Guest Editorials, Opinion

Carlson, Lemon personified much of what’s wrong with cable news

Two of the loosest cannons in America’s cable news fleet were unceremoniously rolled overboard Monday, and the country will be better for it. Though unrelated, the sudden, simultaneous firings of Tucker Carlson and Don Lemon from, respectively, Fox News and CNN appear to share some themes: Both hosts had quasi-journalistic perches from which they routinely disseminated ideologically strident opinion — and in both cases, their own undisciplined mouths got them in trouble with their bosses.  

Debating opinions is the whole point of editorial pages like this one, while televised news shows are in theory supposed to be primarily about offering the latest news — or at least they once were. But cable talking heads like Carlson and Lemon have for years now pioneered a kind of hybrid position, somewhere between traditional news anchor and openly opinionated commentator, presenting elements of both. The competition between their networks often caused them to ratchet up the outrage in the quest for ratings. 

In these hotly partisan times, Americans sort themselves in all kinds of ways, including what kind of ideological spin they want on their news. The straight-up-the-middle, Walter Cronkite model can still be found on the legacy network newscasts, but many cable news personalities are fully engaged participants in today’s ideological skirmishes. 

None more so than Carlson, whose irresponsible spreading of blatant lies regarding the pandemic, the Capitol insurrection and the Ukraine war has palpably contributed to America’s divisions. It’s disturbing that he was apparently fired not for any of that but for his contempt for Fox’s management, as revealed by the recent Dominion libel suit against the network. Still, the cableverse will be a safer place for however long this rhetorical terrorist is out of it. 

Despite some commonalities from their opposite ends of the political spectrum, Carlson and Lemon weren’t two sides of the same coin. Lemon’s liberal commentary was often out of line during reporting on serious news events like the Ferguson riots of 2014, but he didn’t engineer blatant, potentially deadly lies in the way Carlson did. From CNN’s viewpoint, Lemon’s primary offense was his penchant for embarrassing, foot-in-mouth moments like his recent declaration that women are only in their “prime” through their early 40s. 

So, yes, the cable networks that for years put up with Lemon’s left-leaning activism and Carlson’s white-nationalist-coddling lies ultimately fired them for what we’d argue were lesser offenses. That’s not ideal, but if it prompts other cable personalities toward the kind of responsible behavior that eluded their two dismissed colleagues, it’s worth something. 

This editorial first appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. This commentary should be considered another point of view and not necessarily the opinion or editorial policy of The Dominion Post.