Is Fox News Doomed Post-Tucker? – Tucker Carlson, the Fox News megastar wrongly maligned as a “far-right extremist” by radicals at CNN and elsewhere, parted ways with the network in late April under still-unexplained circumstances. In a statement, Fox News thanked Tucker for his service to the network, both as a host of Tucker Carlson Tonight and as a contributor to the network before he launched the hugely popular nightly news show.
As the most popular news anchor on the network and, on some nights, the most popular news anchor in the United States, Carlson’s departure shocked pundits on both sides of the political spectrum.
Carlson’s popularity among Republicans made him a huge draw for the network. The hatred directed towards him almost universally by Democrats made him a popular punching bag for the left-leaning news media.
To this day, weeks after his departure, nobody knows why Carlson left – and he has yet to explain what happened.
Carlson’s only public statement came in the form of a two-minute video shared on Twitter on Wednesday, April 26 – five days after his final show aired on Fox News. The video immediately went viral, with more than 23.9 million views as of May 5.
The video contained no comment on his firing but was seen by many as a deliberate attempt to show Fox News that his audience is bigger than theirs. The video gained more viewers in the first hour of its release than his show did every night at 8pm.
Fox News also saw a significant drop in viewers after Carlson’s departure. Immediately after Carlson’s show was canned, Fox News saw an average of 1.66 million viewers for its 8 pm slot, compared to Carlson’s 3.25 million average viewership for the year’s first quarter.
This Has, Sort Of, Happened Before on Fox News
Tucker Carlson isn’t the only big name to be ousted from Fox News.
In 2017, Bill O’Reilly, host of The O’Reilly Factor, was forced out of the network. The show was the highest-rated cable news program for 16 years, and that popularity had not waned.
O’Reilly’s departure was almost certainly a result of the many sexual misconduct allegations made against him and the $13 million the network was forced to pay out to settle potential lawsuits. His departure came at a difficult time for the network, less than a year after former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes was removed from his role after he was accused of sexual harassment.
In the aftermath of O’Reilly’s departure, Fox News saw a decline in viewers just as it did after dropping Carlson. After Carlson took over O’Reilly’s former slot, the channel saw a 13% year-to-year decline in viewers. Carlson, who was popular but didn’t have the fame and instant recognition he enjoys today, averaged 2.75 million viewers after taking up the slot – down from O’Reilly’s average of 3.17 million for the slot in 2016. It was dramatic, but nowhere near as dramatic as the drop seen after Carlson’s departure.
At the same time, though, Carlson held on to younger viewers in the crucial 25-54 demographic after O’Reilly got the sack, with most losses in viewership coming from the over 55s. It suggested that Carlson brought with him a more youthful energy that offered Fox News some long-term stability, even as it lost its huge number of older viewers. This time around, though, Carlson’s younger viewers have many more alternatives, and it’s hard to know whether those younger viewers will return to Fox – especially given that so many of them are populist conservatives who may still be angry over Fox News Channel’s coverage of the 2020 election.
Fox is in no immediate danger of losing all of its viewers. After all, CNN is suffering far worse than Fox is, and has been for years. Carlson’s departure, however, poses still serious problems for the network.
While it’s clear that Fox News lost viewers over its decision to remove Carlson from its lineup – seen in the sudden rise in viewership for competing network Newsmax in the immediate aftermath – the viewership decline cannot be entirely explained simply by Carlson’s departure alone, and nor can the network’s future be determined so soon after he left. Viewers may feel betrayed, but as it stands, they have little else to tune in for on the same time slot. Nothing new, compelling, or refreshingly honest as Carlson’s show.
Carlson’s show was immediately replaced by a rotating lineup of less popular news personalities – and, until a new show is chosen to replace Tucker Carlson Tonight and a new anchor is allowed to build a similarly loyal audience, it’s hard to honestly know whether Fox News Channel’s fortunes can be turned around or not.
Jack Buckby is 19FortyFive’s Breaking News Editor. He is a British author, counter-extremism researcher, and journalist based in New York. Reporting on the U.K., Europe, and the U.S., he works to analyze and understand left-wing and right-wing radicalization, and reports on Western governments’ approaches to the pressing issues of today. His books and research papers explore these themes and propose pragmatic solutions to our increasingly polarized society.