When Carlson and Lemon Come Out, A Chapter Closes the Trump Cable War

They are on very different networks and do very different things to get very different rankings.

But Tucker Carlson and Don Lemon's synchronized exit from the cable news landscape on Monday represented the end of their industrial era – the most aggressive and partisan since Ted Turner introduced the concept of 24-hour news to television more than 40 years ago. .

No equivalence can be drawn between the two hosts. Mr. Carlson often leads the ratings by going wild on Fox News with white nationalist stories and fake conspiracies that place him in a class of his own. Mr. Lemon became famous because of his anti-Trump a tame flyer by comparison – and gets a much smaller rating – but could be considered pretty hot by CNN standards.

But in their latest incarnation, Mr. Carlson and Mr. Lemons are both a product of the Trump years – set-top-box combatants who frequently make headlines by providing their audiences with rage and anger relief.

Now, in a different way, their dismissals represent at least a temporary withdrawal from the excess media coverage generated by Trump's election, presidency and post-presidency.

“Across many mainstream channels, there is a race to be the first to condemn Trump to celebrate his troubles,” said Stephen F. Hayes, founder of the conservative website The Dispatch. “And on Fox, especially in prime time, there is an over-the-top attempt to defend him and reinforce his lies.

Mr. Hayes, who left his job as a Fox analyst because of Mr. Carlson's promotion of a conspiracy theory about the January 6, 2021 attacks on the Capitol, said optimistically, “We can expect that this signals some kind of broader institutional change. ”

Questions remain about the details of both exits, and both situations involve factors other than the host's general editorial approach.

Mr. Carlson has been an embarrassment through much of the material produced in the defamation lawsuit filed by Dominion Voting Systems against Fox, which settled last week in the 11th hour for $787.5 million.

The resulting emails and text messages before the scheduled trial show Mr Carlson mocking Mr Trump even while praising him on his program, and using abusive and misogynistic language about a lawyer who pushed for an election conspiracy about the Dominion voting machine, Sidney Powell.

In another lawsuit pending in Delaware, former head of event booking Mr. Carlson's Abby Grossberg accused her and her staff of using similarly offensive language about women. That behavior – which Mrs. Grossberg created a toxic work environment – apparently as much a factor in firing Mr Carlson as anything else.

Mr. Lemon was ousted after he made sexist and age-old comments on CNN's morning program, saying Republican presidential nominee Nikki Haley was not “in her prime” because, as she put it, “a woman is considered to be in her late 20s and 30s.” late 40s and maybe 40s.”

That statement is highly offensive by any measure. But in television terms, it's also straying into cardinal sin territory — it's threatening to alienate important demographic ratings. Despite Mr. Lemon's apologies, the network ultimately concluded that his future was untenable.

But no situation could be seen beyond where the men stood on the shifting slabs of terra firma cable news.

Mr. Lemon was operating in a new environment at CNN, where the network's new president, Chris Licht, made it clear he wanted to trim what he saw as the more partisan side that had emerged in the Trump years. As Mr. Licht told advertisers in June, “In a time when extreme cable news dominates, we will seek a different path.”

Sending CNN to that middle ground was also a priority for David Zaslav, chief executive of CNN parent company Warner Bros. Discovery, even if it means lower ratings and, therefore, less revenue. “Cursed ratings,” he said.

Not least because of this change Mr. Licht moved Mr. Lemon from last year's 10 p.m. show and assigned him co-host of CNN's new breakfast program. “CNN This Morning” is positioned as a program that is lighter, more communicative — and less tense — than the program vacated by Mr. Lemons.

But that's not enough. “Don Lemon was a lightning rod because he really rose to prominence during an era where it was celebrated and pushed around prime time,” Mr. Licht admitted at a media conference held by Traffic lights this month. “CNN has moved on from that, and Don has moved on from that.” Now, CNN has moved on from Don.

The signal is a little less clear from Fox News. The network and its leaders Lachlan and Rupert Murdoch have supported Mr. Carlson for years when he came under widespread criticism for airing the false and racist conspiracy that earned him the label of so many loyal Trump supporters.

They apparently did it for an underlying reason—the huge ratings and the huge revenue he earned while he was at it. Even as the Dominion lawsuit appears to be headed for a full trial, Mr. Carlson doubled down by running reports that falsely described the January 6 attacks as largely peaceful events. That sends the signal that even under the threat of a grand lawsuit, ratings trump everything at Fox.

Following its settlement with Dominion last week, Fox is faced with unanswered questions about whether the experience of the case is strong enough to get Fox News to withdraw from airing content of the runaway, false conspiracy that gave Dominion such powerful power in court. .

The sudden end of Mr. Carlson at Fox News may not be telegraphing some broader setbacks anytime soon — indeed, there are various indications to the contrary. But his dismissal from Fox's prime time was a setback in its own right, and a pretty big one at that.

Then again, over the last 40 years, cable news, in a constant hunt for ratings and relevance, has inexorably moved toward more outspoken programming and personalities. exit Carlson and Mr. Lemon may represent the end of an era in cable news. But if Fox and CNN can't resist the siren calls of Mr. Trump in pursuit of ratings, who can say what his next appearance will be?