Why Don Lemon and Tucker Carlson Were Fired and What Their Next Moves Are

Big media moves happened Monday morning.

Tucker Carlson and Don Lemon are both out of a job. Following Monday's high-profile cable news firings, former CNN anchor Brian Stelter tells ET's Kevin Frazier why he believes the networks parted ways with their top talent and what could be next for the men.

News first broke that Carlson was out at Fox News, a decision that Stelter believes "is related to the Dominion lawsuit." According to CBS News, Fox recently agreed to pay $787.5 million to settle the defamation case Dominion brought against them for claiming on-air that they helped rig the 2020 presidential election against former President Donald Trump.

Stelter believes that Fox didn't fire Carlson as a result of the settlement, but rather because of messages that came to light amid the case.

"Some of the emails and text messages from Tucker Carlson that came out before the trial were really embarrassing, but... there were a lot of messages still being redacted for public view and I believe there's material in those private messages that was incredibly ugly," he explains. "It gave Fox a reason to remove Carlson."

The network's other reason for axing Carlson could've been due to his popularity, Stelter speculates.

"Tucker Carlson actually became bigger than Fox News, which is something Fox never likes to see happen," he says, "so in some ways they cut him back down to size today."

While it's unclear who at Fox made the official call to end its relationship with Carlson, Stelter says a breakdown between the anchor and the Murdoch family, who runs the network, is likely to have happened.

"Ultimately Rupert is the patriarch of Fox, the 92-year-old boss, so whatever he wants, goes... We don't know if it was Rupert Murdoch or if it was his son, Lachlan, that made the ultimate decision to remove Tucker, but Lachlan and Tucker are reportedly close," Stelter says. "... Tucker Carlson would brag to his buddies about how close he was with Lachlan Murdoch, so something clearly ruptured the relationship between Tucker, the biggest star on Fox, and the Murdochs, who actually control the channel."

No matter who was behind the decision, the fact that it was made at all was a shock to Carlson's colleagues, a source told ET.

"Colleagues of Tucker are shocked and many found out about the news like the rest of the world, on Twitter," the source said. "Tucker made no indication he was leaving to anyone and on Friday told everyone he'd see them Monday for a new show. People at Fox News are looking for answers as to what happened and are waiting to hear."

Also surprised on Monday was the staff at CNN, following news that Lemon had been let go from the network, sources told ET.

Lemon's firing "came as a total surprise" to staff, who "found out in real time when the news broke in the media," the source said, with another source adding that "everyone is shook" by the move.

Lemon's ousting came after he said on-air that Nikki Haley "isn't in her prime" and was the subject of Variety exposé that claimed he'd exhibited "troubling treatment of women and unprofessional antics" for nearly two decades. Lemon apologized for the former incident and called the latter "patently false."

Stelter tells ET that he believes Lemon's firing shows that "the new management of CNN does not want Don Lemon representing the brand."

"I was not very surprised to see Don Lemon removed at CNN. In fact, what surprised me was that he was able to stay there for so long," he says. "It was pretty clear that the new management at CNN, which admittedly did remove my show, Reliable Sources, last year, was not going to be a fan of Don Lemon. He was moved from primetime to the morning show. They gave him a shot in the mornings, but it always looked like a demotion. Now clearly this is more than a demotion, it was a termination."

The world learned of Lemon's termination after he took to Twitter to say he was "stunned" by the news when he learned it from his agent, adding, "After 17 years at CNN I would have thought that someone in management would have had the decency to tell me directly."

CNN refuted that shortly thereafter, tweeting that Lemon "was offered an opportunity to meet with management but instead released a statement on Twitter."

"Neither side is disputing that Don Lemon found out he was fired from his agent, [but] CNN is saying, 'Well, if Don had wanted to, he could have come into the office and had a meeting with management,'" Stelter explains. "Maybe Don did not want to have that, so he decided to go public instead."

Though the men were fired from separate networks, they've enlisted the same attorney to work out their exit packages.

"I have been told that both Don Lemon and Tucker Carlson have hired the same entertainment lawyer, Brian Freedman, to negotiate their exits. I've called Freedman, I have not heard back, but I'm told both men have brought him in because he's famously aggressive," Stelter, a special correspondent at Vanity Fair, tells ET. "He's represented people like Megyn Kelly in the past, so he may be able to come in and get a better deal for both Carlson and Lemon."

After securing their deals, Stelter thinks that neither man will have trouble securing work.

"I think Tucker Carlson can write his own ticket. Yes, even running for president if he wants to, although he's not going to do that," the Hoax author speculates. "I think he has basically endless options in the right-wing media world... He'll probably take his time in choosing between them."

As for Lemon, while Stelter says he was "clearly wounded by that Nikki Haley controversy," that doesn't negate the fact that "he is a television star."

"He oozes charm," Stelter says. "I've sat across from him countless times and I know he's a really talented broadcaster, so I think he's gonna have a number of options out there."

Whatever is next for the two men, Stelter says that, when viewed from a broader lens, Monday's "earthquake in cable news is actually a testament to the relevance of cable news."

"Even in the TikTok age, people still want to watch people, that's what TV is all about. No matter what other apps and devices are invented, that's always going to be true," he says. "It might not be Don Lemon or Tucker Carlson in 10 or 20 years, but people always want to watch other people. They want to spend time with folks who they trust."