Can Jake Tapper Get 9 P.M.?

Wolf Blitzer and Jake Tapper on CNN
Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images
Dylan Byers
December 3, 2021

I’ve recently come across a piece of cable news chatter, a fanciful but illustrative piece of speculation that is bubbling up in influential circles. It’s ridiculous on the face of it, but it may illuminate best where the industry stands right now—in a soon-to-be post-Maddow, post-Brian Williams world. And, frankly, in a potentially post-Chris Cuomo world, too. 

Indeed, according to people I’ve spoken with, it will be difficult for CNN to cleanly reinstate Cuomo at 9 p.m. in a way that honors the network’s “facts first” brand, and aligns with the grumblings of John Malone—the most powerful shareholder of Discovery, which will soon merge with CNN’s parent company—that the news network has strayed too far into opinion journalism. Critically for CNN, too, it will be difficult to reinsert Cuomo given that he no longer pulls in the peak ratings he enjoyed at the height of his cross-talking bromance with Don Lemon and his bizarrely weird everything-but-the-noogie peak Covid-era on-air chats with his now in-the-wilderness brother. This is a long way of saying that many in the industry think that, with Maddow likely off to better things in ‘22 and Cuomo presumably due for a humbling, the 9 p.m. slot on both CNN and MSNBC could be up for grabs soon. Hence the chatter. (Chatter that CNN and MSNBC representatives obviously do not want to engage in.)

On Thursday, I was texting an influential cable news insider who said that if CNN really wanted to compete in primetime they should hire… Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to host the 9 p.m. I was both surprised and amused by the idea, then quickly forgot about it since it seemed implausible. Then, an hour or so later, I was texting with an equally influential broadcast news insider, who runs in very different circles than the aforementioned source, and who, with zero prodding, also posited that MSNBC should hire Ocasio-Cortez to host their 9 p.m. hour. When told that this was the second time her name had come up, albeit in reference to a different network, the insider replied: “It’s bubbling out there. … Take a few years, grow your profile, make millions and then run for Senate, or President.” (I reached out to A.O.C.’s office to see what they make of the chatter. No word back yet.)