CNN's Ousted Kaplan Called 'Talented Man' ... But ...

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:19 PM EDT

( - Rick Kaplan is out as President of CNN's U.S. operations. In refusing to renew Kaplan's contract, CNN ends the tumultuous three-year tenure of a news executive known inside the industry for both his brilliance and volatility.

Early in Kaplan's term at CNN, "Newsstand," a joint venture between the news network and Time magazine, ignited a furor when it alleged the U.S. military used nerve gas on American defectors in Laos in 1970.

CNN was forced to retract the story and settle several lawsuits. However, the network did sell the video of the program, much to the dismay of veterans groups, the Pentagon, many journalists and television executives.

Later, financial anchor Lou Dobbs quit after a public feud with Kaplan over programming priorities and questions about Kaplan's political objectivity, given his close relationship with President Clinton.

Also, CNN's recent convention coverage ratings were 27 percent lower than in 1996. CNN has seen its market share diminish in the face of competition from financial networks such as CNBC and other news networks such as Fox News Channel.

Without even mentioning Kaplan by name, CNN Wednesday labeled the shakeup an "executive realignment".

Terence McGuirk, chairman and chief executive officer of Turner Broadcasting System, the parent company of CNN, said Philip I. Kent will assume the newly created position of president and chief operating officer of CNN News Group. Kent has been overseeing CNN's international business expansion.

McGuirk said Kent will report to Tom Johnson, chairman and chief executive officer of CNN News Group on "editorial matters" and to Steven Heyer, president of TBS Incorporated on "business and operating issues."

Eason Jordan, will assume the new title of president of "newsgathering" and chief news executive of CNN News Group, according to McGuirk.

"In the leadership realignment", according to McGuirk, "Jordan adds responsibility for an expanded newsgathering department, including CNN Newsource and CNN's Features Units, to his oversight of CNN's global newsgathering operation." Jordan will be based in Atlanta and report to Johnson on "editorial matters" and to Kent on "operating issues."

As head of newsgathering and international networks for CNN News Group, Jordan oversaw the network's coverage of the Persian Gulf War; the U.S. led interventions in Haiti, Somalia, Panama and Grenada as well as coverage of the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe; and the crackdown in Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

At least one television critic thinks Kaplan had the ability but was not the right person to direct the CNN operation.

Hal Boedeker, of the Orlando Sentinel told, "it's obvious that he (Kaplan) is a very gifted man. That's evident from his tenure at ABC. I just doubt that he was the right guy to be in charge of the whole network. Look at all the Emmys he won at ABC and the programs he had a hand in there. I think it's kind of sad because I think he's definitely got the right stuff. I'm just not sure he was the right person to be in overall charge of that news operation."