CNN’s Klein: ‘I Got Shot’

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Photo: Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images

CNN president Jonathan Klein didn’t come into work this morning.

“I didn’t want to put people in an awkward situation,” he told me. Two days ago, he learned he was out of a job.

On Wednesday afternoon, CNN Worldwide president Jim Walton, who was in New York visiting from Atlanta, called a meeting with Klein, but ominously didn’t tell him what it was about. When Klein arrived, Walton cursorily told him he was being removed, to be replaced by HLN chief Ken Jautz. It was a brief conversation.

“People get shot in our business. I got shot,” Klein said in a phone interview.

To people in the TV business, the timing of the announcement could hardly have been more surprising. Though CNN under Klein has struggled to find an identity, the cable network is about to debut two new shows, one featuring Eliot Spitzer and Kathleen Parker and the other Piers Morgan, the replacement for Larry King, along with an accompanying ad campaign. Klein was blindsided, too.

“I expected a decision would be made after the show had been on for a while,” Klein said. "Others thought differently. I’m disappointed.”

Klein says he wanted more time to see how the new programming worked out. “I’m a big proponent of accountability. But I thought a judgment would come on three levels: one, quality; two, ratings; three, profitability.”

One theory among insiders is that Walton axed Klein so that if the new shows fail, he could take the blame. Klein himself speculates that, given that the decision to replace him had been made, it was cleaner to do it now rather than in the future.

“There could have been a fear in making a change later which could make it seem like these shows and the schedule are in trouble.”

But whatever the reason, the shows now start under a cloud, not that it's Klein’s problem any longer. “I don’t know their thinking, and I’m not interested in their thinking.”

Right now, Klein is looking forward to some down time. He’s going to the Yankees game tonight and the Giants game on Sunday.