CNN Anchor Erin Burnett talks about 10 Years of "Calling Out the Truth and Not Being Afraid to Hold People to Account"
Erin Burnett joined CNN in 2011 to anchor the 7 p.m. news hour because of an unexpected technical problem.
Prior to joining CNN in early prime, and before she became a regular on CNBCs dayside lineup, Burnett worked as Willow Bay aide on CNN's financial program Moneyline. That was before the channel moved to Columbus Circle and eventually to Hudson Yards, where it would house its new studios in New York at 5 Penn Plaza, above Penn Station, and across the street from Madison Square Garden.
Burnett recalls that when she returned [in 2011], they had my address as my name from when I was 22, and it was really difficult to get a tax exemption from the system.
The unexpected glitch serves as a metaphor for Burnett, who is celebrating 10 years as host of the cable news channels 7 p.m. hour, Erin Burnet Outfront. It also shows how Burnett has seen CNN adapt to a changing television and news landscape. It was also a return to the place where she began her journalism career.
CNN has massively changed, Burnett says.
We were a breaking news utility, and we were good at that, she adds. But when there isnt any breaking news, people are still there, because the network stands for something. What I believe it stands for is analysis, calling out the truth, and not being afraid to hold people to account.
Burnett has taken that perspective, incorporating hard news, newsy interviews, and intelligent analysis into the somewhat unusual time slot she occupies. It all comes down to that 7 p.m. hour, which follows the dayside lineup, when news is often background noise in offices, but before later in the evening, at which news programs have to figure out how to compete with more sports and entertainment offerings.
People are still eating or putting families to bed, says Burnett. There is a lot of action taking place in peoples homes at that time, as opposed to merely an audience that is there to watch an hour-long interview, he added.
CNNs competitors have in recent years leaned into opinion in the hour, with MSNBC bringing Joy Reid to take over the time slot last year, and Fox News employing a rotating cast of guest hosts this year.
It has paid off in terms of viewership. According to Nielsen, Erin Burnett Outfront was CNNs third-most-watched show in the key adults 25-54 demographic last quarter, behind only AC360 and Cuomo Prime Time. Reids show, Burnett s The View, topped Reid in the demo, though Fox News held its overall vise control over cable news ratings.
Burnett isnt an opinion host, but that doesn t mean she doesn t have a point of view.
We think of [the show] as a lot driven by analysis and interviews. And that analysis can and often does include deciding when something is or isnt, she says. It is calling out the truth for what it is. I know that in the political environment in which we live, there is a fine line between fact and being political in countless peoples minds. It's not an easy world to live in. We try to focus on analysis and facts. That means calling people out.
That could be calling out bullshit from some top Republicans and Fox News hosts for pushing anti-vaccine messages, or questioneding Bidens White House communications director Kate Bedingfield about the administration s relationship with Saudi Arabia.
But it could also be news-making interviews with people like Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who described the potential disaster of failing to raise the debt limit last week (Congress would ultimately extend the limit into December).
But few stories have a greater impact on Burnett than the ongoing coverage of the COVID-19 epidemic.
One particular moment that stands out to Burnett is her interview with Maura Lewinger in April of 2020. Joe Lewingers husband, Joe, passed away from the virus, and she spoke to Burnett about the loss.
As a journalist, sometimes we cover things, and he explains that identifying stories, having empathy, being there to tell the story, is incredibly important,. But a bigger part of it is that you, that is you and it's not visible to everyone. I think that you also realize that, for the most part, you are just a person.
She adds, "There was no going home." This was overwhelming and emotionally exhausting in a way that happens with things that we cover, but where you do go home, she added.
It all boils down to the reason Burnett wanted to be a journalist in the first place: to keep people informed and to provide aide and stability to viewers who are searching for guidance and reassurance even in difficult times. The accounts that emerged during the epidemic are perfect examples.
I have changed as a person. And I think everyone has changed as a person, and I believe that will affect how I will do my job in the future, Burnett says. If there was ever a time when what we did really and truly mattered, it was at that time. There were times when it felt like we were really providing something that was really helpful to a lot of people.