Reveals He Pushed to Replace “Stiff” Anderson Cooper
Writing for THR, the former CNN anchor and new MailOnline editor-at-large reveals why news ratings shouldn’t matter, when he became a “barroom bore” on guns and how Cooper can’t compete with Megyn Kelly
A version of this story first appeared in the Oct. 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
The moment I knew my time was up at CNN came in February, when I opened my show with 20 minutes of “BREAKING NEWS” about a snowstorm in Atlanta.
Now, I’ve got nothing against snow — or Atlanta. But I didn’t go to the world’s No. 1 news network to be a weather reporter, unless it’s biblical weather like Superstorm Sandy. I wanted to do an interview show; CNN president Jeff Zucker wanted more news.Soon afterward, he and I shared an enjoyable lunch in New York and agreed that my nightly show had run its course after four years.
I covered some of the biggest news stories for decades, including the Arab Spring uprisings, bin Laden’s death and Japan’s earthquake and tsunami. I ticked off most of my interview bucket list — Clinton, Streisand, Ahmadinejad, Oprah, Clooney, the Dalai Lama. I also presided over some calamitous errors, including the cringeworthy night I paid tribute live on air to a comedian who’d just died called Patrice O’Nealand got his gender wrong. (“He’s a man!” screamed my horrified producer Jonathan Wald in my ear, as I waxed lyrical about this “funny lady.”)
Perhaps most notably, I waged a prolonged, visceral on-air battle with the NRA following the gun massacres at Aurora and Sandy Hook. It brought me death threats, and 150,000 people signed a White House petition to have me deported. I don’t regret it, though toward the end of my run, I was in danger of becoming a barroom bore on the issue of guns — shouting at the same people about the same thing with diminishing effectiveness. Jeff once said to me: “You shouldn’t call these pro-gun guys ‘idiots’ on air. Better to say, ‘I think your argument is idiotic.’ ”
“But they are idiots,” I replied.
It remains incomprehensible to me that a great nation like America can experience 20 first-graders being shot dead in their classrooms and do absolutely nothing to try and stop it happening again. In Britain, after the similar Dunblane massacre in 1996, I led a successful campaign at the Daily Mirrornewspaper to have all guns banned in Britain. We haven’t had a school shooting since. America’s had over 70 since Newtown alone.
The cable news business, I discovered, is fast, furious, fun and occasionally frightening (my studio at Time Warner Center was actually rocking during Sandy’s rampage through Manhattan). It is also, more often, rather dull.
CNN is a great company, rich in journalistic quality and resources. On a big story, no network can match it for the speed, breadth and accuracy of its newsgathering and analysis. But its problem — if it has one — is that its brand name is so indelibly associated with breaking news that when there isn’t any, not many people tune in to CNN. Contrary to popular myth, my show did OK in the ratings. I kept them pretty much where Larry King left them, and Piers Morgan Live was always in the top two or three highest-rated CNN shows. But like every anchor at CNN, my perceived success was highly vulnerable to the news cycle.
READ MORE HERE AT THE HOLLTWOOD REPORTER WEBSITE