TUESDAY, APRIL 25, 2023
The spectacular dumbness, it burns: Tucker Carlson is out the door today—but Don Lemon is out the door too.
In this report in today's New York Times, three reporters attempt to say why. They start with a recent, ridiculous moment which drew a great deal of attention:
GRYNBAUM ET AL (4/25/23): One of CNN’s most recognizable stars, Mr. Lemon had a reputation as a fiery political commentator during his eight years as a prime-time anchor. But inside the network, he began to lose support after he made remarks in February about women and aging that were widely perceived to be sexist. The incident generated a national uproar and a rare public rebuke from Mr. Licht.
Mr. Lemon had asserted on the air that Nikki Haley, the 51-year-old Republican presidential candidate, “isn’t in her prime, sorry,” adding, “A woman is considered to be in her prime in her 20s and 30s and maybe 40s.” He dismissed the objections of his female co-hosts by responding, “I’m just saying what the facts are—Google it.” He later apologized to the CNN newsroom and agreed to a corporate training program to address his on-air behavior.
Allies of Mr. Lemon had hoped he would turn the page from the incident. But executives at CNN gradually concluded that his future at CNN had become untenable...
Lemon's absurd assertions that day drew a great deal of attention. As Grynbaum notes, Lemon's absurd assertions were widely described as sexist.
It isn't that such assessments were necessarily "wrong." Tt's just that those assessments seemed to skip past a more fundamental problem.
The spectacular dumbness of what Lemon said—the spectacular dumbness of the idea that you can turn to Google to learn if a female candidate is "in her prime"—the spectacular dumbness of Lemon's assertions passed with little explicit notice on that occasion.
No, Virginia! You can't Google the question of whether Candidate Haley is "in her prime."
You may discern the stuff of sexism in Lemon's absurd remarks that day. You may discern the stuff of sexism in Lemon's remarks—but dear God! The spectacular dumbness!
Did something similar happen last week? As they continue, the Times reporters suggest that an absurd event last Wednesday led to Lemon's dismissal:
GRYNBAUM ET AL: In recent weeks, CNN leaders were hopeful that Mr. Lemon would adjust to his new morning-show role and that higher ratings would follow.
On Wednesday, however, Mr. Lemon made headlines again after a highly contentious on-air exchange with Vivek Ramaswamy, a Republican presidential candidate. The segment deteriorated as the men fiercely debated questions of Black history and the Second Amendment; Mr. Lemon’s co-anchor Ms. Harlow could be seen sitting silently beside him, at times casting her gaze elsewhere and scrolling through her smartphone.
The incident left several CNN leaders exasperated, the people said.
For the record, Ramaswamy is "a Republican presidential candidate" in much the way that you and your neighbor across the street are in charge of the Bolshoi Ballet.
In our view, the absurdity of last Wednesday's event started with the decision by CNN producers to book this non-candidate Republican candidate as a guest on Lemon's program.
It's true that the 12-minute segment with Ramaswamy turned into a "contentious on-air exchange" between Lemon and his guest. That said, the spectacular dumbness on this occasion began with several peculiar claims by Ramaswamy—peculiar, absurdly partisan claims which Harlow and Lemon had a hard time defining and addressing.
We can't necessarily blame Harlow and Lemon for that. That said, the "highly contentious," twelve-minute segment ended in the (lightly edited) manner shown.
We won't identify highlights:
LEMON (4/19/23): I'm not saying you shouldn't express your views. But I think it's insulting that you're sitting here, whatever ethnicity you are, splaining [?] to me about what it's like to be Black in America. I'm sorry.
RAMASWAMY: "Whatever ethnicity I am?" I'll tell you what I am, I'm an Indian American. I'm proud of it. But I think we should have this debate—Black, white, it doesn't matter—on the content of the ideas.
LEMON: I think we should have this debate, but I think if you want to do it, you should do it in an honest way and in a fair way. And what you're doing is not an honest and fair way. OK?
But we appreciate you coming on. Thank you for that.
RAMASWAMY: With due respect, Don, I look forward to continuing that conversation.
LEMON: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
RAMASWAMY: Thank you, thank you. Thank you, Poppy.
HARLOW: We'll talk about China next time you come back.
RAMASWAMY: Yes, let's talk about China. Oh thank you. Much to say on declaring independence from China.
You can watch the entire segment here. For transcripts, see below.
A sensible person can only hope that the non-candidate Republican candidate won't be invited back to share his views on China. Or even that CNN will decide to go off the air, acknowledging that the idea of broadcasting "news" on a 24-hour basis has turned out to be a very bad, tragic mistake.
That said, did Lemon's "highly contentious" session with Ramaswamy play a role in his termination? We have no idea.
The reporters suggest that it was seen as another instance of Lemon importing his "spiky, pull-no-punches" demeanor from CNN's evening broadcasts into the channel's morning program, where it doesn't belong.
Is that what Lemon's bosses thought? We have no way of knowing. For ourselves, we'd say that the spectacular dumbness started with Ramaswamy this day, but that Lemon can be said to have possibly taken the bait.
We'd also say that the journalistic dumbness was routinely present on Lemon's evening shows too. That doesn't mean that he's a bad person. It does mean that our national journalistic discourse is routinely a rolling technical mess.
As everyone knows, Lemon wasn't the only "recognizable star" who was terminated yesterday. Tucker Carlson was shown the door at the Fox News Channel on the same day Lemon got the boot.
Carlson's programs were routinely, though not always, politically poisonous, often in ways which seemed to defy belief. That said, the spectacular dumbness was also routinely present as Carlson indulged in tortured logic and in fractured facts.
With that, we come to a basic fact about our nation's journalistic culture. The technical dumbness of our journalism is so ubiquitous that it passes, day after day and night after night, with virtually no comment or mention at all.
The racism and the sexism will routinely be noticed, sometimes when they may not even be present. That said, the underlying technical dumbness routinely put on display by our "recognizable stars" will almost always pass without notice. We offer this as a point of anthropology about the dangerous moment we're in.
We don't know why CNN decided to show Lemon the door. We do know this:
The spectacular dumbness of our journalistic discourse can be quite widely observed, extending even into the work presented on MSNBC.
It could even be said that this technical failure has long extended into the work of our highest-end mainstream print press. So Gene Lyons alleged in his 1996 book, Fools for Scandal: How the Media Invented Whitewater—a book in which "the media" which invented a decade of pseudo-scandal was principally the New York Times and the Washington Post, not the rightwing noise machine.
Last night, Rachel Maddow assured us blues that people like Tucker Carlson never really achieve their goals within our American system. Starting with Father Coughlin, she cited a century of right-wing American media stars as she advanced her claim.
In our present circumstance, would that her claim were true!
In this case, Carlson and his associates have already managed to get Donald J. Trump elected president. Also, as a result of Trump's four-year term, Roe v. Wade was overturned last year.
That said, so what? Maddow, who played a recurring role in Trump's surprising rise to power, was there last night to assure us rubes that people like the remarkably disordered Carlson never prosper.
Through all of this, Bill Clinton was also present last week, making an unusual statement. As we noted again yesterday, he told Joe Scarborough that, whatever we decide to do, "we need to do it more together."
"We need to start talking across this divide," the former president said.
As our nation's descends into tribal war, can any such thing be imagined? Our spectacular discourse, such as it is, routinely burns all the way down.
Tomorrow: Attention, C-Span callers!
Transcripts are them: To its credit, CNN still transcribes all its shows.