CNN Paid Brian Stelter $1 Million A Year. What’s Next?

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CNN fired Brian Stelter last week but still owes him $3 million.

Stelter has over three years remaining on a deal worth around $1 million a year. The New York Times first reported details about Stelter’s most recent contract with CNN.

Assuming the departure was a business decision and not for cause, Stelter is still entitled to guaranteed money.

Using the precedent of past media contracts, Stelter can either sit out and collect the remaining amount on his deal, or work on an arrangement to sign elsewhere. 

As cushy as getting paid for not working sounds, Stelter would risk a significant decline in perceived value by sitting on the sidelines for three years while getting paid. “What have you done for me lately” succinctly describes the media market.

So, it would behoove both sides to work out a buyout to clear Stelter to sign elsewhere and free CNN of its attachment to him.

CNN anchor and correspondent Brian Stelter speaks during a press event at CES 2019 at the Aria Resort & Casino on January 9, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

There’s a consensus agreement in media circles, even among those elated Stelter got the boot, that he’ll have multiple suitors. Though an all-in offer of $1 million is unlikely, he could piece together multiple non-exclusive agreements.

Take UFC reporter Ariel Helwani for example. Helwani declined an offer to re-sign with ESPN for $500,000 a year in 2021. ESPN would have retained Helwani’s television, radio, podcasting, and writing rights in the deal. Instead, Helwani divided up each medium and licensed them separately.

Helwani now has contracts with BetMGM, The Ringer, BT Sport, and Vox Media. That’s four checks that amount to more than the one ESPN offered. I suspect Stelter will explore a similar route. He has over 800,000 Twitter followers, his former newsletter drew a high volume of subscribers, and he drums up reaction, both negative and positive.

In addition, most corporate media companies align with Stelter’s politics and coverage. Stelter could piecemeal a setup with suitors such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Vox, Substack, Spotify, CNBC, and Peacock.

Why not MSNBC? While Stelter’s coverage leans left, he is a white male. MSNBC doesn’t like white males anymore. It hasn’t in a long time. Haven’t you heard how Joy Reid, the nutty weekend lady, and white man Chris Hayes speak about white men?

Moreover, there’s a growing interest in media coverage. More readers and podcast listeners react to coverage of Joe Rogan and Tucker Carlson than they do most politicians in Washington. As a result, media coverage is more mainstream than niche.

As I told Fox News over the weekend, the parts of CNN and Stelter became greater than the sum. Stelter wasn’t a fit with new management. Chris Licht and Discovery have vowed to increase viewership among Republicans. CNN couldn’t do that with Stelter on-air, given his perception among conservative viewers. (By the way, why hasn’t CNN fired Don Lemon and Jim Acosta yet?)

To readdress the elephant in the room: yes, Brian Stelter made around $1 million a year at CNN.

Written by Bobby Burack

Bobby Burack is a writer for OutKick where he reports and analyzes the latest topics in media, culture, sports, and politics..

Burack has become a prominent voice in media and has been featured on several shows across OutKick and industry related podcasts and radio stations.


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  1. The fact that he got paid a mil a year to literally just be wrong at all times is astounding. You argue “what have you done for me lately”, but clearly what he did lately was so poor, it was worth 3 mil just to make him go away (and they were right).

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