As Carlson and Lemon go out, a chapter ends on Cable’s Trump war

As Carlson and Lemon go out, a chapter ends on Cable’s Trump war

As Carlson and Lemon go out, a chapter ends on Cable's Trump war

They were on very different networks and did very different things to get very different ratings.

But the synchronous exits of Tucker Carlson and Don Lemon from the cable news landscape on Monday represented the end of an era for their industry — the most combative and partisan since Ted Turner introduced the concept of 24-hour news on 24 on television more than 40 years ago. .

No equivalence can be established between the two hosts. Mr. Carlson has often topped the ratings, lashing out at Fox News with white nationalists and fake conspiracy stories that put him in a class of his own. Mr. Lemon became known for his anti-Trump broadsides that were tame by comparison — and drew much smaller ratings — but could sound very hot by CNN standards.

But in their most recent incarnations, Mr. Carlson and Mr. Lemon were both products of the Trump years – set-top box fighters who often made headlines themselves by giving their audiences generous helpings of outrage and of indignation.

Now, in different ways, their ousters represent at least a temporary retreat from the excesses of media coverage that Trump’s election, presidency and post-presidency have spawned.

“On many mainstream channels, there was a race to be the first to condemn Trump to celebrate his problems,” said Stephen F. Hayes, founder of the conservative site The Dispatch. “And on Fox, especially in prime time, there was this over-the-top effort to defend him and amplify his lies.”

Mr. Hayes, who quit as an analyst at Fox following Mr. Carlson’s promotion of conspiracy theories about the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, said optimistically: “We can hope this signals a kind of broader institutional change.

Questions remain about the specifics of both releases, and both situations involved factors other than their general editorial approaches.

Mr. Carlson had become an embarrassing figure thanks to the extensive documentation produced in Dominion Voting Systems’ libel lawsuit against Fox, which ended last week at the eleventh hour for $787.5 million.

Emails and text messages produced before the trial showed Mr Carlson mocking Mr Trump even as he hailed him on his program and used foul, misogynistic language about a lawyer pushing election plots on Dominion voting machines, Sidney Powell. In another pending lawsuit in Delaware, Carlson’s former bookings manager Abby Grossberg is accusing Mr. Carlson and his team of using similarly foul language about women. That behavior – which Ms. Grossberg says created a toxic work environment – ​​appears to have been a factor in her ousting as much as anything else.

Mr Lemon’s ousting came after he made a sexist and ageist remark on a CNN morning show that Republican presidential hopeful Nikki Haley was not “at her peak” because, as he put it , “a woman is considered her 20s and 30s and maybe 40s. The statement was deeply offensive in every way. But in television terms, it also strayed into cardinal sin territory — it threatened to alienate a significant audience demographic. Although Mr. Lemon apologized, the network ultimately concluded that his future had become untenable.

But neither of these situations can be seen outside of where the men stood on the moving patches of cable news terra firma.

Mr. Lemon was operating in a new environment at CNN, where a new network president, Chris Licht, has made it clear he wants to shave off what he sees as the more partisan edges that have emerged during the Trump years. As Mr. Licht told advertisers last June, “In an age where extremes dominate cable news, we will seek to take a different path.” Getting CNN down that middle path also happens to be the priority of David Zaslav, the chief executive of CNN’s parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery, even if it means lower ratings and therefore less revenue. “Ratings be damned,” he said.

It was largely because of this change that Mr. Licht moved Mr. Lemon from his 10 p.m. show last year and named him co-host of a new breakfast program on CNN. “CNN This Morning” was positioned as a lighter, more conversational – and less edgy – program than the one Mr. Lemon was freed from.

Still, it didn’t quite take. “Don Lemon is a lightning rod because he really rose to prominence at a time when it was celebrated and encouraged in prime time,” Mr. Licht conceded at a press conference hosted by Semafor earlier this this month. “CNN has moved on and Don has moved on.” Now CNN has moved on from Don.

The signal is a little less clear from Fox News. The network and its executives Lachlan and Rupert Murdoch had backed Mr. Carlson for years as he drew widespread condemnation for spreading false and racist conspiracies that had earned him such cachet from so many Trump loyalists.

They seemed to be doing it for one basic reason – the high ratings and huge revenue he was earning doing it. Even as the Dominion trial appeared to be heading full steam ahead for trial, Mr Carlson doubled down on releasing reports that mischaracterized the Jan. 6 attack as an essentially peaceful event. It sent a signal that even under the threat of a huge lawsuit, the ratings were winning over Fox.

Following its settlement with Dominion last week, Fox was faced with the unanswered question of whether the experience of the case was searing enough for Fox News to withdraw from airing the kind of unbridled and fake content. on the plot that gave Dominion such a strong hand at court. .

The abrupt end to Mr. Carlson’s run at Fox News may not telegraph a wider setback on the horizon – indeed, there are various indications to the contrary. But his removal from Fox prime time is a setback in itself, and quite a significant one.

Again, over the past 40 years, cable news, in its perpetual quest for audiences and relevance, has moved inexorably towards ever more strident programs and personalities. The exits of Mr. Carlson and Mr. Lemon could mark the end of an era in cable news. But if Fox and CNN can’t resist the siren call of Mr. Trump’s eye-catching bag of tricks in the ratings chase, who’s to say what the next one will really look like?


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