The face of cable news changes again

Back in the mid- to late 1990s, Fox News and CNN were the top news sources, with MSNBC on its way up. Yet, whether you were a Fox News fan or CNN watcher, you tuned in because both channels were going to not just report the news but also explain it. Long after the Walter Cronkite days of objective news reading, cable news created a new flair. It’s not enough to know the price of gas or the way a war is headed, but we now got political op-ed pieces from the same person reading the news. Bill O’Reilly. Hannity and Colmes. Crossfire. All of these shows presented the news and debated the topics of the day. But over time the networks went from being individualized shows to simply being 24/7 stops for people. Fox News watchers don’t just watch one person, they watch the channel all day. CNN viewers don’t see CNN as a source, they cite it as biblical truth. Recently, the top network’s top personalities were fired — Tucker Carlson at Fox News and Don Lemon at CNN. But over the past 30 years, one thing remains the same: No matter who gets the prime seat on the station, the viewers don’t leave.

While the details on the firing of two of the biggest names in cable news are still in a foggy cloud of confusion, each personality appears to have created a toxic work environment. Lemon had recent stories printed about him yelling at coworkers and creating uncomfortable interview rooms. Carlson had a series of text messages come out using the C-word. For two men who held themselves up as moral leaders, boy, did they fall hard once the curtain was removed.

Both now have the ability to go quietly into the night,

but that future seems less likely now.

“[Carlson] would rather take $30 million from the Daily Wire and be able to talk versus the payout from Fox to be quiet,” a Fox veteran told Vanity Fair. “They’re not going to shut him up through the election . . . There’s nothing Tucker hates more than being shut up.”

And while he might not have a coveted 8 p.m. prime time spot on television, the cable news journeyman still has his Twitter:

“One of the first things you realize, when you step outside the noise for a few days, is how many genuinely nice people there are in this country and decent people who really care about what’s true,” Carlson tweeted, adding, “the other thing you notice when you take a little time off is how unbelievably stupid most of the debates you see on television are.”

If anything, Carlson is ready to burn the whole ship down with that poetically existential piece of nihilism. That “who cares” attitude comes out of the insecurity that he’ll be replaced ASAP. Just like how O’Reilly was dropped in 2017 and Carlson became the network’s star overnight. Just like how Glenn Beck once ruled the conservative airwaves. It isn’t because their ideas are that great. They play the capitalist populist, an easy position to hold. Freedom good; communism bad. But they did it on a platform with a built-in crowd. Once on their own, they fail. Anyone following O’Reilly or Beck these days?

Vanity Fair goes on to discuss Lemon’s dilemma. “Lemon’s financial calculus is different because he wasn’t born with a trust fund. But he is looking at a payout of roughly $20 million, according to sources with knowledge of the matter, because his nearly $7 million-a-year contract stretched through 2026. So Lemon will be just like Carlson: in a position where he never has to work again. That’s ‘a s**t ton of money not to work,’ a person close to him remarked. It may be CNN’s way of keeping the peace with an unpredictable ex-anchor, but it’s coming at a time when budget pressures have been paramount at CNN — which underscores how much management wanted him off the air.”

Lemon, like Chris Cuomo earlier, was let go by CNN and will fade into oblivion. Maybe they’ll teach a college course. Maybe they’ll start a podcast. But in the end, they are finished.

What is really scary is that it turns out people don’t really listen to individuals. They listen to the networks. At the end of the day, the faces might change but the message stays the same.