Home » » David Westin--out. Forced out? Probably. -- Make that DEFINITELY forced out.

David Westin--out. Forced out? Probably. -- Make that DEFINITELY forced out.

Written By mista sense on Monday, September 6, 2010 | 6:41 PM

The New York Times' Bill Carter gets the scoop that ABC News president David Westin is leaving his job.  Carter doesn't quite say whether or not Westin was fired, but he did refer to the "long-running conflict between Mr. Westin and the management of the network."  Not a good sign!   ABC News is doing so-so in the ratings, but that means that the basic mismatch between flat ratings and the huge staff needs to be addressed--the current economics of broadcast TV simply do not support the pharonic staffs the nets built up in their heyday.  Which is to say, nothing that Westin has done over the last 13 years has arrested the decline of ABC News.  That doesn't make Westin a terrible TV executive; he is merely an ineffective executive--unable to turn ABC News around.  That's why he's fighting with his boss, Bob Iger, et al.  Execs don't fight over good news, they fight over bad news. 

Following up, The Wrap's Hunter Walker gets his hands on Westin's memo to the ABC staff .  As we read it, we see that Westin writes, "it's "time to move on," without announcing future plans.  We can say that any time a big shot leaves a high-profile job without announcing any new plan--that's a pretty sure sign that the big shot was, in fact, pushed out.   We can't be sure, of course; Westin could be having some sort of personal crisis, or maybe he truly wants to take up calligraphy or Buddhism. 

TVNewser's Alex Weprin adds useful context: ABC News just suffered through a 25 percent layoff, which is a) not a very good sign about Westin's leadership, and b) not a pleasant experience for a leader to lead through.   So most likely, the "long-running conflict" was waged by his superiors--to get him out.

UPDATE: The Daily Beast's Peter Lauria and Lloyd Grove add the "definitely" to the idea that Westin was pushed out.  As they write this morning, Disney grand poobah Iger "has long had Westin in his crosshairs."  And they add this point, which gets to the unviability of broadcast news as a stand-alone, and the centrality of cable as the central news hub of the future:

Iger and [ABC President Anne] Sweeney assigned Westin to make a cable deal for ABC News, possibly to partner with CNN, but he never got talks off the ground.

“There was nothing going on, no negotiations at all,” says this source. “Without a cable partner, ABC News is kind of doomed.”

And then Lauria and Grove add this:

Westin appeared blind to the tea leaves, however, making quixotic moves like hiring Christiane Amanpour in the wake of the employee bloodletting at a reported $2 million to $3 million to anchor This Week.

So TCG doesn't dispute the logic of ABC News merging with another cabler.  It would be embarrassing, humiliating, etc., but at least the future ABC News exec who made that decision would get to keep his or her job--as opposed to Westin.

But in hiring Amanpour, Westin was more than "quixotic"--he was also, in his own way, shrewd.  In hiring Amanpour, Westin bought--with Disney shareholders' money--himself a lot of good will among his true constituency, which is the Manhattan-Hamptons glitterati.  The snooty, trendy-lefty Amanpour has no appeal to ordinary Americans, but because he hired her, Westin became more than just a corporate suit--he became a hero to the BBC-oriented, New York Times-loving, Davos Man types who form the social sea in which Westin swims.   And now, of course, he can play martyr--a man who stood up to the Man, sacrificing his $10 million a year on the altar of Journalistic Excellence.

It is out of that Manhattan-Hamptons matrix that Westin will find his next next job--working for a foundation, or a hedge fund, or a naive corporation, most likely, foreign.  (See, as valuable precedent, the careers of Howard Stringer and Andy Lack.) Along with, perhaps a temporary perch for Westin at NYU or the Columbia Journalism School, so that he can give lectures to students--and, indirectly, to his old bosses--about the "high calling" of journalism, and how his decision to hire Amanpour was an example of his bravery, while his being fired was an example of Bob Iger's thuggery.

Expect loving profiles of Westin in The New Yorker, detailing his anguish.   It'll be a great life for Westin; yes, he'll miss some of the perks of his old job, but he'll have the psychic income of being a hero to his friends.   And someone will else will get stuck doing the real work--downsizing ABC News, getting rid of Amanpour (at which time, Westin, reached for comment, will declare himself to be "saddened and disappointed" by the oafishness of his successors) and then merging it with a cable  news operation.

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