Fox News on April 24 ousted prime-time host Tucker Carlson, whose stew of grievances and political theories about Russia and the January 6 insurrection had grown to define the network in recent years and make him an influential force in GOP politics.
Fox said that the network and Carlson had “agreed to part ways,” but offered no explanation for the stunning move, saying that the last broadcast of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” aired on April 21. Carlson ended the show by saying, “We’ll be back on Monday.”
Yet on Monday night – April 24, viewers tuned in to morning anchor Brian Kilmeade, who said that Carlson was gone, “as you may have heard.”
“I wish Tucker the best,” Kilmeade said. “I’m great friends with Tucker and always will be.”
Then, he switched to a story on Hunter Biden, the president’s son.
The break from Carlson comes amid a cascade of bad legal news for the network. Fox agreed to pay more than $787 million to settle a lawsuit with Dominion Voting Systems over the network’s airing of false claims following the 2020 presidential election — shortly before Carlson was expected to be called to testify.
The judge who oversaw the case ruled that it was “CRYSTAL clear” none of the election claims related to Dominion was true.
On his show, Carlson has also been outspoken in questioning the United States support of Ukraine, following its invasion by Russian forces.
“It might be worth asking yourself since it is getting pretty serious: What is this really about?” Carlson said on his show. “Why do I hate Putin so much? Has Putin ever called me a racist? Has he threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him? Has he shipped every middle-class job in my town to Russia?”
Russia’s state-funded news network Russia Today (RT) wasted no time offering Carlson a job opportunity on their network, after his abrupt departure.
“Hey Tucker Carlson, You can always question more with Russia Today,” – tweeted the Kremlin-funded outlet
The message came just minutes after the news of his exit broke. Tucker Carlson Tonight has long been a fixture on Russian state television, with pro-Kremlin propagandists often citing Carlson in their tirades over the U.S. position on the war in Ukraine.
“TuckerCarlson regularly platformed disinformation agents and genocide deniers on topics from Syria to Ukraine. It’s only fitting an outlet like Russia Today would court him,” – tweeted political scientist Sophie Fullerton
Carlson worked at both CNN and MSNBC earlier in his career, then ditched his bow-tie look and quickly became Fox’s most popular personality after replacing Bill O’Reilly in the network’s prime-time lineup in 2017.
His populist tone about elites who are out to get average Americans rang true with Fox’s predominantly conservative audience, even leading to talk about Carlson becoming a political candidate himself one day.
Shares of Fox Corp. slid 4% within seconds of the announcement of Carlson’s departure, then recovered to be down 2.9% at the end of trading.
“Tucker Carlson had become even bigger than Fox News,” said Brian Stelter, who is writing an upcoming book about Fox, “Network of Lies.” “His sudden ouster will have profound consequences for Fox News, for TV news and the Republican Party.”
Earlier this year, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy gave Carlson exclusive access to security tapes from the January 6, 2021 Capitol riot, which the show used to conclude: “The footage does not show an insurrection or riot in progress.” His interpretation was denounced by many, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Carlson was expected to be called as a witness if Dominion’s case had gone to trial, but the two parties settled on April 18 on the same day that opening statements were anticipated.
Dominion had contended that some Fox programs had falsely aired allegations that the company had rigged the election against former President Donald Trump, even though several Fox executives and personalities did not believe them. Carlson’s show was not among the chief offenders; he would be an unlikely candidate to take the fall for that lawsuit.
In several messages, though, Carlson spoke candidly about his distaste for Trump at the time and his fear that the network was losing viewers among the ex-president’s fans. For the time being, “Fox News Tonight” will continue to air in Carlson’s 8:00 p.m. Eastern prime-time slot, hosted by a rotating array of network personalities.
“We thank him for his service to the network as a host and prior to that as a contributor,” the press release from the network said.
THOSE SPREADING ELECTION LIES
“Sidney Powell is lying,” Carlson told a Fox News producer in a November 16, 2020, exchange before using expletives to describe Powell, an attorney representing Trump.
“You keep telling our viewers that millions of votes were changed by the software. I hope you will prove that very soon,” Carlson wrote to Powell a day later. “You’ve convinced them that Trump will win. If you don’t have conclusive evidence of fraud at that scale, it’s a cruel and reckless thing to keep saying.” There was no indication that Powell replied.
Fox attorneys noted that Carlson repeatedly questioned Powell’s claims in his broadcasts: “When we kept pressing, she got angry and told us to stop contacting her,” Carlson told viewers on November 19, 2020.
Carlson told his audience that he had taken Powell seriously, but that she had never provided any evidence or demonstrated that the software Dominion used siphoned votes from Trump to Biden.
Carlson continued to trash Powell and Trump’s legal team in a November 23, 2020, text exchange with fellow Fox host Laura Ingraham and also bemoaned what he considered the president’s passivity in the face of the two Georgia runoffs.
After saying it was “pretty disgusting” that more attorneys had not pushed back on the claims of Trump’s attorneys who were trying to overturn the election results, Carlson wrote: “And now Trump, I learned this morning, is sitting back and letting them lose the senate. He doesn’t care. I care. I’ve got four kids and plan to live here.”
FOX’S 2020 ELECTION COVERAGE
Fox viewers were outraged when the network called Arizona for Joe Biden on election night, a race call that was accurate. Fox executives and hosts began to worry about ratings as many of those viewers fled to other conservative outlets.
“We worked really hard to build what we have. Those (expletive) are destroying our credibility. It enrages me,” Carlson said in a November 6, 2020, exchange with an unidentified person.
On November 8, after Biden was declared the winner, Carlson texted a couple of other employees: “Do the executives understand how much trust and credibility we’ve lost with our audience? We’re playing with fire, for real.”
Later in the chain, as others bring up Newsmax as an emerging competitor, Carlson said, “With Trump behind it, an alternative like Newsmax could be devastating to us.”
In text messages to a producer on November 13, 2020, Carlson braced for a Trump press conference: “He’s only good at destroying,” Carlson said of the then-president.
He later added, in regard to the fraud allegations being made by Trump and his allies, “He’s playing with fire.”
In a text exchange with an unknown person on January 4, 2021, Carlson expressed anger toward Trump. He said that “we are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights” and that “I truly can’t wait.”
Carlson said he had no doubt there was fraud in the 2020 election, but said Trump and his lawyers had so discredited their case — and media figures like himself — “that it’s infuriating. Absolutely enrages me.”
Addressing Trump’s four years as president, Carlson said: “We’re all pretending we’ve got a lot to show for it, because admitting what a disaster it’s been is too tough to digest. But come on. There really isn’t an upside to Trump.”
In texts early on the morning of January 7, 2021, a day after the violent assault on the U.S. Capitol, Carlson and his longtime producer, Alex Pfeiffer, bemoaned how the rioters had believed Trump’s election lies.
“They take the president literally,” Pfeiffer said. “He is to blame for everything that happened today.”
“The problem is a little deeper than that I’d say,” Carlson replied.
“Obviously the problems are deep but at the core of it is Trump saying it was stolen,” Pfeiffer wrote.
“Not the core,” Carlson wrote. “Awful but a symptom.”
Later, Carlson writes of Trump: “He’s a demonic force, a destroyer. But he’s not going to destroy us. I’ve been thinking about this every day for four years.”
FOX NEWS DEPARTMENT
Some of the most heated vitriol was reserved for colleagues in the news division and included conversations with fellow on-air personalities Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity.
On November 13, the week after the 2020 election, Ingraham, Carlson and Hannity got into a text message exchange in which they lambasted the news division. It began with Ingraham pointing out a tweet by correspondent Bryan Llenas, saying he had seen no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Pennsylvania.
Carlson replied that Llenas had contacted him to apologize, then added “when has he ever ‘reported’ on anything.”
Ingraham then names another colleague who indicated there was no fraud, with Hannity responding: “Guys I’ve been telling them for 4 years. News depart that breaks no news ever.” In a subsequent Twitter message seconds later, Hannity says, “They hate hate hate all three of us.”
Ingraham responds she doesn’t “want to be liked by them” and Carlson chimes in, “They’re pathetic.” The conversation continues with Hannity bemoaning the damage that has been done to the brand: “In one week and one debate they destroyed a brand that took 25 years to build and the damage is incalculable.”
Another text conversation by the trio three days later had Ingraham telling her colleagues that her anger at the news channel was “pronounced,” followed by a “lol.” In response, Carlson attacked two Fox anchors: “It should be. We devote our lives to building an audience and they let Chris Wallace and Leland (expletive) Vittert wreck it. Too much.” Wallace and Vittert have since left the network.
The three hosts then started musing about a path forward after Ingraham says they have “enormous power,” and that they should think about how, together, they can force a change. Carlson’s response: “For sure. The first thing we need to do exactly what we want to do. That’s the key. Leland Vittert seems to have the authority to do whatever he wants. We should too.”