April 24 marked a pivotal day for American journalism. That morning, Fox News announced that they had decided to part ways with prime time talk show host Tucker Carlson, a decision that struck many as sudden and somewhat unexpected. Most liberals argue that Carlson had it coming for him, while many conservatives feel he was betrayed by the network. Fox News chose not to provide an explanation for Carlson's departure, instead exclusively stating, “[We] thank him for his service to the network as a host and prior to that as a contributor.”
While the precise reason for his split from the network remains unclear at the time of this article, it is fair to generally assume why it happened. Carlson is undoubtedly one of the most controversial and polarizing figures in American media, and he is no stranger to backlash and criticism; his comments on Tucker Carlson Tonight and Tucker Carlson Today have sentenced him to a life of permanent condemnation by the Democratic Party.
One week prior, Fox News settled a massive defamation lawsuit with Dominion Voting Systems for 787.5 million dollars over the network’s promotion of election fraud and corruption theories during the 2020 presidential election. Carlson was easily the biggest and most infamous disseminator of these ideas, and Dominion dug up dozens of problematic messages between him and other Fox staff members dating back to November 2020, during the heat of the election. Some of these messages suggest that Carlson holds a different set of political views than those he professes on air, which put the credibility of the network in jeopardy.
One message stood out in particular, though it was problematic for a different reason. In a long-winded text sent hours after the events of January 6 insurrection, Carlson expressed his thoughts on a video of three white men attacking a young male Antifa member. “Jumping a guy like that is dishonorable obviously,” he texted. “It’s not how white men fight.” The rest of the message is equally as disastrous, and Fox was likely forced into a position to fire him when this came to light, despite his success as host of the second most-watched program on TV.
That same April morning, in a way that almost feels poetic, longtime anchor Don Lemon was released by CNN. In a similar fashion to Carlson, Lemon’s termination happened immediately and without explanation. In his own statement, Lemon said his agent informed him of the network’s decision that morning, writing, “I am stunned.” “Don will forever be a part of the CNN family, and we thank him for his contributions over the past 17 years,” said CEO Chris Licht in a memo to the network staff. “We wish him well and will be cheering him on in his future endeavors,” he continued.
Lemon has been widely criticized for a number of comments he has made on air over his nearly 17-year career with the network. In February, he received major backlash for remarks he made about Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley on CNN This Morning. Lemon stated, “Nikki Haley isn’t in her prime, sorry.” He went on to say that “[A woman is] considered to be in her prime in her 20s and 30s and maybe 40s.” He endured his fair share of criticism for these remarks both on social media and in the form of censure by CNN, and issued an apology later that same day.
A couple months have passed since Lemon made those comments, and he managed to keep his head above water until April 5, when the entertainment publication Variety released a hit-piece about his alleged questionable treatment of women. More than a dozen former and current female colleagues of Lemon came out to describe his behavior towards them as openly hostile. 19 days later, Lemon was terminated from the network.
It might be reason enough to assume that CNN was unsatisfied with Lemon and finally found a reason to get rid of him. His ratings have been declining as the seemingly never ending interest in the stories of the Trump presidency—COVID, the 2020 election, January 6—has finally died down, and it is likely that the network reached a breaking point with him.
The simultaneous removal of two of the most well-known and influential figures in the American media opens the door to a number of questions about the future of journalism in this country. What does it mean for such prominent figures to be dropped by their organizations at the snap of a finger? Does someone like Tucker Carlson have the power to bring viewers with him, away from big-time media corporations?
There is certainly an increasing amount of skepticism among the public about journalism, and colossal news outlets like Fox and CNN have less credibility than ever. Are the members of staff the problem, or is it the corporations firing them that are to blame?