Who — or — what — is driving the decision-making at CNN? At first blush, the cancellation of Reliable Sources makes sense all on its own, given its ratings collapse and serious credibility issues. It didn’t take long, however, for speculation to emerge that the larger issue was Brian Stelter’s criticism of John Malone, one of Warner/Discovery’s most significant investors. And from that, speculation that Malone’s libertarian ideology had begun to drive personnel and programming decisions.

If that’s the case, though, why would CNN target their sleepy, news-driven morning show New Day next, as the Daily Beast reported last night? Did John Berman or Brianna Keilar micturate in Malone’s Wheaties at some point? The target reported by Lachlan Cartwright tends to undermine his thesis a bit:

CNN insiders tell Confider that staffers cannot shake the feeling the shocking move was made to appease John Malone, a right-leaning billionaire, close friend of the Murdoch family, and key Warner Bros. Discovery board member who has made it well-known that he would like CNN to be more “centrist”—whatever that means.

While Malone has denied he is “directly involved” in any decisions about CNN, multiple current and former staffers who spoke to us relayed a fear that the libertarian mogul is indirectly dictating an agenda to newly installed CNN boss Chris Licht. …

Stelter had been an antagonist of right-wing media for much of his time at the Reliable Sources desk, but other similarly vocal CNN stars like Don Lemon and Jim Acosta are safe for now, sources familiar with the matter told Confider.

Instead, these insiders said, Licht will next turn his attention to “blowing up” CNN’s ratings-challenged morning show New Day, having brought on his old buddy Ryan Kadro from CBS to help rework it.

The “ratings-challenged” description tends to suggest another issue entirely. Reliable Sources had been “ratings challenged” too, even apart from Stelter’s criticism of Malone and general criticism of Stelter’s reporting. That key point makes these changes look pretty much like any other media takeover, where new management has to decide what works and jettison what doesn’t.

If Malone was truly directing Licht’s agenda on the basis of ideology, Berman and Keilar make relatively puzzling targets. Berman generally treats his interview subjects with an even hand, pressing both Democrats and Republicans on their inconsistencies. Take a look again at this interview from June, in which Berman held Jennifer Granholm’s feet to the fire on Biden’s energy policies and their utter incoherence on fossil fuels, with the most relevant exchange below:

BERMAN: Do you want – do you want – do you — five years from now, ten years from now, are you telling me you want them drilling for more oil, you want the refineries putting out more gasoline in five or ten years?

GRANHOLM: What we’re saying is today we need that supply increased. Of course, in five or ten years – actually, in the immediate, we are also pressing on the accelerator, if you will, to move toward clean energy so that we don’t have to be under the thumb of petro dictators like Putin or at the whim of the volatility of fossil fuels.

Ultimately, America will be most secure when we can rely upon our own clean, domestic production of energy through solar, through wind, through –

BERMAN: But that’s the problem for these companies. These companies are saying, you know, you’re asking me to do more now, invest more now, when, in fact, five or ten years from now we don’t think that demand will there be. And the administration doesn’t even necessarily want it to be there.

That sounds a lot like the kind of non-ideological, straightforward journalism that Malone supposedly wants to impose on CNN via Licht. If Malone’s agenda drove Stelter off the air, then one would expect the next targets to be Don Lemon and Jim Acosta, with their hyper-partisanship and preening — but Cartwright isn’t alone in reporting that they’re apparently safe from the hatchet, at least for now.

In fact, this brings up another issue. If New Day is headed for the scrapheap, it may well be because it gets the kind of ratings that straight news programs have gotten in the past — which is why the cable nets embraced ideological communities in the first place. New Day competes directly with Fox & Friends and Morning Joe, and not particularly well. A year ago, Outkick noted the issue:

If you don’t consider CNN’s post-Trump iteration a disaster, you at least have to admit its morning show is one. Meanwhile, if you’ve used the word “disaster” to describe CNN these days, you will have to find another word for New Day.

CNN has changed New Day‘s cast four times in eight years. Each time, the results get worse. The latest lineup, which features Brianna Keilar, is a new low. And that’s saying something, considering CNN viewers used to wake up to Chris Cuomo.

Last week, New Day recorded its lowest average in the 25-54 demographic since 2014. From July 5-11, New Day averaged just 76,000 viewers in the coveted category. 76,000. That’s below Hallmark and Nick at Nite.

By May of this year, things hadn’t improved much:

In the cable news morning show ratings battle, Fox & Friends remains dominant, while MSNBC’s Morning Joe has a solid second and CNN’s New Day lags behind in third place.

In terms of total viewers, the 8 a.m. hour of Fox & Friends more than quadrupled New Day’s total audience on Wednesday.

Fox brought in 1.66 million total viewers at 8 a.m. compared to CNN’s 394,000 total viewers.

MSNBC, meanwhile, registered 766,000 total viewers — which is an average of the 6 through 8 a.m. hours.

Berman and Keilar do a good job of presenting the news and interviewing people of note in a relatively balanced manner. Viewers are not rewarding CNN for that, however; they’re rewarding more casual and more ideologically affirming programming that runs against it. As much as we might admire Malone’s observations on the necessity of straight news reporting, Licht seems to be strategizing on the business realities that argue against it.

In other words, at least so far … it’s business, not personal, and likely not ideological in the sense that Cartwright thinks. But don’t be surprised if the replacement for New Day (assuming the sources are accurate) turns out to be more ideological than the status quo.

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