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CNN Goes for the Silver

Aaron Brown may not have been the secret weapon CNN longed for in its ratings war with Fox News, but don’t blame the strait-laced anchor for his ouster in favor of Anderson Cooper, says one veteran network newsman. Blame CNN.

“I tried to hire Aaron Brown a couple of years ago when I was at Fox,” former CBS News president Van Gordon Sauter told us from California.  “I think he’s articulate, insightful, and incredibly gracious. But in the absence of a well-produced show, his potential was never achieved. CNN failed to take his basic assets and enlarge them, make the show more energetic, more relevant, more spontaneous, more engaging. That’s what the show needed.”

Everyone who saw Cooper’s star-making on-camera retort to Mississippi senator Mary Landrieu in the wake of Hurricane Katrina (“Excuse me, senator, I’m sorry for interrupting. I haven’t heard that because, for the last four days, I’ve been seeing dead bodies in the streets here in Mississippi…. Do you get the anger that is out here?”) knows why CNN president Jon Klein is going with his silver-haired golden boy in the embattled network’s highest-profile news slot.

“This, for them, is a smart move—an isolated smart move,” Sauter says, adding, “I wish CNN well, but they’re just in dire shape.”

Twenty years ago Sauter injected Ron Burgundy-style action and a shot of warm and fuzzy—what he called “the big emo”—into the stolid evening news format, leading many critics to blame him for the Tiffany Network’s precipitous decline in the post-Cronkite era. So is Sauter feeling vindicated?

A little, perhaps. “Anderson Cooper is unique,” he said. “There aren’t a lot of people like him on cable television in style, in appearance or emoting qualities.”

Nevertheless, he added, don’t blame him for the incredible shrinking audience for network news, whether broadcast or cable. “A variety of influences have moved local and network television news toward irrelevance,” he said, somewhat ominously. And that’s the way it is.

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