This week’s uproar over Tucker Carlson’s and Don Lemon’s surprise departures from high-profile cable news jobs shows the limitations of First Amendment protections, according to legal experts.
The sacking of the media stars provides a lesson for TV celebrities that freedom of speech and freedom of the media exist in the Constitution, but won’t provide them job security.
As far as the First Amendment goes, it’s just a reminder that media owners can fire anybody anytime, for good reasons, bad reasons, or no reasons,” UNLV professor and attorney, Stephen Bates, told Casino.org.
Carlson “seemingly got pushed out because of what he said and did at Fox,” Bates said.
Also, the First Amendment “guarantees a person the right to speak, but does not insulate him or her from the consequences of their speech,” further advised Robert Jarvis, a law professor at Florida’s Nova Southeastern University’s Shepard College of Law.
“Will the firings of Carlson and Lemon give some on-air personalities pause? Perhaps,” he told Casino.org. “But in the end, people tend to speak first and think later. On-air personalities are no different.”
Bates also noted that many of the people who cheered when hearing about Carlson’s ouster were upset when CBS pushed anchor Dan Rather out of his job.
When asked about the issue, Jarvis linked Carlson’s and Lemon’s departures to Fox’s recent $787M settlement with Dominion Voting Systems over its defamation lawsuit against the network.
“I think they needed to send a clear message that a new day has dawned and that on-air personalities are going to be on a much shorter leash in the future,” Jarvis said.
CNN management also was rattled by the Dominion settlement. CNN executives realized it sent “a similar signal to its shareholders,” Jarvis said.
The ousters are part of a broader and continuing debate over how news gets generated and disseminated, and what qualifies as news, according to Jarvis.
“Clearly, the public is very distrustful of all media right now. And when you factor in the recent court judgments against Alex Jones and InfoWars, it is obvious that the system is breaking and a day of reckoning was going to come at some point. Of course, one could argue that the day of reckoning was already in motion.”
In recent years, CNN also fired host Chris Cuomo and MSNBC forced host Chris Matthews to leave.
Still, from a First Amendment perspective, the reason for the turnover is “a lot better than the blacklists of the 1950s, when people lost their jobs because of what they believed or did on their own time,” Bates explained.
Las Vegas Mass Shooter
Carlson was no stranger to controversy at Fox News Channel. In 2017, he advocated conspiracy theories on the Las Vegas mass shooting, Salon reported.
Carlson raised questions about Jesus Campos, a security guard who reportedly confronted shooter Stephen Paddock on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel just before the massacre.
There were conspiratorial suggestions Campos had some connection to the shootings, but evidence was never presented to verify the suspicions.
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