November 3rd, 2005


CNN Forces Out Aaron Brown :(

93, all!

Just a brief buh-bye and thanks to poor Aaron Brown, who (in my Constitutionally-protected opinion) ran afoul of The Way Things Are Done. All firings in television are always ascribed to "ratings," of course, and I'm not sitting with his numbers in front of me...but there are ways to get the (negative) ratings you want, when you wish to fire someone; that's why several weeks before your favorite show is canceled, it suddenly gets (1) moved to a new day & time (preferably against a powerhouse it can't beat, or to, say, 8pm Friday, when the cool folks aren't watching teevee), and/or (2) repeatedly pre-empted, or buried in its own reruns.

Aaron Brown started at CNN just as 9/11 hit, rapidly becoming familiar thanks to that very story. He was sorta pompous, and in many ways no different from any other old-timey news guy -- which of course made him a rarity in television news, generally populated by blowdried models who can read from a TelePrompTer, more or less, but are not required to understand what they're reading. He ended up for a time with a rather nice evening news roundup called "NewsNight," which enjoyed good ratings through the 2004 elections.

Unfortunately for him, Aaron Brown -- like Ashley Banfield before him over at MSNBC -- had a glancing respect for the truth; a serious crime in American teevee "journalism." What destroyed his career, though, IMNSHO, was the night he used his standard editorial moment at the beginning of his show to attack the current administration for refusing to grant an extension to the 9/11 Commission so it could complete its work. He won that battle at one level: like twenty-four hours later the Shrubbistas relented, granting that (final) extension. Still, watching his editorial "live" that night, I commented, "God bless him for that -- but his career is over. Watch and see."

As with Banfield (her crime: hosting honest discussion of, and reporting honestly on, the Iraq War, which everyone now professes to care so much about), they pretend for a time that all is well: can't have viewers notice what's up. Still, as soon as the '04 elections were over, with the predictable fall in ratings for an evening news show, the whisper campaign began: Gee, he used to have such good ratings. Sure have fallen since the election. Then they instituted changes in the show "in hopes of improving ratings" which were guaranteed to do the opposite: chiefly ending its status as a news show, making it a "magazine" format instead (no headlines, just one or two canned stories per night). Finally they started auditioning replacements during his timeslot in the form of "co-hosts"...of whom the Vanderbilt kid, Anderson Cooper, just got the nod.

That's how it's done, children. Now you know.

So hats off to clunky old-timey news guy Aaron Brown. Like everyone else in teevee journalism (among, alas, other professions), from Edward R. Murrow on forward, who tried to use teevee for Good, he had an effect...and was rewarded with a pink slip.

I dare to hope there's a thousand more just as naive and honorable, coming right on down the pike. :)

93 93/93 -- AJ

P.S. I can think of only one person in teevee news who beat a set-up like this once: clunky ol' Lou Dobbs, also at CNN. They fired him, viewers went ape-pudu, and they had to hire him back...which is why occasionally Lou is able to tell the truth (so far). Astonishing, and pretty cool. :D