The Mirror

SOS! We Have A Situation In CNN’s ‘The Situation Room’

Betsy Rothstein Gossip blogger
Font Size:

Every workplace has the occasional mass exodus. But when seven longterm — we’re talking some as long as a decade — staffers leave you in the year of your show getting a new executive producer, it might be time for a reality check.

This is the situation in “The Situation Room” with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.

In the past year, several staffers have walked, many with no job in hand. Linda Roth is the latest to bid the show farewell and she’s been with Wolf for a decade — she has no idea what’s next. It’s no exaggeration to say that Roth was integral in helping Wolf build his career from war zones to Dubai to Israel. She has traveled the world for him and with him.

CNN insiders opened up to The Mirror about what’s happening in “The Situation Room” only on condition of anonymity because they don’t want to burn bridges with past, present or future employers in the media business.

They say that Wolf’s executive producer for the past year, Jay Shaylor, is largely to blame for the departures and, essentially, the breakup of Wolf’s work family over the past decade.

But watch out, they say he’s got a bit of an “ego, insecurity” problem. So he’s unlikely to know that he’s the reason everyone around him is leaving.

“I think the new guy sees it as a family because he’s so oblivious as to how people see him,” said a source familiar with then the situation. “I think outside of him, it’s a family. He’s the father that doesn’t know the kids don’t like him. The situation on that show is heartbreaking because it used to be fun, supportive.”

The way it was described to The Mirror: “They’re leaving in droves.”

Apart from Roth, here’s the list of those who have hit the road in the last year (and not due to layoffs): Peter Lanier, David Gracey, Rachel Shackelford, Stephanie Kotuby, Marlo Fowler, and Chip Hertzel. Gracey is the exception — he now works elsewhere at the network. Word has it, two other “Situation Room” staffers are “dying to get out.”

When CNN killed “Crossfire,” some staff moved over to ‘The Situation Room.”

Before Shaylor arrived, Wolf’s EP was the beloved Patricia DiCarlo, who sources say worked tirelessly to help foster the family atmosphere that staffers say they once enjoyed. She now works in the investigations unit. Some suggest that she was driven out, but others blame a natural burnout of the job as to why she moved on.

As one source put it, “Wolf is a great guy and a great manager but his EP is someone — I don’t really know how to phrase this, I don’t know how to describe this — he’s someone who gives other people work to do, but doesn’t take ownership of his own responsibilities, including the control room.”

What about Wolf? Haven’t his longtime, obviously fiercely loyal employees broached their grievances with him?

The answer: They have, but insiders say he’s “conflict avoidant” and “not an emotional person” and that “his hands are tied.” A theory among staffers: He’s afraid to make waves with so many recent layoffs and relatively new CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker still sorting out what happens next across the board.

Sources say Wolf has tried talking to Shaylor about the complaints. But, says an insider, “It’s almost like Wolf has given up.”

Some of Wolf’s staffers have also gone to CNN Human Resources, The Mirror has learned. But sources with knowledge of these meetings say they’ve resulted in no changes and no improvements in Shaylor’s behavior.

Shaylor came to CNN via Eric Sherling. The pair worked together at ABC’s “Good Morning America,” where Shaylor was a senior producer.

So what exactly do they say is wrong with this guy?

1. Among the first changes Shaylor made after coming aboard was to end the familial staff meetings in Wolf’s office. Now it’s just Wolf, Shaylor and the show’s number two, Senior Broadcast Producer David Gelles, alone in a meeting. Insiders said it was a way of driving a wedge between Wolf and the other longtime staffers. A larger, separate meeting is now held with staff in a conference room. (A source: “It’s maddening.”)

2. He pulls disappearing acts throughout the day and explains them away by saying he’s in meetings. (A source: “He’s nowhere to be found.”) Gelles, the CNN insiders say, does “90 percent of the work” and is the one who talks in Wolf’s ear. (Another source: “About two weeks ago, there was a huge gap in the show because we were missing a guest in our 5 o’clock hour. We didn’t have a guest. There was this huge hole in the show. We had a 2:30 meeting, the meeting ends and he’s nowhere to be found. There’s a hole in the top of your show and we can’t find you? That is irresponsible. Ultimately a guest came through around 4:30 or something.” The source explained that in the history of the show that he or she has witnessed, this has never happened — that there’s a hole in the show and the EP isn’t around to help solve the problem.)

3. He’s condescending. (Example: On Shaylor’s first day on the job, a source explained that he met with staff and said, “‘I’m here to teach all of you to be better producers.’ It was just so matter-of-fact. Who wants to learn from him when he doesn’t take responsibility for producing?”)

4. “He’s just a horrible manager. Now that I’m further away from it, I see how unhealthy it is.”

The Mirror sought comment from Shaylor and Blitzer repeatedly for this story, giving them both clear knowledge of my deadline. Neither replied to email requests for comment.

Other complaints about Shaylor are more comical. A staffer was once offended that he would publicly (at least among staff in an email) make fun of Sen. Bernie Sanders‘ (I-Vermont) hair. In a staff meeting, sources present say Shaylor cracked, “I hope Bernie doesn’t skip hair.” Later Shaylor wrote an email to staff saying, “I guess Bernie skipped hair.” An insider remarked, “That’s so rude. Why would you put that in an email that could be sent to him?”

He also was heard making fun of an older former female member of Congress for wearing sleeveless shirts.

But others at the network sing his praises. In an introductory note last October when he was hired, Washington Bureau Chief Sam Feist and Sherling wrote about his accomplishments: “While at GMA, Jay was part of the leadership team that brought the morning program to number one. He is an Emmy, Peabody, and Murrow Award-winning journalist who brings to CNN extensive experience managing breaking stories from the control room and the field. His recent career milestones include coordinating coverage for the Boston Marathon bombings and the Oklahoma tornadoes, and field producing in the aftermath of the Japan tsunami and the Deepwater Horizon spill. Jay also has a passion for politics, having contributed to GMA’s election coverage in every cycle since 2006.”

Still, CNN insiders aren’t impressed. They say Shaylor drops Zucker’s name all the time and “gives off the impression that he’s tight with all of them,” meaning, top management.

Speaking of Zucker, he’s due in Washington next week — which isn’t making too many employees relaxed considering all the recent layoffs. As it was described, the mood that his visit brings is “not calming.”

Ultimately, an insider has compassion for Wolf and all the loss of the past year.

“I feel for Wolf,” a source confides. “Your heart breaks.”

And another: “I want to stress that Wolf is absolutely amazing.”