What Tucker Carlson's and Don Lemon's Departures Mean for Cable News

Tucker Carlson (left) and Don Lemon (right)
Major shake-ups at cable news networks were announced with the termination of both Tucker Carlson at Fox News and Don Lemon at CNN.

Major shake-ups at cable news networks were announced today with the termination of both Tucker Carlson at Fox News and Don Lemon at CNN. The announcement at Fox came less than a week after the network agreed to pay $787.5 million in a defamation lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting Systems. Earlier this year, Lemon came under fire for comments about women and aging after Nikki Haley announced her presidential run in the Republican primary.

Steve Miller, from the School of Communication and Information who oversees the undergraduate journalism and media studies program, explains what these two bombshell moves could mean for the future of TV news.

What does this signal about the direction of the news media?

I don’t think we can read anything into this just yet. This might be an initial reaction by Fox to the Dominion settlement and serving as a way to buy them some time. The revelations from the case demonstrated that Fox – and the other networks are the same way – is more concerned with eyeballs than facts. As long as they have an audience that tunes in and pays attention because the hosts share the same or similar viewpoints about politics and the world, the powers at Fox or MSNBC or CNN will continue to cablecast in a manner that draws them in.

The Dominion revelations are evidence that it’s not about the red or the blue; it’s about the green. If the three million people who tuned in for Carlson’s show turned progressive, then Fox would become a progressive network.

Coming immediately after Fox agreed to pay $787.5 million in a defamation lawsuit, do you consider this an acknowledgment of bad behavior at the network?

If this were truly an acknowledgement of bad behavior or signaled a change in direction, and I don’t think it does, you would see significant changes in upper management. Not the Murdochs, mind you, but those on the level just below them. Carlson may be the sacrificial lamb. Fox hosts Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham may follow.

This also is being done to send a message to the litigants in future lawsuits.  The network may not be changing its destination, but it is altering its way of getting there and this could impress potential jurors and judges that the network truly does take all of this seriously.

Don Lemon came under fire for comments about women and aging after Nikki Haley announced her presidential run. What impact will this decision have on news coverage specifically related to women in politics?

Don Lemon is gone, but he was not the real problem. It’s something that runs much deeper. It has been a very long, hard climb for women in all walks of life to get equivalent coverage. It’s particularly prevalent in politics and became more evident with the verbiage, footage, and commentary surrounding the Hillary Clinton, Amy Klobuchar, and Carly Fiorina presidential campaigns, just to name three. They are asked questions that men would never be asked and depicted with language that denigrates them and undercuts any chance they can be seen as equals.

Unfortunately, none of this will change until American society as a whole, both men and women, changes its mindset and attitudes about a woman’s ability and capability when it comes to being in office and in front of a camera. This isn’t just the Don Lemons of the world; it’s an entire business that places merit on youth, beauty, and putting people into little boxes. How many commentators criticized Secretary Clinton for being shrill or sounding like an angry schoolteacher? How many pundits have chosen, whether consciously or unconsciously, to focus on what a woman candidate is wearing or how she dresses rather than the substance of their agenda? 

Is it a coincidence these announcements were made on the same day?

I’m not sure. But, please keep in mind that Fox took less than a week when it came to its Dominion problem, and CNN took months when it came to Lemon’s off-the-cuff comments.

Is there something more fundamental at play? Are these decisions a cost-cutting measure as a result of an increasing shift to streaming platforms away from cable providers? What ripple effect might this send through other networks like MSNBC or ABC? 

Media and all news are in transition and all outlets - cable, network, newspapers, radio - are trying to find ways to survive.

The fundamental change that truly needs to take place is increasing media literacy and interest in news.  Cable news viewers are not getting prime-time news, just what Fox has called news analysis.  It’s about commentary, not facts; entertainment, not news. There is a lack of authoritative news sources upon which citizens can depend and this creates chaos. 

We don’t need a ripple effect at MSNBC, Fox, CNN or the networks. We need a tidal wave of journalistic integrity that will wash information ashore so that those on the beach will have truth and knowledge about the world in which we live.