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Upheaval at Fox News with bombshell departure of Tucker Carlson

America’s media industry has been rocked by the sudden and unexplained departures of two of the nation’s most popular cable news hosts.

Fox News announced it had “agreed to part ways” with Tucker Carlson, its top-rated host, less than a week after settling a lawsuit over the network’s 2020 election reporting.

Over at CNN, longtime host Don Lemon is also out after 17 years with the network. Lemon tweeted that he was “stunned” to learn of his abrupt sacking.

It came a little over two months after Lemon apologised to viewers for on-air comments saying the Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley was past her “prime” at age 51.

Fox News said in a press release that the last program of Tucker Carlson Tonight had aired on Friday 21 April.

“We thank him for his service to the network as a host and prior to that as a contributor,” said the release.

No reason for the decision was given in the two-paragraph statement.

Fox News Tonight will air in Carlson’s 8pm ET prime-time slot, hosted by a rotating array of network personalities, for the time being.

Carlson became Fox’s most popular personality after replacing Bill O’Reilly in Fox’s prime time line-up in 2016.

He was Fox News’ top rated host, with more than three million average nightly viewers.

Fox News and parent company Fox Corp agreed last week to pay Dominion Voting Systems $US787.5 million ($1.2 billion) and acknowledged that some of its reporting following the 2020 election was incorrect.

But that reporting mostly concerned other shows, not Carlson’s.

His name did come up during the case, primarily because of email and text messages that were revealed as part of the lawsuit.

Carlson and other Fox hosts were caught in private messages doubting their own network’s allegations about Dominion’s role in the supposed election fraud, while also being concerned that Fox was losing audience among fans of Donald Trump at the time.

In some of them, Carlson privately criticised Mr Trump, saying he hated him passionately.

A few weeks ago, Carlson devoted his entire show to an interview with Mr Trump.

Tucker Carlson Tonight was among Fox News’ top-rated primetime shows, regularly attracting more than three million nightly viewers.

Fox is the most-watched US cable news network.

After the announcement of Carlson’s departure from Fox News, a representative for Mr Trump tweeted: “Fox News is controlled opposition.”

Don Lemon: ‘I am stunned’

Progressive news network CNN did not provide a public explanation for Lemon’s departure.

“CNN and Don have parted ways,” CNN chair Chris Licht said in a memo to staff that was also posted on the network’s communications Twitter account.

“Don will forever be a part of the CNN family, and we thank him for his contributions over the past 17 years. We wish him well and will be cheering him on in his future endeavours.”

Lemon contended on Twitter that the news came as a surprise to him and characterised it as a firing.

He had appeared on his CNN This Morning show that morning.

“I was informed this morning by my agent that I have been terminated by CNN. I am stunned,” he wrote in a statement.

“After 17 years at CNN I would have thought that someone in management would have the decency to tell me directly.

“At no time was I ever given any indication that I would not be able to continue to do the work I have loved at the network.”

In mid-February, Lemon caused an uproar when, during a discussion on CNN This Morning with co-hosts Poppy Harlow and Kaitlan Collins about the ages of politicians, he said that the 51-year-old Haley was not “in her prime”.

A woman, he said, was considered in her prime “in her 20s, 30s and maybe her 40s”.

Harlow challenged Lemon, trying to clarify what he was referencing: “I think we need to qualify. Are you talking about prime for child-bearing or are you talking about prime for being president?”

“Don’t shoot the messenger, I’m just saying what the facts are,” Lemon responded.

He brought up the subject again an hour later, and was rebutted by commentator Audie Cornish.

Lemon issued a statement saying he regretted his “inartful and irrelevant” comments, which Haley herself called the comments sexist and used to fundraise.

He was subsequently absent from the show for three days, returning the following week with a tweeted apology but no mention of the episode on air.

Licht told staffers in a memo at the time that Lemon would undergo “formal training” but did not specify what that would entail.

Licht added that it was important to him that the network “balances accountability with… fostering a culture in which people can own, learn and grow from their mistakes”.

 

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