CNN is betting big on its new digital streaming service CNN+ that will debut in early 2022, calling it the most important launch since Ted Turner introduced the cable network more than four decades ago. But a string of shocking internal scandals is threatening to steal the spotlight on the eve of the big reveal.
With ratings continuing to plummet to embarrassing levels, the Jeff Zucker-led network is facing what could be its biggest crisis in years. A looming merger of parent company WarnerMedia with Discovery only adds more uncertainty, with Discovery CEO David Zaslav set to run the combined media giant.
Two high-ranking CNN producers recently resigned following scandals that both involved pedophilia. Rick Saleeby, who was a senior producer for CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper,” is under criminal investigation following a Project Veritas investigation alleging Saleeby solicited sexually explicit photos of an underage girl.
Kirk Irwin/Getty Images for SiriusXM/Twitter via New York Post
John Griffin, who worked as a senior producer on Chris Cuomo’s show, was arrested this month on child sex trafficking charges. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which include allegations that he used Kik and Google Hangout to “persuade parents to allow him to train their daughters to be sexually submissive.”
.@ChrisCuomo says he can get me blessed by #PopeFrancis thanks to my "giant baby head." Let's try it, shall we?? pic.twitter.com/2Eed5dlySF — John Griffin (@JGriffNYC) September 26, 2015
Prosecutors claim that in one instance, Griffin arranged for a nine-year-old girl to travel from Nevada to his Vermont residence where she was “directed to engage in, and did engage in, unlawful sexual activity.”
The scandals come shortly after Cuomo himself departed CNN in disgrace after it was revealed that he used his position at the network to help his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), to fight sexual harassment accusations.
(Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Turner)
CNN’s PR nightmare comes as the network is preparing to launch CNN+, its subscription streaming service that is expected to debut during the first quarter of 2022. The service is CNN’s attempt to staunch the exodus of viewers who have either abandoned the network for its competitors or who have cut the cord and no longer have cable.
As former President Donald Trump predicted, CNN has seen its ratings collapse since he left office in January, regularly coming in at a distant third place behind Fox News and MSNBC. The network’s Trump bump has vanished as viewers flee in droves. In one recent week this month, the network averaged a mere 585,000 total viewers in primetime, putting CNN in 17th place among all basic cable networks.
As Breitbart News reported, CNN went seven straight days in August without reaching one million views each day.
CNN’s biggest stars, including Brian Stelter, sometimes come in behind reruns of favorite sitcoms like The Golden Girls on TV Land, or kids shows like Paw Patrol and Spongebob on Nick Jr.
CNN+ is the network’s attempt to capture younger viewers, but so far, little is known about the content it will feature. Former “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace will have his own show, while veteran CNN personalities are also expected to figure, though in what capacity remains unclear. One unverified report claimed the service will cost $5.99 a month.
The streaming service comes after Fox News launched its own streaming service, Fox Nation, in 2018.
(Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
Matt Sayles/Invision/AP, File/Mike Coppola/Getty Images
Other scandals that plagued CNN this year include the firing and re-hiring of contributor Jeffrey Toobin, who was caught masturbating during a Zoom conference call. Actor Jussie Smollett’s recent criminal trial revealed that CNN anchor Don Lemon was aiding the Hollywood star by notifying him that the Chicago Police Department was doubting his alibi.