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Campbell Brown leaving CNN after asking to be released from her contract [Updated]

May 18, 2010 |  2:48 pm

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CNN’s Campbell Brown, whose 8 p.m. EDT news program was never able to muster a strong challenge to personality-driven shows hosted by Bill O’Reilly and Keith Olbermann, is leaving the network after she asked to be released from her contract.

Brown’s departure, first reported by the blog Mediaite, comes as the network has suffered deep losses in its prime-time viewership since its 2008 political ratings surge. A source familiar with the situation confirmed that Brown has been in talks for some time with the network about making a change. She sought to have her program moved an hour earlier, to the time slot anchored by Lou Dobbs, until he abruptly left the network, but that hour went to John King.

Brown made a big splash when she joined CNN from NBC, but was not able to draw ratings on a par with the opinion-oriented shows hosted by her rivals. So far this year, her viewership is down 38% compared with the same period last year.

It was no secret Brown was unhappy, but her decision to leave was tightly held, and the news caught many inside the network by surprise, including some top CNN executives. As of late Tuesday afternoon, members of her staff had not been told.

Brown has agreed to stay on until a replacement can be found for her hour. It remains to be seen how CNN will fill the key time slot, which kicks off the network’s prime-time lineup on the East Coast. A CNN spokeswoman did not immediately return a call for comment.

[Updated at 4:06 p.m.: In a statement, Brown laid out in personal and candid terms why she has decided to leave the network. The full text follows:

I knew on the day that I accepted my job at CNN that a ratings victory at 8pm was going to be a formidable challenge. As I have been told over and over, this is the toughest timeslot in cable news. That is obviously due to the incredible talents of my 8pm competitors. I have also always marveled whenever a television anchor says that he or she pays no attention to ratings. I'm pretty sure the last time any anchor could honestly ignore ratings was well before I was born. Of course I pay attention to ratings. And simply put, the ratings for my program are not where I would like them to be. It is largely for this reason that I am stepping down as anchor of CNN's "Campbell Brown".


To be clear:  this is my decision, and one that I have been thinking about for some time. As for why, I could have said, that I am stepping down to spend more time with my children (which I truly want to do). Or that I am leaving to pursue other opportunities (which I also truly want to do). But I have never had much tolerance for others' spin, so I can't imagine trying to stomach my own. The simple fact is that not enough people want to watch my program, and I owe it to myself and to CNN to get out of the way so that CNN can try something else.

CNN will have to figure out what that is. The 8pm hour in cable news world is currently driven by the indomitable Bill O'Reilly, Nancy Grace and Keith Olbermann. Shedding my own journalistic skin to try to inhabit the kind of persona that might co-exist in that line up is simply impossible for me. It is not who I am or who I want to be; nor is it who CNN asked me to be at any point. This is the right decision for me and I hope it will be a great opportunity for CNN.

Since its launch three decades ago CNN has strived to be an independent, credible and enduring source of news. While the rest of the cable news world moved to opinion, CNN allowed me to stay true to my hard-news roots and supported me with a true commitment to old-school journalism. There is plenty of debate now about whether real journalism even has a place in primetime. I may be taking myself out of that debate on a nightly basis, but I am truly proud of the work we have done on this program and I do still believe that journalism has an essential place in primetime and at all times. I am also especially proud of the people who put this show on the air every night. They are an amazing, dedicated, loyal and caring team. To them, I will be forever grateful.
 
My plan right now is to help CNN through any transition, and then to enjoy, for the very first time, the nightly ritual of "Good Night Moon" and good night kisses with my two little boys. I wish my CNN colleagues all the best. And as long as bedtime doesn't conflict with primetime, I will be watching and pulling for them.
 
Campbell Brown

In a separate statement released moments later by the network, CNN/U.S. President Jon Klein said: “Today is about Campbell. We want to wish her well as she begins the next phase of her life. We respect her decision to leave. We will announce our programming plans in the coming weeks.”]

 -- Matea Gold

twitter.com/mateagold)

Photo: Campbell Brown. Credit: CNN

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