Tucker Carlson’s Fox News exit shows that there is, in fact, a limit at Fox News: After several years as the most important figure in cable news, Fox’s prime-time host is out, effective immediately. Why this shows that there are, in fact, limits to what can be said and done at Fox News – just not the limits you think.
Tucker Carlson Is Out
In a shocking announcement Monday, Fox News announced that it has parted ways with its prime-time host Tucker Carlson, effective immediately. Carlson will not be given an opportunity to host a final show.
“Fox News Media and Tucker Carlson have agreed to part ways,” Fox said in a statement Monday morning. “We thank him for his service to the network as a host and prior to that as a contributor.”
The news comes less than a week after Fox News agreed to settle its lawsuit with Dominion Voting System for $787.5 million, on the eve of a scheduled trial. Leading up to that trial, numerous text messages had come to light showing that Carlson had said embarrassing things, including that he “hates” Donald Trump, and that he wanted a Fox News employee fired over a news story.
According to a Washington Post story, Carlson’s messages that came to light in the Dominion case played a role in his exit – but not the ones about Trump.
“It was Carlson’s comments about Fox management, as revealed in the Dominion case, that played a role in his departure from Fox,” a source “familiar with the company’s thinking,” told the newspaper.
“This is major. It sends a message that even the guy with the highest ratings of all, by a long shot, doesn’t get to survive this disaster,” an on-air host told the Washington Post.
Who Is Tucker Carlson?
Carlson was undoubtedly a pivotal figure in the history of cable news and in the Trump era.
He joined Fox in 2009, became a prime-time host in 2016, and took over the crucial 8 p.m. time slot in 2017 after his predecessor, Bill O’Reilly, was fired from the network. O’Reilly, who had been at Fox since its launch in 1996, was let go after numerous sexual misconduct settlements came to light.
Carlson has been something of a chameleon throughout his career. While always a political conservative, his worldview changed with the times.
He was a neocon in the early Bush/Cheney era, even working on staff at the Weekly Standard and writing a memorable magazine story about George W. Bush in the early days of the 2000 presidential campaign.
By the end of the Bush era, he had turned against both the Iraq War and the Bush Administration more broadly.
He had stints at PBS, CNN, and MSNBC — becoming one of the few people, along with Greta Van Susteren, to host shows on all three major cable news networks — before joining Fox.
Amidst all that, he founded the Daily Caller, meant to serve as a conservative news outlet with journalistic pedigree, although he sold his stake in that site in 2020.
At Fox, Tucker Carlson soon established a new identity distinct from his previous cable news stops: One that flirted with white nationalism and “great replacement” theory, to a much stronger degree than had ever been seen before in cable news.
In 2020, Carlson’s head writer resigned after the was found to have posted racist comments to an online forum.
Carlson, while not joined at the hip to Donald Trump the way his college Sean Hannity has long been, was far from shy about pushing election conspiracy theories.
“Recently, Tucker’s A-block was often more extreme than the front page of InfoWars, and I’m not exaggerating,” NBC News’ Ben Collins tweeted after the news broke.
But despite all that, or perhaps because of it, Carlson has been the highest-rated host on cable news for the last several years.
Media Matters of America, the liberal media watchdog that has been Carlson’s primary antagonist for much of his time on Fox, took a victory lap when the news was announced.
“Tucker Carlson is a dangerous misinformer. Tucker served as the bridge between Fox News and the most extreme parts of the right-wing base — laundering anti-trans paranoia, Infowars nonsense, election lies, and venomous rhetoric including the great replacement conspiracy theory nightly,” Angelo Carusone, the organization’s president, said in a Monday statement.
“But even without Tucker Carlson, Fox News is still Fox News. It was Fox News that empowered Carlson to grow — they gave him the invaluable 8 o’clock prime-time slot and paid for him to throw red meat to his audience even as advertisers abandoned his show. When Trump lost in 2020, Fox News centered Carlson’s election lies and spread them into network-wide talking points.”
A Semafor report Monday shed some additional light on why Carlson may have been fired so abruptly. Abby Grossberg, a former Fox News employee who worked on Carlson’s show, sued Fox last month, alleging that “she and other women faced sexism and harassment from coworkers and officials.”
Grossberg’s attorney told the site that Carlson and executive producer Justin Wells, who also departed Fox News on Monday, were both “squarely in the center of [Grossberg’s] Southern District of New York complaints for sex discrimination, hostile work environment, etc.”
What’s Next For Fox News?
So what comes next? That’s unclear, as more information will likely come out about the exit than is currently known.
Fox has said it will use rotating hosts for the time being, but as O’Reilly’s exit nearly six years ago showed, no one talent is bigger than Fox News, and they will likely continue their rating dominance. And I wouldn’t expect the network to somehow become more moderate just because Tucker Carlson is gone.
As for Tucker Carlson, it’s unclear what he will do next. It would appear unlikely he would return to CNN or MSNBC, neither of which have audiences that would likely stand a Tucker comeback, nor would his Fox audience follow him to either place. Newsmax and One America News Network, meanwhile, probably couldn’t afford him.
It wouldn’t be shocking if Carlson were to launch a new media company, in the tradition of Bari Weiss’ The Free Press, or even like Alex Jones’s InfoWars. Carlson has a TV studio near the home he owns in Maine, although it’s not clear if owns the studio or if Fox does. Or.. he could run for president, an idea that has been floated before. It’s not clear if his Fox contract included any kind of non-compete clause.
Carlson’s departure from Fox, in the end, shows that there are in fact limits to the extremism that can be shared on cable news. A primetime host can flirt openly with white nationalism, can minimize and defend the January 6 insurrection, can share the most outlandish of conspiracy theories, and can even say in private messages that he “hates” the network’s audience’s favorite presidential candidate.
But the limit is that he cannot, under any circumstances, say something bad about his bosses.
Expertise and Experience
Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.