The Inside Story of Tucker Carlson and Don Lemon’s Monday Media Massacre newsusface

This exclusive reporting is featured in this week’s edition of Confider, the newsletter pulling back the curtain on the media. Subscribe here and send questions, tips, and complaints here.


The shock exits of Tucker Carlson at Fox News and Don Lemon at CNN share striking similarities: Both came about after the anchors created an endless stream of controversies and distractions for their parent companies; both were their respective network’s highest-profile stars who thought they were bigger than their platforms; and both were undone by their own hubris.

In Carlson’s case, it was Fox Corp CEO Lachlan Murdoch and Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott who made the call on Friday night to can him and his show, Confider has learned, thanks largely (and surprisingly) in part to vulgar comments he made about Sidney Powell, the right-wing lawyer behind many of the bonkers 2020 election lies pushed on Fox’s airwaves.

Tucker was already pissing off Fox management between his conspiracy-laden coverage of the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, including the repeated and baseless targeting of Trump supporter Ray Epps as being an FBI agent who instigated the insurrection; a looming lawsuit from his former producer Abby Grossberg alleging a sexist work environment; and his disparaging remarks about Fox brass in documents made public.

But most egregious, and what loomed large in his termination, people familiar with the matter told Confider, was how during his deposition with Dominion lawyers, when he was asked if “this wasn’t the only time you referred to Sidney Powell as a cunt,” the Fox News star responded: “You know I-I-I can’t know and I just want to apologize preemptively. I mean you’re trying to embarrass me, you’re definitely succeeding as I am embarrassed.”

Carlson being nailed in court documents for his repeated use of the overtly misogynist c-word was a key factor in his demise, as Fox News had rid itself of Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly after years of sexual-harassment complaints and could not have its biggest star undermining any supposed progress.

Carlson, who was given no reason for his termination, was stunned by the development, people familiar with the situation told Confider. He told staffers who inquired: “I have no idea what’s going on.” Neither Carlson nor Fox News responded to requests for comment.


In Lemon’s case, it was less of a surprise. His long record of diva-like behavior on and off the air set in motion his demise, people familiar with the situation told us.

That includes previously unreported behavior like refusing to attend pre-production rehearsals for CNN This Morning because he was “pissed” he wasn’t the center of the show and would have to share equal hosting duties with co-anchors Poppy Harlow and rising star Kaitlan Collins.

Lemon even had a meltdown in front of bosses after being informed he would not be allowed to drink alcohol on-air during CNN’s New Year’s Eve telecast, two people familiar with the matter told Confider.

And then there was Lemon’s remark about GOP star Nikki Haley and her “prime,” which generated weeks of bad publicity for the show and made several celebrities and politicians wary of being booked on the program with him.

Lemon’s fate had been sealed for weeks, people with knowledge of the matter told us, and he was keenly aware of his coming exit, calling around over the last week for a crisis comms specialist to help out. He ultimately decided on Allison Gollust, who previously ran comms for CNN and resigned from the network two weeks after former CEO Jeff Zucker was fired for not disclosing his relationship with her.

CNN CEO Chris Licht had hoped to give Lemon a soft landing and had Amy Entelis, CNN’s executive VP for talent, reach out to the star’s agent, Jay Sures of UTA, to negotiate an exit.

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Lemon was invited to meet with Licht on Monday afternoon, and would have been given an opportunity to say goodbye on-air Tuesday or Wednesday morning.

Instead, Lemon went nuclear, tweeting, “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 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. It is clear that there are some larger issues at play.”

Lemon and CNN declined a request for comment.


Both fired media stars have retained pitbull litigator Bryan Freedman, meaning we can expect protracted and ugly negotiations for golden parachutes for Carlson and Lemon. A hint of just how nasty this may get lies in the fact that Freedman still reps Chris Cuomo and his scorched-earth campaign against CNN.

More messy headlines about both stars and their respective networks are sure to follow, but for the rank-and-file at CNN and Fox who spoke with us, it comes as a relief to have two gung-ho cowboys off the air.

Many view Carlson as perhaps the first of several sacrificial lambs to pay for Fox’s Dominion-related misdeeds. As such, sources have speculated the future may not be long for both Maria Bartiromo, who was a leading peddler of 2020 election lies, and Fox’s chief legal officer Viet Dinh, who is currently on vacation and notably did not make an appearance in Delaware during the all-too-brief Dominion proceedings—nor has he shown up in New York where the Murdochs have been huddling.

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