibilities and less the go-for-the-throat determination of O'Brien's Starting Point, which has drawn praise from critics for its willingness to push back against anyone expecting to come on the show and ram political talking points down the public's throat uninterrupted.
In the past, I've made no bones about my dislike for Zucker; I think he's a self-satisfied hack whose arrogant incompetence and penchant for clever gimmicks and quick-fixes were what practically destroyed NBC from the inside out and may very well have put it in a position where its foundation is so weak that it will take years to ever be truly competitive again. But I admit that I've watched his burgeoning era at CNN with some fascination because he made a couple of decisions early on which seemed to suggest that he was going to handle the CNN brand with care and maybe even work toward cleaning up its formerly untarnished reputation as the cable network for real news. Sure, he'd said right off the bat that he wanted to "broaden the definition of what news is," and that he considered other cable channels besides the direct competition to be targets for CNN to set its sights on, bringing to mind images of weekend coverage hosted by Honey Boo Boo and Guy Fieri. But he also hired Jake Tapper and summarily fired half of the network's stable of jabbering political pundits, which I felt had to be worth something.
Over the past couple of weeks, though, Zucker has made it crystal clear what his priorities will be for CNN under his reign, what he wants in terms of coverage and what we can expect the network to look and sound like moving forward. First came word that his former co-conspirator in attempting to ruin the reputation of NBC beyond repair, Steve Capus, might be coming to CNN's news department now that he's finally, mercifully out at NBC. And then, of course, came the Cruise to Shit Island -- the nightmare onboard the Carnival Triumph.
As with all silly Zucker wizardry, the nonstop, utterly surreal live coverage of the Carnival ship that had become stranded in the Gulf created a brief ratings spike, if for no other reason than the fact that it was so insane it compelled you to keep watching. But make no mistake: again as with all silly Zucker wizardry, long-term, it and manufactured stories like it will severely damage CNN. It's one thing to appreciate that a stricken cruise ship makes for a great picture or that stories of vacations ruined by the smell of sewage can translate into first world problems CNN's prime demographic can identify with. But to dare to call the Carnival Triumph a "disaster," to offensively equate it to Katrina, and to make it seem as if, after four days at sea with no power on a luxury-liner, it turned into Lord of the Flies-style savagery, with horny college kids beating pensioners to death with the arms of slot machines, then eating them for sustenance -- like the clean-up crews were going to board the ship and find that the dark interior state room hallways look like what the Colonial Marines found at Hadley's Hope in Aliens -- well, that's deserving of every bit of mockery it drew from every direction.
But now, on top of all that, comes the possibility that Zucker will allow not only one of CNN's most respected names but someone he worked closely with in the past to walk off mornings and out the door. In favor of lightweight eye candy like Erin Burnett, no less. Having worked closely with Soledad myself, on CNN's American Morning, I can tell you that she's not simply a professional and a pretty damn great all-around person but someone who brings talents to the table that very few others do. She's proven herself time and time again at CNN and I'm hoping that the Post's story really is a rumor and nothing more.
If Zucker continues to take CNN in this direction, though -- into the realm of 24/7 nonsense coverage and a management populated with the cronies of failures past -- then maybe Soledad would be wise to get out. A couple of months back, she told The New York Times Magazine, "I’m fairly confident that I'm not going to be cooking salmon and doing fashion shows on CNN," meaning that she wasn't the right person for that kind of thing should CNN go there. Well, it may be going there. And she's not the right kind of person for that kind of thing.
I'd rather see Zucker make CNN what Soledad O'Brien is suited for than see Soledad have to leave because it's not.