Brian Stelter Never Really Got It
An era ends at CNN ends
There was much to lament over the canceling of CNN’s Reliable Sources, Brian Stelter’s vehicle for media coverage and criticism. Stelter, a former Times wunderkind, hosted the Sunday show for almost a decade. I was lucky enough to be a guest, back when I left the Jared Kushner-owned New York Observer in 2016. There was a time when I wondered if that was what I would be chiefly known for—the kid who quit the formerly great Trumpish newspaper. It was a whirlwind of a moment and I’m glad it’s past me now. Stelter was a good host and I appreciated his questions. When he wants to be, he is an astute media observer.
In his final show, Stelter effectively denounced CNN, proclaiming that “it is not partisan to stand up for decency and democracy and dialogue.” In fact, the 36-year-old said, “it is not partisan to stand up to demagogues—it’s required, it’s patriotic. We must make sure we do not give a platform to those who are lying to our faces.” The decision to cancel Reliable Sources seemed to be driven by the new management at CNN, which is straining to tone down opinion-making at the broadcaster and return to a more “straight news” approach. Overtly left-wing or anti-Trump reporting will not be encouraged. Stelter was one of the most aggressive critics of the Trump White House that CNN had. His underlying belief was that the mainstream media was too deferential to Trump, too beholden to the View from Nowhere, and too willing to platform both sides in a debate that clearly had a right side and a wrong side.
To an extent, I’m sympathetic. I also think the problems with media run far deeper than Stelter ever acknowledged, and he could never quite fathom that his viewpoint, in essence, carried the day at most large publications. Survey any mainstream newspaper, magazine, or broadcaster, and you will find a staff that voted for Joe Biden over Donald Trump at an 80 or 90 percent clip in the 2020 election. The Times and the Washington Post very cheerily treated themselves as the anti-Trump opposition for four years, doing most of what Stelter demanded. CNN, of course, was at the forefront of cashing in on the well-heeled liberal’s rage against Trump, relentlessly covering every consequential and incredibly minor scandal that enveloped that White House. Russiagate was made into the greatest threat to democracy since Hitler marched on Europe. The large tech companies, the original heroes of the left before allegedly turning heel, mostly complied, dumping Trump from Twitter and suppressing coverage of the untoward contents of a Hunter Biden laptop. The media, vaguely center-left, does not lack for coverage of democracy’s peril; January 6th is given the star treatment, no matter what network you tune into.