Last month, CNN cancelled Brian Stelter’s Reliable Sources show, the media criticism program he had hosted for nine years.
Richard E. Vatz
I should like to offer a few background notes, some unknown to the public, concerning my former reprobate student, Brian Stelter, one of the most intelligent upperclassmen I have taught in almost 50 years at Towson University
Stelter was as closed – pleasantly — to opinions differing from his as any bright student I have ever had.
Around 2007, I had Stelter in two upper-level courses at Towson, “Media Criticism” and “Persuasion.” Both were quite relevant to his careers in journalism and specifically at CNN. The Media Criticism course included each week analyses and criticisms of videos of Howard Kurtz’s “Reliable Sources,” the show Stelter ironically would host six years subsequent to my class.
Stelter was an active class participant in those undergraduate discussions, usually defending Mr. Kurtz, interestingly his competitor-to-be, from any criticism from me or the class.
Additionally, any criticism I made of liberals in the media were invariably met with Stelter’s strong, but respectful, disagreement. If he hadn’t heard of a reference to which I alluded, he would reply tongue-in-cheek that I had made it up.
My Persuasion class includes and included a large section on psychiatrist Dr. Thomas S. Szasz’s view of the “myth of mental illness.” Agree or disagree, Szasz’s (full disclosure: practically a life-long friend) points of view are and should be provocative and fascinating to young, inquisitive and critical collegiate minds.
Stelter learned Szasz’s arguments, but I have never seen him on-air even entertain a Szaszian thought for perspective, as he routinely questioned Donald Trump’s mental status and pondered tauntingly whether the former president was “ill.”
Stelter’s penchant for liberal-progressive spin was evident throughout both classes, and he often accused me – respectfully — in class of an unfair conservative bias.
I should point out parenthetically that he received A’s in both classes – students do not need to agree with the professor to succeed in my classes, and I am far from an easy “A” – ask my former students.
His clashes with Fox News
As a conservative, I have observed over the years the controversies involving Stelter and Fox News, the network with whom I am generally and, to be honest, consistently ideologically aligned.
I love it when my former students succeed, regardless of my closeness to them or their opinions. I beam with pride when I watch the uniquely impressive 60 Minutes produced by my ex-student Bill Owens; I love watching Mike Rowe on Fox, despite my having lost touch with him. And there are many, many others…Towson often produces the best people with the highest integrity.
While supporting Fox on much of the substance of their open disagreements with Stelter, I have been woefully disappointed in the personal attacks on Stelter’s person.
When I see brilliant and perspicacious principals like Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity degrade themselves by showing consistently cartoonishly unflattering pictures of Stelter and ridiculing him as “Humpty Dumpty” (supported one time by perhaps the country’s best legal and political analyst, Jonathan Turley, laughing loudly at such characterizations) [August 18, 2022), I wonder where basic integrity has gone in national news analysis. It’s unprofessional, gents. You’re too good and substantive for that.
Washington Post columnist Erik Wemple claims, without acknowledging his own on-air ugly spats with and on Fox, that the network was obsessed with Stelter and there was no compelling reason for their cashiering him. Wempel also implies that Stelter was a threat to the new in-house powers-that-be at CNN.
The fact is that Stelter’s ratings toward the end plummeted, losing ¼ of his audience and about a third of the key 25-54 demo of viewers. In a ratings-boosting final show, it should be pointed out Stelter was thoroughly professional and gracious.
Brian Stelter isn’t and never was the equal to Howard Kurtz. Stelter’s inveterate left-wing bias led him down not a few wrong trails, such as his support of the Russian hoax and downplaying the Hunter Biden scandal. But Stelter’s adversaries didn’t distinguish themselves either in their fights with him.
Regardless, it is satisfying to witness The New York Times and CNN success of a Towson University ex-student.