Stelter’s Silence of the Lambs

Brian Stelter
Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images
Dylan Byers
August 31, 2022

Brian Stelter, who is leaving Manhattan this week and moving to a farm in New Jersey, has dropped from his Twitter bio his myriad former professional titles—CNN chief media correspondent, host of CNN’s Reliable Sources program, author of the influential Reliable Sources newsletter, et cetera—and now humbly describes himself simply as a “media nerd.” In private conversations with some former colleagues, however, he has floated the idea that he might be worthy of another moniker: “sacrificial lamb.”

Stelter, a veteran media reporter-turned-cable news broadcaster, who has a keen understanding of the industry that he both operates in and covers, was likely crestfallen when CNN chairman and C.E.O. Chris Licht told him he would be forced to leave the network. But he couldn’t have been wholly surprised, either. Stelter was surely savvy enough to know that his reputation as an occasionally sanctimonious media watchdog, who regularly railed against Trump and Fox News, didn’t align with the new parent company’s mandate to steer the network away from polarizing programming and liberal bias. He was probably also on edge about the fact that, according to several sources, he had a hard time getting a meeting with Licht during the first weeks of the new boss’s tenure—even as Licht was meeting regularly with other on-air talent. And indeed, two sources told me, Stelter had been told several weeks before his ouster that Reliable Sources might be on the chopping block. (Stelter declined a request for an interview.)

Officially, the rationale for canceling Reliable Sources, the longest running program on CNN, has gone through several permutations during the last two weeks. Sources with knowledge of Licht and Stelter’s meeting say the CNN chief told the outgoing host that the network didn’t need a show exclusively focused on the media. That line was also shared with me by CNN spokesperson Matt Dornic, who nevertheless said that CNN was “going to build out our media team.” Meanwhile, in an unexpected interview with the progressive pundit and former cabinet secretary Robert Reich a week after Stelter’s ouster, Licht said he “loved” Stelter but the show “didn’t make sense on Sundays.”