FIRED: 30 Polarizing News Anchors and Their Controversial Exits
By Sophia Maddox | April 24, 2023
Over the years, many high-profile news anchors have been let go from their positions due to a range of controversies. Whether it's because of personal scandals, inappropriate behavior, or contentious statements, these departures have sparked debate and controversy among viewers and colleagues alike. In this article, we will take a closer look at some of the most prominent news anchors who were fired, including Tucker Carlson, Don Lemon, Bill O'Reilly, Dan Rather, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, and Chris Cuomo.
We will examine the reasons behind their departures and the impact it had on their careers and the media landscape as a whole. Whether you agree or disagree with their views, these firings represent a significant moment in the history of journalism and are worth discussing. So, continue reading to learn more about these controversial news anchors and their legacies.
Fox News has announced that they were cutting ties with Tucker Carlson, the right-wing extremist who hosted the network’s highly rated 8 pm hour on Monday, April 24, a decision that was shocking to many. According to CNN, Carlson was informed of the decision on Monday morning.
Unlike traditional farewells, Carlson did not receive a final show to bid goodbye to his viewers. Instead, his last program on Fox News was aired on Friday, April 21. This announcement comes a week after the network settled a giant defamation lawsuit with Dominion Voting Systems for $787.5 million. The lawsuit was filed over the network’s dissemination of false information about the 2020 Presidential election.
During his tenure at the network, Carlson was a major promoter of conspiracy theories and radical rhetoric. He frequently cast doubt on the legitimacy of the 2020 election and promoted unfounded conspiracy theories about the Covid-19 vaccines.
CNN news anchor Don Lemon was terminated from his position at the network shortly after his morning broadcast on Monday, April 24. The decision comes after Lemon made a series of remarks in February 2023 about women and aging that were widely criticized as sexist. The incident caused a national uproar and even garnered a public reprimand from CNN CEO Chris Licht.
In a pair of dueling statements, CNN and Lemon offered contrasting views of the event. CNN's Licht stated:
CNN and Don have parted ways. Don will forever be a part of the CNN family, and we thank him for his contributions over the past 17 years. We wish him well and will be cheering him on in his future endeavors.
Meanwhile, Lemon wrote:
I am stunned. After 17 years at CNN I would have thought that someone in management would have had 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.
TJ Holmes and Amy Robach
ABC cohosts T.J. Holmes and Amy Robach began working together in 2014, eventually co-hosting GMA3: What You Need to Know in 2020. However, after the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, their on-air chemistry and off-screen outings led to rumors of a romance, despite their respective marriages. In November 2022, the Daily Mail confirmed their affair in a report that led to a national scandal, and further revelations regarding Holmes's other workplace relationships.
Following a highly contentious mediation process involving their lawyers, ABC announced that they decided to sever ties with the journalists in light of another Daily Mail report alleging that Holmes had been involved in another affair in 2015, this time with a 24-year-old script coordinator who was 13 years his junior.
CNN terminated anchor Chris Cuomo in 2021 due to a conflict of interest after he refused to cover sexual harassment allegations against his brother, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Although the network deemed his participation in advising his brother on how to respond to the allegations "inappropriate," no disciplinary action was taken at the time. However, in November, the New York attorney general's office released documents revealing that Cuomo had used his media sources to obtain information about his brother's accusers and helped Andrew formulate statements. He also communicated with a top aide regarding potential future reports on the alleged misconduct. As a result, Cuomo was suspended indefinitely from CNN the following day.
In December 2021, attorney Debra Katz informed CNN that her client had accused Cuomo of sexual misconduct. The woman alleged that Cuomo had invited her to his office for lunch and made unwanted sexual advances that escalated into an alleged assault when she rejected him. Katz claimed that this accusation led to Cuomo's termination.
On December 6, 2021, Cuomo announced that he would be leaving his program on SiriusXM. Additionally, reports surfaced that he had threatened to sue CNN to recover the $18 million remaining on his contract. Cuomo claimed that network president Jeff Zucker was aware of the details of his involvement with his brother's defense, but Zucker denied this and stated that he had reprimanded Cuomo in May for his involvement. Zucker also claimed that Cuomo had provided incomplete information to the network's senior executive team.
Matt Lauer, a longtime host of NBC's "Today" show, was fired in November 2017 after accusations of "inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace." Brooke Nevils, an NBC News staffer, accused him of rape, and additional details emerged as recently as 2019. NBC News maintained that Lauer was fired within 24 hours of management becoming aware of the accusations. Lauer has denied the allegations, claiming that his conduct with Nevils was "completely consensual."
Bill O'Reilly, a longtime host of Fox News, was forced to leave the network following a New York Times report that revealed he had paid approximately $13 million in secret settlements to five women who had accused him of sexual harassment or other inappropriate behavior. Despite denying every accusation, O'Reilly's exit was portrayed by Fox News' parent company, 21st Century Fox, as a mutual decision after a thorough review of the allegations. It is widely believed that public pressure and loss of advertiser support played a role in his departure.
After leaving Fox News, O'Reilly continued his commentary on current events through his website and podcast, No Spin News. However, in October 2017, another article in The New York Times revealed a sixth sexual harassment settlement, for which O'Reilly reportedly paid out $32 million, further damaging his reputation.
Brian Williams was once known for his likable personality and professional integrity as a news anchor. He was a beloved member of NBC and was trusted by audiences to report events fairly. However, in 2015, it was revealed that Williams had lied about being in a Chinook helicopter that was hit by RPG fire in Iraq. He had actually been in a different helicopter, located half an hour away from the attack.
This discovery prompted media and internet scrutiny, which uncovered additional instances where Williams had exaggerated or lied about his reporting experiences, including during Hurricane Katrina and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Williams apologized on air, but many found it inadequate, and he was suspended without pay. He eventually returned to MSNBC in a demotion as Chief Breaking News Anchor. Despite his missteps, he was able to keep his job, which many find remarkable.
In 2004, CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather was given a story by producer Mary Mapes that suggested President George W. Bush received preferential treatment regarding his service in the Texas Air National Guard - otherwise known as "The Killian Documents." After vetting the documents and receiving verbal validation from one of Bush's former superiors, Rather aired the story on 60 Minutes.
The timing of the story during Bush's reelection campaign and the scandalous nature of the accusations caused a significant uproar. Online commenters challenged the documents' authenticity, and key players recanted statements made to Mapes' investigative team, tarnishing the story and CBS News.
Since Rather was the face of the story, he ultimately bore the blame. Pressure from the network resulted in an on-air apology, and about two months later, Rather resigned from the anchor seat. In his resignation announcement, Rather stated:
I have been lucky and blessed over these years to have what is, to me, the best job in the world and to have it at CBS News. Along the way, I've had the honor of working with some of the most talented, dedicated professionals in the world, and I'm appreciative of the opportunity to continue doing so in the years ahead.
Keith Olbermann, a former anchor at ESPN, MSNBC, and Current TV, faced several job losses due to unprofessional behavior. He also had a blog and web series called FOK News Channel, which was incorporated into his deal with Current TV. However, Current TV was shut down after Olbermann allegedly missed half of his scheduled workdays, according to Talking Points Memo. Following his departure from Current TV, Olberman blasted the network through a series of tweets, stating:
The claims against me in Current's statement are untrue and will be prosed so in the legal actions I will be filing against them presently. In due course, the truth of the ethics of Mr Gore and Mr Hyatt will come out.
Actress Stacey Dash, most well-known for her role in the film Clueless, transitioned to political commentary in the 2000s. After initially voting for Barack Obama in 2008, she later changed political parties and aligned herself as a Republican. She publicly supported Mitt Romney during his campaign in 2012 and became more outspoken about her political beliefs. In 2014, she was hired by Fox News as a contributor. However, her time at the network was marred by controversial statements made on live television, including an assertion that "Obama doesn’t give an s**t about terrorism." Dash received a two-week suspension as a result. During the Oscars So White movement, she also called for the abolition of Black History Month. Fox News ultimately decided not to renew her contract. Following her departure from the network Dash had this to say while speaking with The Daily Mail:
There are things that I am sorry for. Things that I did say, that I should not have said them the way I said them. They were very arrogant and prideful and angry. And that’s who Stacey was, but that’s not who Stacey is now. If anyone has ever felt that way about me, like I’ve judged, that I apologize for because that’s not who I am.
In 2007, CBS announced the termination of Don Imus from his radio program due to derogatory comments he made about the Rutgers women's basketball team. The remarks caused widespread backlash after Imus used racist language to describe the women which led to protests, and several sponsors withdrew their advertisements from Imus' show. MSNBC also ended its simulcast of the program. CBS President and Chief Executive Officer Leslie Moonves said while announcing the decision:
There has been much discussion of the effect language like this has on our young people, particularly young women of color trying to make their way in this society.
On November 20, 2017, eight women who were either employees or aspiring employees of journalist Charlie Rose accused him of sexual misconduct, including allegations of harassment, groping, and making lewd phone calls. The alleged incidents were reported in The Washington Post and spanned from the late 1990s to 2011. Following the publication of the report, PBS and Bloomberg LP suspended distribution of Rose's show, while CBS announced that they were suspending the broadcaster pending an investigation. The next day, all three networks terminated their contracts with Rose. The anchor released a statement following the firing, saying:
I deeply apologize for my inappropriate behavior. I am greatly embarrassed. I have behaved insensitively at times, and I accept responsibility for that, though I do not believe that all of these allegations are accurate. I always felt that I was pursuing shared feelings, even though I now realize I was mistaken.
Mark Halperin, a prominent political and cable news media personality, faced severe consequences to his career in October 2017 when CNN published an article containing accusations of sexual misconduct against him by five women. One of the women claimed that Halperin had forcibly kissed her while pressing himself against her. Following the allegations, Halperin's career took a major hit. However, he found employment with the bipartisan policy organization No Labels.
In September 2017, Eric Bolling departed Fox News after a decade with the network. The move came after allegations arose that Bolling had sent sexually explicit text messages to female colleagues, prompting the network to launch an investigation. Bolling's attorney stated that the host had no recollection of sending any inappropriate messages or images. Fox News issued a statement announcing that Bolling had left the company "amicably." Following his departure, Bolling's show, Fox News Specialists, was cancelled by the network.
Former Fox News co-host Kimberly Guilfoyle left the network in July 2018 after sexual misconduct allegations surfaced against her. The accusations included sharing inappropriate photographs of male genitalia with colleagues, and being abusive towards hair and makeup artists, and support staff. The allegations were investigated by Fox News, and although her lawyer denied the accusations, the network gave her an ultimatum to resign by the end of July or be fired. At the time of her departure, the network had been conducting a year-long investigation into a sexual harassment claim against her. The New Yorker later corroborated reports that Guilfoyle was forced to resign rather than leave voluntarily. Following her departure from Fox News, she worked on former President Donald Trump's unsuccessful reelection campaign alongside her boyfriend, Donald Trump Jr.
In 2011, Ed Henry joined Fox News as the Chief White House Correspondent after leaving his role at CNN. However, in 2016, he was suspended for four months following reports of an extramarital affair with a Las Vegas cocktail hostess.
On June 25, 2020, Fox News suspended Henry again, this time after receiving an allegation of sexual misconduct. The network subsequently conducted an investigation, which led to Henry's termination on July 1. In a memo to staff, Fox News emphasized its strict policies against sexual harassment and misconduct. Henry denied the allegations, and his lawyer expressed confidence in his eventual vindication.
Subsequently, a federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of Jennifer Eckhart and Cathy Areu alleging that Henry had sexually harassed both women and raped Eckhart. The lawsuit, filed by attorneys Douglas Wigdor and Michael Willemin, also claimed that Fox News had received complaints about Henry's inappropriate behavior but had supported and promoted him anyway. The lawsuit further alleged that Fox News fired Henry only after learning of the impending lawsuit.
Barbie Bassett, the chief meteorologist and morning news anchor at Mississippi's NBC affiliate WLBT, was fired for quoting a phrase by rapper Snoop Dogg on air during a March 8 broadcast. Bassett engaged in a discussion around Snoop’s Cali wine line and used the phrase, "Fo shizzle, my nizzle," which is considered to be slang for the N-word. Bassett is white, and the use of the phrase has been deemed inappropriate and offensive. In addition to this incident, Bassett had tweeted the phrase in 2011 and apologized in October 2022 for referring to a Black reporter's "grandmammy" on air. After the firing Bassett released a statement apologizing for the remark which read:
Though not intentional, I now understand how my comment was both insensitive and hurtful. I have apologized to Carmen Poe. Now, I would like to apologize to you. That is not the heart of who I am. And for that, I humbly ask for your forgiveness and I apologize to everyone I have offended. I will learn from this and participate in training so I can better understand our history and our people. I can’t mend the hurt my comment caused. I pray you’ll forgive me and that you’ll extend grace through this awful mistake.
In 2022, Mark Mester, a Los Angeles news anchor for KTLA was fired after he went off-script during a broadcast to criticize the station's handling of the departure of his former co-anchor, Lynette Romero. Mester was suspended and then quickly dropped by KTLA when he made the decision to give the following statement on air:
I want to start off right now by offering up an apology to you. What the viewers experienced was rude, it was cruel, it was inappropriate and we are so sorry. I also want to say sorry to Lynette Romero because Lynette, I love you so much, you literally are my best friend. You did not deserve what happened to you.
Ben Swann is a former news anchor and investigative reporter who created a news segment called Reality Check. He covered alternative issues and presented alt-right conspiracy theories. In June 2015, Swann was hired by WGCL-TV in Atlanta, Georgia, where he revived his fact-checking segment under the title Reality Check With Ben Swann. He was suspended in January 2017 after running a story that attempted to revive the Pizzagate conspiracy theory.
In the report, he called for an "investigation" into false claims that a Washington, D.C. pizza restaurant was hiding a child sex trafficking ring in its nonexistent basement. He cited anonymous internet users as his sources, but The Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted that it appeared Swann had done no independent reporting on the topic. He was reinstated after taking down his Truth in Media and Reality Check sites. Swann was fired on January 29, 2018, after the station learned that he had been trying to revive Truth in Media without their knowledge and permission.
Gretchen Carlson, a former anchor for Fox & Friends, left Fox News in 2016 after alleging that her contract was not renewed due to her refusal of sexual advances from the network's chairman, Roger Ailes. Carlson filed a lawsuit against Ailes, which prompted other women to come forward with similar allegations of harassment by Ailes. As a result, Ailes resigned from his position as chairman. Carlson's lawsuit was settled by Fox News for $20 million. In 2021, Carlson told Variety:
When my career was going to be taken away from me, for nothing that I had done wrong, that’s when I finally decided that if I didn’t [file the lawsuit] — I just didn’t think anyone else would. I figured at that point in time that I should just jump. The most important thing to me, other than my family and my children that I’d worked so hard for, was I’d been fired. It was over. So I just decided that I’m just going to go for it.
Michelle Fields, a former contributor for Fox News, made appearances on several shows on the network including Fox & Friends, Hannity, The O'Reilly Factor, and Cashin' In starting in 2014. In 2016, she accused Donald Trump's campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, of aggressively grabbing her while she asked him questions. Fields subsequently filed a police report against Lewandowski alleging simple battery.
Fields left her job at Breitbart, citing the company's lack of support over the incident. Shortly after, Fox News announced that she would not be appearing on Cashin' In for the time being. Fields never appeared on the show again, and Fox News stated that the termination was mutually agreed upon. On April 14, Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg filed court documents stating that his office would not seek prosecution against Lewandowski.
Fox News chose not to renew the contributor contracts of political commentator George Will in 2017. Reports suggest that the decision was the result of a dispute with Bill O'Reilly following Will's departure from the Republican Party. Will had previously clashed with the network's highest-rated host, Bill O'Reilly, in 2015 and 2016, when he criticized O'Reilly's bestselling book, "Killing Reagan," and O'Reilly responded by calling Will a "hack" in a subsequent interview.
In 1997, journalist Jane Akre and her husband Steve Wilson worked on a story about the use of a milk additive by the agricultural and biotechnology company Monsanto. They discovered that the additive, approved by the Food and Drug Administration, was responsible for a series of health issues. Monsanto wrote a letter to the president of Fox News, Roger Ailes, requesting that the story be reviewed for bias.
WTVT, a Fox News affiliate station, declined to air the story, claiming that it wasn't "breakthrough journalism," despite Akre and Wilson rewriting it over 80 times. Later, the station terminated their employment for unknown reasons and aired a report on "Monsanto and rBGH" that included defenses from Monsanto.
Akre and Wilson filed a whistleblower lawsuit against Fox News, accusing them of trying to suppress and distort the evidence against Monsanto. They lost the lawsuit and were not reinstated in their positions.
Jeffrey Toobin, a well-known legal analyst for CNN and author, has been suspended by The New Yorker for engaging in self-gratification during a Zoom video call with New Yorker and WNYC radio staffers. Toobin has taken a leave of absence from CNN to deal with this personal matter. Toobin has admitted that he made a mistake, which he claims was unintentional, and has apologized to his loved ones and colleagues for his actions. As a result of the incident, Toobin was fired from The New Yorker after an internal investigation by the parent organization, Condé Nast. Additionally, New York Public Radio, the owner of WNYC, has banned Toobin from their broadcasts and podcasts until further notice.
John Harwood, a journalist, served as the White House Correspondent for CNN from February 2021 until September 2022. However, Harwood faced criticism from conservative commentators on February 6, 2020, when he stated that former President Donald Trump was experiencing "deep psychological distress" following his press conference after the U.S. Senate cleared him of both articles of impeachment. On September 2, 2022, Harwood unexpectedly announced his departure from CNN via Twitter. Sources suggest that his disagreement with the network's new owners' attempt to shift the network's political stance to the right may have been a contributing factor to his exit.
In 2022, Karen Hensel, a former reporter for WBTS, filed a lawsuit in federal court against the station alleging sexual harassment and retaliation. Hensel claims she was terminated from NBC Boston in 2019 for failing to disclose that she was romantically involved with the police chief of a nearby town.
The lawsuit asserts that Hensel was fired due to alleged "sexually harassing behavior" from a colleague, who the lawsuit names "Jane Doe." Hensel claims that Jane Doe was attempting to interfere with her work performance and career advancement to establish herself as the leading female investigative reporter at the station.
Despite Hensel's contention that the station raised no concerns about her personal relationship with the police chief, she alleges that they fired her anyway. In addition, Hensel noted that a male assistant news director who had a relationship with an on-air journalist was not terminated, despite the relationship only coming to light after anonymous complaints and a reported confrontation between the male assistant and the journalist's spouse at the station.
Scott Pelley, a former anchor of CBS Evening News, asserted on CNN's Reliable Sources in 2019 that he was let go from the position because he continued to voice concerns to management about the network news program's "hostile work environment." Pelley made this statement in response to a question from Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter about his experience working for CBS News, which has undergone multiple staff changes and departures over the course of the previous 18 months. Pelley said:
I lost my job at the Evening News because I wouldn’t stop complaining to management about the hostile work environment. [He told] the president of the news division... that this hostile work environment couldn’t go on, for women and men. And he told me if I kept agitating about that internally, then I’d lose my job.
Pelley then went to former CBS CEO Les Moonves where he laid out his issue. Pelley continued:
Having exhausted the possibilities in the news division, I went to the chairman of the CBS Corporation, who listened to me very concerned for an hour, asked me some penetrating questions about what was going on. I didn’t hear back from him, but in the next opportunity in my contract, I was let go from the Evening News.
In 2022, The Washington Post fired Felicia Sonmez, a reporter who had been vocal in her criticisms of the newspaper's leadership and her colleagues, according to sources familiar with the matter who spoke to CNN. The Post cited "misconduct that includes insubordination, maligning your coworkers online and violating The Post's standards on workplace collegiality and inclusivity" as the reason for Sonmez's termination, as stated in a letter viewed by CNN. The letter concluded that Sonmez could no longer work as a journalist representing The Washington Post.
Sonmez was at the center of an internal dispute at the Post that began when reporter David Weigel retweeted a sexist joke. The Post suspended Weigel for one month without pay and publicly criticized him. However, Sonmez, who was the first to bring attention to Weigel's tweet on Twitter and within the Post, continued to speak out about issues related to inequity in the newsroom. Sonmez previously sued the Post for discrimination in 2021, but the lawsuit was dismissed. She plans to appeal the decision.
In 2010, CNN terminated Rick Sanchez, a daytime anchor, on Friday, after he made derogatory remarks about Jon Stewart during a radio interview. Sanchez referred to Stewart as a bigot and made a comment about how everyone who runs CNN is similar to Stewart. Sanchez made the remark after the radio host brought up Stewart's religion, Judaism. CNN released a statement saying that Sanchez was no longer employed with the company and expressed gratitude for his years of service. Sanchez made the comments while engaged in a heated discussion with comedian Pete Dominick on satellite radio. By that afternoon, a recording of the conversation had widely circulated on the Internet, likely sealing Sanchez' fate.
In 2022, the termination of Canadian news anchor Lisa LaFlamme from CTV News caused a stir online and prompted companies to comment on ageism. According to a press release dated August 15, LaFlamme, who served as CTV's chief news anchor and senior editor for 35 years, was let go. Before becoming an anchor, the 58-year-old was a national affairs correspondent. Bell Media, the parent company of CTV, has not explained why it separated from LaFlamme, but the press release stated that "changing viewer habits" were a factor in the "business decision to move its acclaimed news show, CTV National News, and the role of its Chief News Anchor in a different direction." However, controversy arose after The Globe and Mail reported that Michael Melling, the head of CTV News, had questioned LaFlamme's hair.
Melling allegedly questioned his subordinates about who "let Lisa's hair go gray." According to The Globe and Mail states that LaFlamme's hair color was a problem on set when Melling claimed the studio lighting was "taking on a purple hue."