I am waiting for Ken Jautz to take me to lunch. Jautz is the new head of CNN. I helped get him his job. I wrote a column
in the August issue of Vanity Fair
asking why his predecessor, Jon Klein, who had seen CNN’s ratings fall, still had his.
I answered the question in a way that, I understand, senior executives at Time Warner, CNN’s parent company, seemed to find sensible and accurate: Klein hadn’t been fired because CNN, despite its weak primetime ratings, was still making lots of money and nobody wanted anybody to do very much with it.
Still, bureaucracies, even if they know they can’t change, have to pretend they really want to, even if they don’t, and so, with the question about Klein posed so clearly, they fired Klein and hired Jautz, who has been running CNN’s sister station, Headline News.
Jautz, who has spent much of his career in the CNN and Time Warner bureaucracy, is really just like Klein. The only difference is that Jautz hired Glenn Beck and Nancy Grace at Headline News. The premise is that maybe he can make CNN prime time a little more like Headlines News … even though that is the last thing anybody wants him to do. Remember CNN is the network that fired Lou Dobbs because he was too … too.
“We want to make prime time a little more compelling, engaging, lively,” he told Mediaite yesterday. This is something that could have been said—that has been said—by every television network executive in the history of television. It is like a stockbroker saying I’d like to make a little more money.
Notably, Jon Klein was in the extraordinary position of being able to replace two of his anchor prime time shows, a kind of prime-time blank slate that does not often occur. So CNN let Klein do just that—bringing on the new Eliot Spitzer show and hiring Piers Morgan to replace Larry King—and then fired him. Go figure.
Anyway, let me make my point again. The effort at CNN, led by Jautz or Klein, is to keep the place just as profitable as it has been—and the self-evident way of doing that is to not change anything very much. In a news world of great passions and dramatic transformation, that’s an embarrassing and perhaps ignoble position. So when I called attention to it, they fired Jon Klein and hired Ken Jautz to continue to do pretty much what Klein has been doing.
Still, this is good for Jautz—even if not for news consumers. So I should get lunch.
More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.