CNN announced this morning the hiring of RedState.com editor Erick Erickson as a political contributor for their new 7pmET program, John King, USA. The addition of Erickson to the team fits in well with John King’s idea of the program as a political rundown of every part of the nation with a variety of opinions (Erickson will be located in Atlanta). Yet given that King’s predecessor, Lou Dobbs, felt that as an advocate journalist he was not a good fit for the future of the network, hiring someone to the right of Dobbs as a contributor for that time spot may send some mixed messages.
Explaining the decision to bring the conservative blogger on board, CNN political director Sam Feist said, “Erick’s a perfect fit for John King, USA, because not only is he an agenda-setter whose words are closely watched in Washington, but as a person who still lives in small-town America, Erick is in touch with the very people John hopes to reach.”
Erickson is certainly an attraction to many on the right for his reputation as a feisty conservative, a viewer base CNN has a slightly tarnished relationship with since Dobbs’ departure.
Another reason Feist gave for hiring Erickson is his ability to contribute positively to CNN’s “ideologically diverse” political team. The most biased person to regularly appear on the network since last fall has probably been Rick Sanchez, and his defining opinion is that he is vehemently pro-Twitter. And in terms of the ratings, the strategy has not worked out so well for the network; it regularly finishes in third or fourth place during the 7pmET hour.
Inviting Erickson to contribute to their new show is not the first sign that CNN is considering a second courtship with opinion journalism. Late last week, reports started surfacing that CNN is considering revamping their morning program American Morning with “a format closer to MSNBC’s Morning Joe and Fox & Friends than anything it has ever done.”
A shift towards opinion journalism– though not as far as promoting an opinion commentator as a staple network figure like Bill O’Reilly or Keith Olbermann— in both their morning programming and prime time, if done right, could be a hit in the ratings.
King’s position on the show is expected to remain consistently neutral, and he won’t be the first on the network to host panels (Anderson Cooper during the 2008 election comes to mind). The difference isn’t that a right-wing commentator will be given a voice on the network but, rather, that a right-wing commentator with a history of being outspoken and polarizing is being hired. In other words, Erickson is a better fit for Crossfire than Larry King; more of a flamethrowing Sarah Palin-type than a tamer Alex Castellanos, and his presence in a political debate will change the tone toward an aggression CNN has actively rallied against in the past.
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