Tucker Carlson. (AP)
Tucker Carlson’s sudden exit from Fox News rattled the media and political spheres on Monday.
The departure raises questions about the future of Fox, the GOP and conservatism, and for the longtime host himself.
Here are some takeaways following the Monday morning shocker:
It deprives Fox of its biggest star
Carlson has been the network’s A-lister on the commentary side no matter how you slice it.
His ratings, along with “The Five,” rivaled as the network’s highest, and he was easily one of the two most influential hosts alongside Sean Hannity, especially during the Trump presidency.
With that lofty status, he also became the network’s biggest target. Advertisers were routinely pressured by progressives and outside groups to flee his show. But the audience remained resilient, with Carlson delivering a different type of the typical canned-right wing show than other commentary programs delivered on the network that included some lefty guests.
Now, that is gone and Fox will have to pick up the pieces heading into the meat of the 2024 cycle.
Conservatives lose a kingmaker
To give an idea of what Carlson means to conservatives, here’s a sampling of comments from some in the immediate aftermath of Fox News’s announcement:
Sen. JD Vance (R-Ohio) labeled him “the most courageous person in American media.”
Donald Trump Jr. said in an interview that his exit “changes things permanently” for the GOP and conservatism.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) tweeted that Carlson “has been engaging in the best journalism on TV uncovering and exposing the truth.” He added that the decision is a “huge loss” for the network.
Carlson faced down multiple advertiser revolts early on in his primetime stretch, only to brush aside the backlash and to be rewarded by his audience that continued to stick around and grow.
Carlson also has come under serious criticism for his commentary. Among other things, he has said that the Jan. 6 attack featured “mostly peaceful chaos” and that rioters were “right” to think the 2020 contest was “unfairly conducted,” that some migrants coming to the U.S. were making the country “poorer and dirtier.”
He has also found himself on the other side of former President Trump in recent months, especially as more Dominion filings emerged. In a message to Fox employee on Jan. 4, 2021, Carlson said that he “hates” Trump and could not wait to “ignore” him on his show.
At the same time, perhaps no one on the right outside of Trump has embodied the wants and needs of conservatives in recent memory.
“What he’s been saying speaks for a lot of people, and it’s basically not expressed or serviced by most Republican politicians,” Rich Lowry, the editor in chief of National Review,
said in 2020 amid rising chatter around a Carlson 2024 presidential bid. “There’s a lot to be said for being fearless, and he is, while Republican politicians, as a breed, are not.”
A Fox News shift might be coming
Fox’s $787 million settlement with Dominion Voting Systems and other legal fights is creating what is likely to be a sliding-doors moment for the network as it tries to put the aftermath of the 2020 election in the rearview mirror.
The Los Angeles Times on Monday reported that Rupert Murdoch made the decision to boot him from Fox and pointing to two factors that reportedly led to the decision: the ongoing discrimination lawsuit filed by Abby Grossberg, a former producer for Carlson and Maria Bartiromo, and Carlson’s recent coverage of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.
Adding to the mounting issues, Fox is also facing a $2.7 billion lawsuit from Smartmatic that also names Bartiromo and Jeannine Pirro as defendants. That trial in that case is not expected for months, if not years, but the Dominion settlement has opened the door to a similar result in the Smartmatic case.
“We will be ready to defend this case surrounding extremely newsworthy events when it goes to trial, likely in 2025,” a spokesperson for the network said. “As a report prepared by our financial expert shows, Smartmatic’s damages claims are implausible, disconnected from reality, and on its face intended to chill First Amendment freedoms.”
But whether these issues will lead a network that raked in $2.8 billion in profits last year to switch gears remains to be seen.
How Fox decides to proceed may be signaled in the choice of Carlson’s successor in the primetime lineup.
Given Fox’s track record in replacing outgoing hosts over the past decade who are able to resonate with the audience and fill big shoes, the odds are in their favor.
The GOP loses its biggest critic
Carlson has consistently been a thorn in the side of leadership and top figures within the GOP, and that pain only became more acute over the years as his influence and audience grew.
The longtime commentator has been openly critical of those on the right he dubs “America’s ruling class” and has battled with them on a number of issues, including immigration, the Ukraine war, COVID-19 vaccines, financial matters and the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
A prime example of his power came earlier this year as House GOP leadership forces were hopeful he would step in and give now-Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) a boost in his bid to win the needed votes to earn the gavel. Carlson proceeded to pan McCarthy and lay out the demands he would need to meet to win votes.
Months later, McCarthy handed over 41,000 hours of Jan. 6 footage to Carlson, paving the way for a series of segments that were panned by top Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — a constant target of Carlson’s ire.
Carlson faces questions about future
Where exactly Carlson goes next is anyone’s guess. So is whether his audience will follow him.
O’Reilly, who was fired in 2017 after it was revealed he and the company had paid $13 million to women due to sexual misconduct claims, has been a media nomad, headlining speaking gigs and hosting a podcast.
Megyn Kelly, who departed only months earlier for NBC, eventually split from that network. She too has entered the podcast and radio sphere, albeit with much more attention.
Unlike O’Reilly post-scandal and Kelly-post NBC, Carlson has more cache on the right and retains a loyal following, which could open doors.
One landing spot where he has seemingly run out of runway is in cable news as CNN and MSNBC have both moved left in recent years and conservative stations Newsmax and One America News Network both have a fraction of Fox’s viewership.
Could a digital media return be in the cards? After all, Carlson has experience launching a site, having done so 13 years ago with the Daily Caller.
While some commentators have floated him as a possible 2024 candidate, Carlson has shown zero appetite for testing presidential waters in recent years.
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Originally published April 25, 2023 at 12:25 AM