BRING US TOGETHER: Don Lemon is also out the door!


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. 

For the start of last Wednesday's "debate," you can just click this. For the rest of the exchange, you can just click here.


  1. I like, admire and support Bill Clinton. But how does one have an intelligent conversation with people who believe that the sun comes up in the west, no matter what you show them.

  2. The second amendment is evil.

  3. Wan whataboutism. Probably to Bob's credit that it feels like he's not even trying.

  4. The woods are lovely, dark and deep. A woman is in her prime when she’s sixteen years old.

  5. "In this case, Carlson and his associates have already managed to get Donald J. Trump elected president. "

    Carlson didn't get Trump elected. For one thing, he didn't have his nightly show on Fox until after Trump was elected -- Nov 14, 2016. Before that he was a contributor and guest panelist and finally a regular on Fox & Friends but only one of many right wing voices working to elect Trump. Given that Carlson gained prominence DURING Trump's term (second to Hannity) and became one of Trump's most vocal supporters, one might claim he was instrumental in Trump's failure to gain reelection in 2020.

    If Carlson were causal in gaining Trump support, Trump's popularity should have increased not decreased as Carlson gained visibility.

    It is amazing the things you can find out using Google, such as when Carlson was given a show on Fox. Somerby should try it sometime.

    1. But Google won’t tell you when a woman is in her prime: her seventeenth year.

    2. Google will tell you when certain men think a woman is in her prime -- visit any incel or MRA chat group. Lemon's disaster was letting the public know he thinks that stuff, which is both sexist and misogynist. It is also part of white supremacist dogma that women are baby-makers as well as part of conservative insistence that the traditional women's role is to have kids, raise them, prop up her husband and take care of the home to his specifications.

      Ironically, women are better at making babies (both the woman and the child are healthier and more likely to survive) if the woman waits until she is out of her teens to start having kids. So there goes that justification. But who cares what science and medicine say -- and google cannot be trusted to find you a reliable medical journal online, according to Somerby. Men base their judgment on sexual appeal and they like women young.

    3. There's no reason to stop at 16 if you live in Missouri.

    4. Anonymouse 12:18pm, what does science and medicine say as to the best age for men to bear babies?

    5. Men are boring babies.

    6. It says that as men get older, they are more likely to produce children with birth defects due to problems with their sperm.

      NIH says:

      "As the father grows older, the number of mutations in the father's genome increases, leading to an increase in the incidence of congenital malformations in offspring [11, 65]. Older paternal age may be harmful to the offspring's health in terms of genetic mutations, telomere length, and epigenetics [66]."

    7. Older in this case means 60s, 70s, 80s, not 16 versus 20.

    8. Wyoming GOP objects to bill raising marriage age to 18, and prohibiting marriage younger than 16, saying that girls should be able to marry whenever they get pregnant:

    9. Correction: Montana GOP.

    10. Correction: it is Wyoming.

    11. Anonymouse 12:56pm, I’m not asking you what science and medicine says about sperm. What does it say about men bearing babies?

    12. @1:28 The problem with permitting girls to marry when they get pregnant is that often that may mean being forced to marry their rapist. Parents may want to avoid the shame and force them to marry a much older man who has sexually abused them. Even when the sex was consensual and the father not an abuser, teen marriages are much less likely to last. Requiring a girl to have a baby at a young age disrupts her school attendance and may derail the rest of her life, because she has no options for supporting herself and a child other than a man who is unprepared for fatherhood. Marriage compounds the problems of the preganancy.

      Cecelia, I know you think you are being clever or funny, but your remark is stupid. There are 41 ways of being biologically intersex (having gentials of both sexes). Some are sterile and some are not. Your callous question ignores the fact that many women (and men too) are emotionally upset about their inability to have kids. I have a male friend who is upset because he didn't have the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps, rubella), got mumps as a kid and now cannot father his own children. Your lack of empathy may prevent you from understanding how others feel about such facts of life. You also don't appear to understand that treatment with male sex hormones when someone transitions may affect the ability to get pregnant.

      Sometimes I think the Republican party isn't about politics but is a special group just for society's biggest jerks.

    13. I’m 65, and my telomere is long enough to satisfy my 16 year old girlfriend.

    14. Anonymouse 1:51pm, keep dancing.

    15. If you don't understand what I said, just admit it. No one can think worse of you, since we already know who and what you are.

    16. Anonymouse 3:50pm, you didn’t say anything complex. You avoided the point by referencing things that affect sperm count and hormone therapy that affects fertility.

      None that has anything to do with your point about teenage pregnancy in females…, let alone what I asked.

      You have made it necessary to jettison your gender tropes and stereotypes (as well as science).

    17. I responded to what you asked and you made a snotty remark about trans people, and I responded to that too. Now you pretend you said something else. That’s what you always do when you have no comeback. Not your best trait.

    18. Anonymouse 7:37pm, what snotty remark did I make about trans people?

    19. “What does it say about men bearing babies?”

    20. That was a sincere question that you have yet to answer, let alone accommodate in your rhetoric as to men and women.

    21. When the law defines man and woman more narrowly than nature (biology) does, some people won’t fit. Cecelia thinks they should be punished. Democrats think they should be treated like human beings. Cecelia not only stupid but wrong and cruel. There are too many people like her.

  6. Quoting Lemon: "...whatever ethnicity you are, splaining [?] to me about what it's like to be Black in America."

    The brackets indicate that Somerby added that question mark. And that is how sexism leaks out of what Somerby writes from time to time.

    Somerby pretends unfamiliarity with the term "mansplaining" which refers to a man lecturing a woman about things she should be presumed to know herself.

    mansplaining definition: "Mansplaining—when a man talks condescendingly to someone (especially a woman) about something he has incomplete knowledge of, with the mistaken assumption that he knows more about it than the person he's talking to does."

    In this case, although the entire conversation is not quoted, Lemon seems to be telling Ramaswamy that he should not be lecturing a black person about racism. This is a touchy point and a recurring theme in black-white relations going back to the early civil rights movement, where concern over white paternalism was concern explicitly discussed with respect to white participation in the movement. Lemon ignores that Ramaswamy may have his own experiences with racism, but that is why we need the larger context of such excerpts.

    But why does Somerby pretend he doesn't know what "splaining" means as used by Lemon? Is he questioning whether that is an actual term, or does he think Lemon's application of it is wrong, or is he just snarking at women again? I suspect all three. This kind of insertion is part of what makes Somerby come across as an asshole. And yes, I get it that Lemon could be considered patronising himself toward Ramaswamy, but the principle of not trying to tell people about their own experiences holds, if only as an aspect of civility -- and right wingers make it a matter of pride to violate civility whenever possible. Ramaswamy doesn't need Somerby to defend him.

    1. In the larger context (via transcript), Ramaswamy is trying to convince Lemon that black people have the freedoms of the Constitution following the Civil War, including the right to keep and bear arms. He kept saying that black people have the right to guns just like white people, and that is what Lemon was disputing.

      In context, Ramaswamy was repeating what he said at the NRA Conference and claiming that the Civil War was fought so that black people could have guns (among other freedoms).

      "RAMASWAMY: Black people secured their freedoms after the Civil War is a historical fact, Don, just study it, only after their Second Amendment rights were secured --

      LEMON: (Inaudible) people have - they were not secured their freedoms after the Civil War, that is not - you are discounting - reconstructing and discounting a whole host of things that happened after the Civil War when it comes to African Americans, including the whole reason that the Civil Rights Movement happened, is because Black people did not secure their freedoms after the Civil War, and that things turned around - people tried to change the freedoms that were supposed to happen after the Civil War and ==

      RAMASWAMY: And you know how they got it? They got their Second Amendment rights -"

      In my view, Lemon is pushing back against a lot of ridiculous ahistorical nonsense spouted by Ramaswamy. This kind of push back is what Somerby keeps calling for anchors to do, when guests are spreading disinformation, as Ramaswamy was, by (1) ignoring reconstruction, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights movement, (2) claiming that access to guns by black people resulted in their freedom, (3) claiming that black people today have the same freedom as white people.

      If Lemon were not Lemon, Somerby would be praising him for attempting to stand up to right wing disinformation. The conversations sounds like trying to discuss something with David in Cal, where we are told that black people's problems are caused by government intervention and the lack of a father in the home. These are right wing talking points and total nonsense. That is extreme provocation for Lemon and given the unsuitability of the guest (as Somerby notes) may have been deliberate.

  7. Who else has CNN fired as part of its attempt to reposition itself to take over Fox's market share after their anticipated downfall after the Dominion lawsuit?

    Brian Stelter, John Hardwood, and hundreds of others:

    "Among those let go were politics reporter Chris Cillizza; correspondents Alexandra Field, Martin Savidge and Alison Kosik; and vice president of northeast news Mary Anne Fox, according to Variety."

    I suspect that CNN felt they needed a reason to fire Lemon given his prominence (or to head off a lawsuit), so they demoted him to a morning show where they expected his personality might be a bad fit, and then waited for him to say something controversial. The offense described by Somerby doesn't seem serious enough to warrant being fired, even if a second offense. And it surely doesn't sink to the level of anything Carlson said. But CNN is changing its positioning in the market and Lemon clearly doesn't fit.

    1. Lemon’s troubling treatment of women and unprofessional antics dates back nearly two decades. He flouted rules and displayed open hostility to many female co-workers that whole time.

    2. I see nothing troubling in what he said to Ramaswamy.

  8. Congratulations to Rachel Maddow for winning the 2023 Hillman Prize for Broadcast journalism for her "Ultra" series podcast about a fascist plot in the US. As series that went totally unmentioned here on the "musings on the mainstream "press corps" and the American discourse" blog.

    1. I've listened to her show and find it fascinating.

  9. Shep Smith’s late hit on the Clinton Foundation, where he apologized, but offered more he would never deliver, may have put Trump over the top. Bob, predictably, has never mentioned this.
    Still Fox viewers never liked him (he’s gay) and ad the awful nature of Fox’s role ad Trump’s propaganda ministry grew obvious, he quit.
    He has not found success elsewhere. Losing a sweet spot on Fox leaves you out in the cold.

  10. Somerby complains about the spectacular dumbness but he never says specifically what he considers dumb.

    1. Somerby is spectacularly dumb, which is sad, because he used to be very smart.