Tucker Carlson and Fox News part ways

Tucker Carlson has parted ways with Fox News, the network said on Monday. Carlson’s last show was this past Friday.

“We thank him for his service to the network as a host and prior to that as a contributor,” the network said in a statement.

The fact that Carlson’s program is ending so abruptly — no farewell show, no final chance to thank the viewers for tuning in, night after night – is an indication that this was not such an amiable separation and that Fox News did not trust their highest-rated host to appear on-air, even for one last time.

Fox said it would air a new program called “Fox News Tonight” at 8 p.m. starting Monday evening as an interim show helmed by rotating Fox News personalities until a new host is named.

Carlson was Fox’s top-rated prime-time host, netting an average of more than 3 million viewers per night, the most of any pundit on cable television.

Carlson’s departure from the network came less than a week after it agreed to pay $787.5 million to settle a defamation lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting Systems over coverage of former President Trump’s false claims of voter fraud and the company’s software.

Depositions taken by Dominion’s lawyers exposed private communications from top hosts at the network, including Carlson.

In one widely publicized text exchange with fellow prime-time hosts Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, Carlson said he hated Trump “passionately” and called the former president’s claims of voter fraud “insane.”

Carlson’s show launched in 2016 and regularly featured controversial guests and segments on matters of race, immigration and other hot political topics of the day. 

His hourlong opinion program, which featured an opening monologue and guest interviews, often acted as a proving ground for Republican office-seekers and conservative activists looking to broaden their reach with voters and donors. 

Earlier this month, Trump sat for an extensive interview with Carlson, which the former president used to bash Democrats and the media. 

News of Carlson’s departure broke during the network’s afternoon “Outnumbered” program, with host Harris Faulkner echoing the outlet’s public statement saying it had been a mutual agreement and thanking Carlson for his work at Fox. 

During his most recent appearance on the network on Friday, Carlson indicated he expected to be back on its airwaves on Monday. 

“That’s it for us for the week,” Carlson said as he signed off. “We’ll be back on Monday.” 

Carlson spoke at an event on Friday for the conservative Heritage Foundation, at which he formerly was a copy editor and fact checker at the organization’s now defunct policy review quarterly. 

Heritage president Kevin Roberts said after Carlson’s speech: “If things go south for Fox News, there’s always a job for you here.”

“You’ve saved me before,” Carlson replied. 

In the coming days and weeks we will learn more about the circumstances that led to Carlson leaving Fox News, but it is hard to believe that the split has nothing to do with Fox News paying $787 million to settle the lawsuit from Dominion. (And don’t forget that the Smartmatic lawsuit still needs to be resolved.)

It's unlikely that networks like Fox News can afford to keep loose-cannon hosts anymore.

Lou Dobbs’s name was all over this lawsuit, and out of all of Fox News’ hosts, he offered the most comments cited as defamatory false claims of fact in Judge Davis’s ruling. Fox News dumped Dobbs and his program in February 2021, shortly after Smartmatic filed its lawsuit. It would be overstating it to contend that Lou “Who Reads National Review?” Dobbs single-handedly cost his former employer $787 million. But Dobbs made the job of Dominion lawyers a hell of a lot easier.

You notice it wasn’t Bret Baier, Dana Perino, or Howard Kurtz who got Fox News in trouble. In fact, the network’s news division and reporters are barely mentioned at all in the Dominion lawsuit. The news division, by and large, exercised appropriate skepticism about the lack of evidence for the outrageous claims of Giuliani and Powell. No, it was the prime-time opinion hosts — some would call them the “entertainment” hosts — who turned their studios into platforms for Trump-campaign surrogates to offer every nutty conspiracy theory they could think of, with minimal pushback or skepticism. Every now and then, a host like Jeanine Pirro would offer a comment or question like, “I assume that you are getting to the bottom of exactly what Dominion is, who started Dominion, how it can be manipulated if it is manipulated at all, and what evidence do you have to prove this?” But in the eyes of the court, that wasn’t sufficient.

(One irony: By November 20, Tucker Carlson was tired of Sidney Powell promising bombshell evidence and never delivering. “We invited Sydney Powell on the show. We would have given her the whole hour. We would have given her the entire week, actually, and listened quietly the whole time at rapt attention. She never sent us any evidence, despite a lot of polite requests. When we kept pressing, she got angry and told us to stop contacting her.”)

A loose-cannon host who is unpredictable and capable of saying anything — and Fox News is not the only network with on-air talent who fits this description — can end up costing his network hundreds of millions of dollars. That’s not just more than the advertising revenue of any one program; that’s a large chunk of the advertising sales for the entire network over the course of a year. The cost-benefit analysis of cable-news personalities is about to change — and the market for “you never know what he’s going to say next” is about to crash.

If he wants to, I think Carlson can build as large an audience as he had there, or a larger one, independently — à la Joe Rogan. I would bet that he owns the television studios from which he does his nightly show and the Fox Nation show, which features lengthy interviews. If he wants to launch a big independent subscription broadcast, it’s probably only a matter of redecorating.

Fox has plentiful reasons to believe that the 8 p.m. nightly time slot is the valuable property, not the talent that occupies it. But I doubt anyone will drive as many viewers or as much conversation as did Tucker. 

The biggest dynamic now in media and politics is still insiders vs. outsiders. And consistently Tucker Carlson is taking a more outsider view — on the Ukraine war, the opioid epidemic, immigration, public-health diktats, the intelligence community, and so on. His being shut out at Fox News will be seen as a reconsolidation for the establishment, even on the Republican side. His likely re-emergence in the world of independent broadcasters will further consolidate that audience as well.

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