If you Google “When is a man in his prime?” you’ll get a startling result: “A man is past his prime when he no longer has potential.”
That’s a more forgiving definition than the one former CNN anchor Don Lemon gave for former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley when he declared earlier this year that the GOP presidential candidate is past her prime.
“Nikki Haley isn’t in her prime, sorry,” he said with a shrug during a show in February, telling his female anchors to ask Google to confirm what he said. “A woman is considered to be in her prime in her 20s and 30s and maybe 40 ... it’s just like ‘prime,’ look it up.”
So by Lemon’s Google-it definition, he, former Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson, and NBC Universal’s former CEO Jeff Shell are all past their primes, too, after a shocking 24 hours in television news that saw the three former stars unceremoniously fired from their jobs.
The triple dumping was head spinning in its speed, but the biggest question in all three cases was, what the heck took so long?
The 57-year-old Lemon said in a statement: ‘I was informed this morning by my agent that I have been terminated by CNN. I am stunned. After 17 years at CNN, I would have thought someone in management would have had the decency to tell me directly.
‘It is clear that there are some larger issues at play. With that said, I want to thank my colleagues and the many teams I have worked with for an incredible run.”
One “larger issue” could be that Lemon’s ratings were in the tank. It turns out that telling more than half of the morning audience that they no longer have potential makes them no longer want to watch your show.
From what we know of Carlson’s departure so far, his offenses were in every way more serious. But the fact that he was the highest-rated show, not just on Fox, but on all of cable news, made his departure downright shocking.
His demise seems to be rooted in the Dominion defamation lawsuit against Fox News, accusing the company of airing debunked election fraud conspiracies about the voting machine company, even knowing the allegations were not true.
Along with unearthed text messages that showed Carlson calling former President Donald Trump “a demonic force, a destroyer,” and Trump attorney Sidney Powell “a “lying ...crazy person,” and a “lunatic,” even as he praised them on his program.
Even worse for Carlson, his private texts showed him trashing his bosses, including FoxCorp chairman Rupert Murdoch. “We worked really hard to build what we have. Those (expletives) are destroying our credibility. It enrages me,” he wrote after Fox called Arizona for Joe Biden on election night.
It also seems that Dominion isn’t the only company or person that Carlson may have defamed on air. The L.A. Times reported that Murdoch was deeply troubled Sunday night by a 60 Minutes report that featured Ray Epps, a former Marine who marched to the capitol on Jan. 6. Epps gave an interview from the camper van where he now lives with his wife “somewhere in the Rocky Mountains” after Carlson repeatedly accused Epps of being an FBI plant and forced him into hiding.
And more legal trouble is coming, with a former Fox booker accusing Carlson of routinely using expletives to describe women, including his own guests, and a second, larger defamation suit pending from Smartmatic, a voting software company that Powell often included in her conspiracies on Carlson’s show.
For all the money Carlson brought in for Fox as the star of the highest-rated show on cable news, he seemed to be on the verge of costing them that much and more. And that, in television, is the ultimate offense.
The third ouster this week was the highest ranking, but least headline-grabbing, with NBCUniversal abruptly firing CEO Jeff Shell on Sunday. That same day, Shell released a statement that he had “an inappropriate relationship with a woman in the company, which I deeply regret” and the company said it was being sued for harassment by a CNBC correspondent.
One immediate consequence of all this turmoil is that two of the loudest voices of the Trump era have vanished from the airwaves almost instantly. Carlson was one of Trump’s biggest cheerleaders and influences, while Lemon packed a punch in prime time when hitting back at Trump was both the network’s DNA and business plan.
They were both soldiers in a culture war their bosses no longer want to fight.
Another takeaway from the triple ouster is that there are actually consequences for bad behavior — defamation, harassment, and insulting your viewers — even for powerful men in American media, and especially if you’re going to cost the company more than you’re bringing it.
It’s hard to see their potential after such public falls from grace. And without potential, by Google’s own definition, Carlson, Lemon, Shell, and the era of say anything, do anything, no-consequences journalism, may finally be past their prime.
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