CNN’s unceremonious sacking of Jeffrey Lord late Thursday—after two years on the cable network’s payroll as Donald Trump’s most rabid and occasionally ridiculous on-air advocate—provoked emotions ranging from sadness to celebration from his former colleagues.
“I’m elated,” said a CNN insider at the news that the network’s president, Jeff Zucker, fired the 67-year-old Lord, a onetime associate political director in Ronald Reagan’s White House, mere hours after he tweeted “Sieg Heil!” during a fractious back and forth with Angelo Curasone, who heads the left-leaning press watchdog group, Media Matters for America.
“I would say that Jeff Zucker has zero tolerance for this kind of bullshit,” the insider continued, noting that after comedian Kathy Griffin posed for a supposedly satirical photo in which she dangled what looked like the severed head of President Donald Trump, she was promptly fired from her New Year’s Eve gig, and that Muslim author Reza Azlan also lost his spiritual documentary series, Believer, after calling the president a “piece of shit.”
“He let Kathy Griffin go, he let Reza Aslan go—what would have been the response if Zucker had let Jeffrey Lord stay on with his Nazi salute?” asked the insider, who—like several CNN employees quoted in this story—asked not to be named in order to speak freely.
Officially, CNN explained Thursday’s action with a terse statement: “Nazi salutes are indefensible. Jeffrey Lord is no longer with the network.”
But a second CNN-er, who strenuously disagreed with Lord on the air during prime-time panel discussions on which he frequently prompted eye-rolling and outrage, had a different reaction to the dismissal.
“I felt bad,” this person said, “because Jeffrey Lord is such a nice guy. Everybody likes him. He’s an amiable, jolly old fellow. He’s infuriating in his defenses of Trump but he doesn’t come from an alt-right place like Mike Cernovich or Milo Yiannopoulos. I’m sure it was said in jest.”
A third-CNNer agreed that Lord is likable, but that he has become increasingly toxic on camera as Trump’s presidency has progressed.
“I think that at a certain point you can cross over from being an advocate and making reasonable arguments into just pandering to the ugliest of instincts,” this person said, “and Jeffrey unfortunately had been dabbling in that more and more, and had been getting uglier and more crude, almost as if he had to keep finding a bigger dog whistle. Obviously he went too far.”
Lord is CNN’s second Trump acolyte to leave the network in recent days; his abrupt departure followed that of Kayleigh McEnany, who left over the weekend to become the chief spokesperson for the Republican National Committee.
Lord, who joined CNN as a paid contributor in August 2015, was a lightning rod who seemed happy to anger viewers and debating opponents alike with arguments that brooked no criticism of Trump and strained credulity while frequently setting CNN anchors’ teeth on edge.
CNN management considered Lord provocative and good television as well as a ratings draw, especially in the money-making prime-time hours, but anchor Don Lemon, an African American, kept him off his CNN Tonight program after Lord insisted during an April appearance that Trump was comparable to martyred civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.
Anderson Cooper, on whose show Lord was a regular, usually looked frustrated and pained by Lord’s enthusiasm for spewing Trump talking points and his unwillingness to acknowledge that the president occasionally might make a mistake.
While Lord appeared frequently in other dayparts on the network, New Day anchor Chris Cuomo, for one, managed to keep Lord off his morning show.
Media Matters’ Curasone applauded CNN’s swift decision—which came down after he tweeted his and Lord’s bickering social media interaction at the network’s PR department, including the fateful salute.
Lord, accusing of Carusone of playing a “fascist game,” was objecting to Media Matters’ campaign to persuade advertisers to ditch Sean Hannity’s program on Fox News.
"This is America, Angelo. Not Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany or Communist Russia," he tweeted.
When Carusone noted several factual errors in a column Lord had written for the right-leaning American Spectator—asking "Why do you expect anyone to take you seriously when you don't take yourself seriously"—Lord responded sarcastically with the German words that caused his downfall.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Carusone said he was initially both baffled and surprised by by Lord’s response, and shared their exchange with colleagues before coming to the conclusion that it was badly over the line.
“It was clear that CNN was not applying their standards to Jeffrey Lord at all, and he basically had a free pass,” Carusone said, as to why Lord had managed to thrive on the air without any discipline from management. “If CNN just applied their normal standards to Jeffrey Lord, it would in some way, at a minimum, required a public admonishment. Today they finally applied their standards and this was the outcome.”