Press Box

Greta Van Susteren, TV Diva

She wants her close-up on another network because her feelings are very, very hurt.

As my old friend Glenn Garvin once counseled me, if you’re going to quit your job every time the bosses violate one of your deeply held journalistic principles, make sure to update your résumé daily. You’ll need it.

Although Garvin was mute about what measures to take if your bosses hurt your feelings, I’m sure that his advice would be the same. Quitting in protest? Make sure you have a soft place to land.

I don’t know if Garvin has been counseling cable TV legal affairs chatterer Greta Van Susteren, but she seems to be following his advice to a T. According to a story in today’s New York Times, Van Susteren left CNN for Fox News earlier this month not for more money (Fox offered less), but because the network hurt her feelings.

Van Susteren’s emotional damage is inventoried in a letter she and her husband/lawyer John Coale sent to CNN’s chairman, Walter Isaacson, and which was “shared with the New York Times by several people who have seen it.” Did Isaacson and Co. leak it to the Times to humiliate Van Susteren and Coale as silly and petty bastards? Or did Van Susteren and Coale leak it to the Times to publicize what they think are valid grievances?

Van Susteren had no comment for the Times reporter, but Coale said, “We’re disturbed that it got out because it’s a private thing. I had committed to CNN and others that this is private.” Sounds more like an attorney’s massaged sound bite than a denial.

What soft sensitivities did CNN’s beastly behavior violate? CNN underpromoted her, she and Coale complain in the letter, giving a bigger spotlight to newly hired “stars” Paula Zahn and Aaron Brown. Even if CNN did hype Zahn and Brown over Van Susteren, wouldn’t that make sense? The network didn’t want viewers to land on CNN and see Zahn and think that they had tuned in to Fox, Zahn’s last gig. Likewise, the network didn’t want viewers to see Brown and think they were watching ABC. Van Susteren, on the other hand, has been haunting CNN since the birth of Christ.

But if CNN’s treatment of Van Susteren constitutes abuse, I can only hope my bosses start looking to the network for inspiration. As Zahn and Brown joined CNN, the network gave the TV diva her own show, titled The Point With Greta Van Susteren (Note to Kinsley: Can we change the name of this column to “Press Box With Jack Shafer”?) and programmed it directly after Larry King’s show, which is CNN’s No. 1 show. This cushy lead-in made Van Susteren’s show No. 2. Oh, the indignity! [Erratum: In fact, The Point was the lead in to Larry King Live, an equally advantageous slot.]

Other hateful, hurtful acts by the network: Coale’s letter alleges that CNN treated her like a “second-class citizen” by failing to get her an invitation to the White House Christmas party. (She should consider herself lucky.) It also claims that the network slighted its female journalists when it ignored Van Susteren’s complaints and those by Judy Woodruff and Christiane Amanpour about the departure of a key female executive—even though, as the Times reports, CNN is well-stocked with female execs. It also decries the lack of CNN’s on-air diversity, noting that Bernard Shaw (African-American) and Joie Chen (Asian-American) had left the network. Of course, that complaint is precisely nullified by the recent hiring of Connie Chung and Fredricka Whitfield, making CNN as diverse as it was when Van Susteren worked there (a point noted by the Times). What tears, if any, has Van Susteren shed for Old White Male Roger Cossack, her former co-host on CNN’s Burden of Proof, who was let go in December and the show ash-canned?

As the Times points out, leaping to right-wing Fox probably isn’t the best way to protest the lack of diversity at CNN. Fox’s top white guys Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Tony Snow, Brit Hume, and Fred Barnes are not charter members of the affirmative-action vanguard.

So Van Susteren didn’t quit for the money. She didn’t quit because the network ignored her needs. And she didn’t quit to advance the employment prospects of women and minorities. My best guess is that having worked for CNN for a decade, she quit because she hated her bosses.

And everybody, Glenn Garvin included, can relate to that.