On the subject of television, Brown says the abundance of international breaking news over the last month plays to CNN’s institutional strengths, but at the same time “masks its underlying weaknesses.”
“CNN can’t succeed in a world where people want news to be entertaining,” he says. "Bill O'Reilly is inherently more entertaining than anything CNN does. It’s more fun to see an action movie than read a book.”
What CNN does have, however, “is a world-class brand that would be the envy of any news organization in the world except, perhaps, the New York Times. It doesn’t win [the ratings], but maybe that’s not the most important thing.”
To Brown, journalism is the most important thing. And on that point, he doesn’t hold much respect for Fox News’ O’Reilly, ex-MSNBC star Keith Olbermann and others, labeling them as “skilled entertainers who use journalism as a canvas on which to perform.”
O’Reilly is “the least self-conscious guy in the world. He makes 30 million dollars a year and talks about himself as a populist. The only one better than O’Reilly is [Stephen] Colbert. He’s a better O’Reilly than O’Reilly.”
Fox News colleague Glenn Beck “sits around with a blackboard and says profoundly stupid things, and he gets two million people to watch him.”
At Brown’s alma mater, Elliott Spitzer bullied Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Kathleen Parker off their fledging 8 p.m. show, Brown says.
“She’s an adult. He’s a child. He wasn’t interested in sharing the space. The weight of his personality blew her off the screen. He’s a big, bombastic cable person, but he gets his ass kicked by O’Reilly from here to the moon.”
Brown, a Parker fan, says he would have advised her against taking the gig. “It was dumb for her. She’s really smart and talented. She didn’t need it. Someone probably dropped a million dollars on her. I don’t think much of how CNN handled it.”
As for Anderson Cooper, Brown’s successor at CNN, he saves his best brickbat for last.
“I know the difference between journalism and a slogan. ‘Keeping them honest’ [tagline for Cooper’s ‘360’] is a slogan.”
UPDATE: CNN issued an response to Aaron's perceived criticism of AC360:
From a CNN spokesperson:
We wish Aaron well in his upcoming surgery, and we think viewer response to CNN’s recent coverage of historic events around the world on “Anderson Cooper 360″ and the rest of our TV and digital platforms speaks for itself.