CNN’s reversal of news programming

Can a new morning show with Don Lemon help turn around CNN’s fortunes?

Last Sunday, in the early evening, CNN was on fire. President Donald Trump had just made the biggest news on cable news, announcing that he’d appointed former New York City mayor and current CNN host and occasional surrogate for the president, Bill de Blasio, to be the new secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and, even more important, he’d announced that he’d also be replacing his embattled chief of staff, Reince Priebus, who left the network on Monday. Trump had fired a handful of staffers — most notably Keith Schiller, a former Republican National Committee chairman who worked in TV and radio before becoming a top aide to Priebus — and had replaced them with aides with little or no experience in government. But the firing of Priebus was a turning point, and Trump’s move to appoint a network news vet — who was at least as comfortable in Washington as in New York and who knew more about Washington than he knew about New York City (and who had just been on the job for two years, unlike Priebus) — to be one of the most powerful members of the White House was a historic moment.

It was a stunning shift from the network’s usual style, which has been to push back against Trump, to make him look good at every turn, as CNN did when it interviewed him at length on the air three times: at the start of his candidacy for president, last month, and last Sunday. And it was a striking reversal of sorts from the network’s normal news programming — which has favored Trump, and has been the story of Trump’s presidency — and one that would be familiar to anyone who had worked for the network: It started with the firing of Keith Schiller and ended with de Blasio’s confirmation as the HUD secretary.

But one of the most important things about the de Blasio appointment was that CNN had never interviewed him before, and de Blasio was a big name in news circles. He’d been a top reporter for The New York Times, for CBS News, for The Atlantic and for CNN, and had appeared on TV all over the country a few times over the course of his 30-plus-year career as a journalist. That last part was notable: The New York Times has a reputation — in large part because of the editorial standards that the network has held itself to — of treating the paper’s reporters like stars, and not just for their high levels of professional accomplishment or their skills in breaking stories

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