Brian Stelter Draws Increasing Fire From Critics Over CNN Show’s Ratings Decline


Brian Stelter is under attack.

Well, not literally. But lately, some major media (and political) names – Glenn Greenwald, Joe Rogan, The Daily Wire (with a boost from Donald Trump’s email distribution list) – have come for Stelter, criticizing the ratings of his weekly CNN show for media-watchers, Reliable Sources.

Stelter, certainly, can hold his own against these attacks; after years of fielding insults from Sean Hannity, Kennedy, Donald Trump, Jr., and others, the 35-year-old author and host appears generally unbothered by the attempts at mean-spirited zingers.

But some of the would-be burns may have some sticking power — particularly the ones about Stelter’s ratings.

Fox News has tracked Stelter’s audience since the start of the year, and earlier this week ran a story taking aim the show’s “embarrassing new lows” in the ratings.

Reliable Sources “has failed to attract one million viewers for 11 straight weeks and averaged only 752,000 on Sunday for its smallest audience of 2021,” wrote Fox News media reporter Brian Flood. Fox boasted that its own weekly media show, MediaBuzz, hosted by Howard Kurtz, averaged 1.1 million viewers in the same timeslot on the same day.

However, as Stelter himself noted in his recent back-and-forth with Greenwald, all the major cable news networks have experienced ratings drops in 2021, with Fox News seeing the lowest drop since January. And here, context matters: although CNN is seeing a sizable drop in ratings overall, the network also saw record highs in January, as viewers turned to the network for major news events like the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and President Joe Biden’s inauguration.

CNN as a network is down more than Reliable as a show: between January and May, the channel dropped 66% in total viewers and 73% in the demo, according to Nielsen data. Over that same time period, data shows a 53% drop in Stelter’s overall viewership, and a 63% drop in the valuable demographic of viewers age 25-54.

Stelter has a unique beat, covering the media itself, and it’s made for some awkward moments when he has had to address bad behavior at his own network (or, importantly, when he hasn’t). He spends a lot of that beat focused on Fox News, which can be seen not only in his weekly show, but also in the updated paperback version of his bestselling book, Hoax. And although he’s prominent on CNN, he’s not the only media reporter out there—there’s no shortage of writers and reporters willing to scrutinize their own industry. Stelter certainly isn’t the only one taking regular aim at Fox News.

And yet even among the scores of Fox News detractors, Brian Stelter remains that network’s most prominent critic — despite the current ratings slump of Reliable Sources. The slings and arrows Stelter has taken from the likes of podcast powerhouse Joe Rogan and other boldface names only serve to demonstrate that what he says still matters.

But as Bill Parcells once famously said, you are what your record says you are. And there’s no getting around the fact that CNN’s 2021 numbers have fallen considerably since their January peak. Sooner or later, the network and its media maven will have to recapture that audience — lest his attackers decide he’s no longer worth the trouble.

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