The price of reputation: Top cable news networks sever ties with popular anchors as PR controversies swirl

by | Apr 25, 2023 | Public Relations

The world of cable news was dealt a one-two punch on Monday when news reports revealed that CNN’s Don Lemon and Fox News’ Tucker Carlson–two of cable news’ most high-profile anchors, and the latter of whom is the top-ranked prime-time news anchor in the industry–suddenly and unexpectedly parted ways with their networks in what some have called a “broadcast bloodbath.”

Both had been centers of controversy in recent months, and the two unrelated (as far as we know) announcements–which came just minutes apart–appear to be reputation-management moves by the two networks, which (seemingly) simultaneously chose to drop a top-drawing network figure in order to sidestep impending PR-crisis damage.

Announcements of the events were handled in the usual opaque way–-both networks released brief statements with no specifics, wishing their sacrificial lambs well in their future pursuits and thanking them for their service. At this hour, little else is known for sure, although speculations run rampant–some even feeling sure that the proximity of the dismissals was not exactly coincidental (although there is no evidence of inter-network complicity, and no call for rumor-mongering in this not-fake-news story).

As we’re aware, there were solid reasons for the let-gos from a damage-control angle

Both men have red-handedly made smearing or proven-to-be-untrue comments recently that put them in the integrity hotseat, justifying the consequences to a significant degree. But both unseatings are poised to come at a cost to both networks, since both anchors have a cadre of loyal fans who could likely switch their cable-news allegiances–-whether in anger about their newsman’s sudden disappearance or simply because they miss their favorite cable news personality. Either way, the risk is real–-suggesting that both networks are willing to suffer the collateral damage in order to “do the right thing.” 

For us in the PR world–-at least based on what we know about the reasoning behind the moves, which is nothing–-there appear to be several reasons to tip our hats to the networks. From a crisis-management perspective, they are following through on many of the best practices we have all been taught to do in such circumstances for clients:

1. Get in front of a mounting crisis whenever possible

OK, we can’t say the news outlets acted swiftly and decisively in these cases, as both anchors have been in that integrity hotseat for some time now (Carlson clearly thrives in that respect, but that was his role at Fox News-–and the business strategy worked like a charm). But as the ethical heat intensified, both companies came through in the clutch.

2. Put your brand’s purpose ahead of revenue

Well, we’re not sure this happened either, but since we don’t know any of the facts, we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for now. PR pros know that consumers are demanding these kinds of values from brands, and if these moves were indeed pure reputation management, then they exemplify this purpose-first approach (not that we’d be surprised to find out there was more to it than meets the eye).

3. Reputation is everything

Without it, even a brand that lives on the edge like Fox News will ultimately sink like a stone. And saving reputation sometimes calls for drastic and costly actions, which you can’t be afraid to take because of feared short-term setbacks. We’re in it for the long game, and any brand or business worth its salt will be too.

Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter