Tucker Carlson, Don Lemon And The Cult Of The News Media Personality

The first lesson of journalism: Don't become the news. Unfortunately, it appears Carlson and Lemon never learned this.
Tucker Carlson, shown here in November at the Fox Nation Patriot Awards in Florida, was let go from Fox News last week.
Tucker Carlson, shown here in November at the Fox Nation Patriot Awards in Florida, was let go from Fox News last week.
Jason Koerner via Getty Images

My university alma mater doesn’t have a journalism school. But when I realized I wanted to be a newswriter, I took a few classes to nail down the fundamentals. Thus, I’m aware of one of journalism’s foundational tenets: Report the story, don’t become part of it.

Tucker Carlson and Don Lemon both shot a deuce on that tenet: They didn’t just become part of the news, they became the news.

On April 23, both popular and respected commentators parted ways (or were shit-canned) from their cable networks, Fox News for Carlson and CNN for Lemon. That two disparate and unrelated news organizations did it on the same day feels like conspiracy theory fodder, and the terminations dominated the news cycle through the beginning of that week.

In the “golden” era of broadcast journalists ― Walter Cronkite, Tom Brokaw, Barbara Walters, et al. ― getting fired for bad behavior wasn’t a thing. Charisma was important, but so was telling the story with objectivity.

It wasn’t until the end of the 20th century that straight broadcast news and punditry started blurring the lines. Carlson and Lemon are indicative of that blur: journalists who deliver some news but ladle on a sizable helping of their commentary. This brand of news show has made celebrities of several people, including Anderson Cooper, Rachel Maddow, Sean Hannity and Jon Stewart.

The rise of social media helped contribute to both the popularity and ignominy of these personalities. Twitter alone has helped some obtain their own shows and also been instrumental in getting some the hell up outta here for good.

CNN and Fox News are being tight-lipped about why they unceremoniously let two of their stars go (though CNN provided a nah, that ain’t true rejoinder to Lemon’s announcement tweet), and the rumor train is at full throttle. It’s assumed by many that what took Lemon out is his insistence on proving that being a double minority (Black and gay) doesn’t exclude one from misogyny, including a highly publicized comment about South Carolina Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, 51, being “past her prime” for a presidential run.

Carlson, whose departure as Fox News’ biggest moneymaker was far juicier, overshadowed Lemon in the headlines. As the host of “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” the highest-rated show in all of cable news, Carlson propagated much of the wanton misinformation and overall fuckery that has made Fox News so popular with people who rock Oakley glasses and cargo shorts with tube socks up to their calves.

Don Lemon at the Time 100 Gala in New York City on April 26, soon after he was dropped by CNN.
Don Lemon at the Time 100 Gala in New York City on April 26, soon after he was dropped by CNN.
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

(That Roger Ailes’ Fox News became a juggernaut of unfettered racism during Barack Obama’s presidency is why I refuse to ever give it any views or clicks.)

And my God, was Carlson reprehensible. But even he likely took things a bridge too far: It’s intimated that Carlson forced Fox News owner (and Montgomery Burns cosplayer) Rupert Murdoch’s hand following his role in the network spreading falsehoods about Dominion Voting Systems fixing the very-much-not-fixed 2020 presidential election. Murdoch has to carve off close to three quarters of a billion dollars in a settlement agreement with Dominion.

Carlson also attacked Fox’s golden goose, Donald Trump, in text messages, called the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol “mostly peaceful chaos” and oversaw a toxic work environment that motivated his producer Abby Grossberg to file a lawsuit and air her grievances to the media.

Or, maybe possibly, Carlson simply skeeved Murdoch out by discussing prayer as a panacea for all of America’s social ills ― like transgender people asserting their rights ― during a recent speech, which would be a hilarious reason for a termination from Fox News.

My theory is that Murdoch and company were probably losing control of Carlson, just as CNN was losing control of Lemon. When the talent amasses a sizable following ― Lemon has 1.4 million Twitter followers, Carlson 6.8 million ― and demands absurd sums of money (Carlson was earning at least $10 million annually from Fox, money carved from the veins of my ancestors), egos become massive and the cults of personality kick in.

They weren’t the first big news personalities to fall victim to their own hubris, and they probably won’t be the last. We saw it with Bill O’Reilly, who was clipped from his role as Fox News’ resident bloviating asshole in 2017 over sexual misconduct. Megyn Kelly allegedly pissed off NBC executives enough that they used her comments praising blackface as an excuse to show her the door in 2018.

Though it seems to be the right wingers who always run afoul of their high-paying jobs, journalists and pundits on the left get it, too. Keith Olbermann managed to get his ass fired every seven seconds or so because he doesn’t know how to not run his mouth.

Matt Lauer, Chris Cuomo, Amy Robach, T.J. Holmes ― they all got too big for their britches and figured it was cool to Kobe their multimillion-dollar gigs in the trashcan by disobeying the rules in the first few pages of their employee manuals.

They all became the news.

As a career writer, I find appealing the idea of my material blowing up to the degree that I amass a robust following ― anyone who does what we do and says otherwise is lying to you. But I’ve no interest in becoming a headline because I treated folks poorly, broke rules or laws, or posited a cancel-worthy position that I don’t stand by with my entire constitution.

I’m also familiar with being broke. So, if ever someone saw fit to make me a multimillionaire, I’m doing everything in my power to not mess up the bag by being a misogynist or spreading misinformation.


CORRECTION: A previous version of this story inaccurately said Megyn Kelly was released from Fox News. It was NBC.

Go To Homepage