Tucker Carlson Isn’t Going Anywhere

Tucker Carlson’s ousting from Fox News last week created a sense of relief for many Americans like myself. After all, a MAGA-style Republican who routinely spouted wild conspiracy theories along with white supremacist and xenophobic rhetoric was finally stripped of his platform on one of the largest news channels in the U.S.

Many have even hoped Tucker Carlson’s dismissal signals Fox News’ unwillingness to cater to Carlson’s views despite his consistent ratings and audience praise. However, the corporation’s decision to break ties with Carlson doesn’t signal a sudden moral change in the hearts of its leadership or an attempt to bring in different viewership. Rather, I believe Carlson’s dismissal was an act of self-preservation for a news channel that is increasingly struggling to clean up the fallout caused by its most controversial pundits.

On April 18, the Fox Corporation paid $787.5 million dollars to Dominion Voting Systems to settle a defamation lawsuit in which Dominion claimed Fox had defamed their company by spreading misinformation about the role of its voting technology in the 2020 election. Just days after, Fox announced it would be parting ways with Tucker Carlson, the host who had enjoyed the network’s primetime slot since 2016 and amassed a consistent viewership of 3 million people each weeknight.

Many theories have arisen in an attempt to explain Carlson’s dismissal. One of the most popular is that, thanks to the discovery process of the Dominion trial, Fox executives obtained Carlson’s private text messages and emails in which he used vulgar and derogatory language to criticize those very executives. Others maintain Carlson’s firing may have been a direct consequence of the workplace discrimination lawsuit filed by Abby Grossberg, former senior booking producer for Tucker Carlson Tonight. Grossberg has alleged that Carlson created an anti-semitic and misogynist environment where bullying and belittling ran rampant. Grossberg has also said that her complaints were not taken seriously by her Fox supervisors or the human resources department.

Whichever theory you buy about Carlson’s dismissal, what they all have in common is that Fox is acting to save their own skin from internal criticism or future lawsuits, rather than trying to protect journalistic integrity within the network. 

It seems Fox News executives like Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch never intervened at the height of Tucker Carlson’s controversial comments because they understood the alt-right MAGA audience he brought in was too valuable for the network to lose, especially when competitors like Newsmax were ready to provide viewers with an alternative. In fact, the Fox Corporation often rallied behind Carlson’s most offensive comments. In December 2018, Carlson described immigrants as making the country “poorer, dirtier and more divided.” After advertisers subsequently cut ties with the show, Fox News claimed, in Carlson’s defense, that “left-wing advocacy groups were weaponizing social media against companies in an effort to stifle free speech.” Even when Carlson defended the January 6 capitol rioters — claiming it was “peaceful chaos,” which led to his denouncement by prominent figures in his own party like Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell — he wasn’t met with discipline by Fox’s higher-ups. Therefore, I think it’s unlikely Carlson’s dismissal is coming after an intentional turn away from the rhetoric he engaged in, but rather a desperate act now that the effects of his continued presence became too large for even Fox, a media giant, to handle.

Similarly, Bill O’Reilly, infamous to many for his racist comments both on-air and off, was only dismissed from his O’Reilly Factor primetime slot — that Carlson, ironically, went on to occupy — after the company decided they could not reconcile the sexual harassment allegations against him and the numerous settlements with, according to the New York Times, an “overhauling of their workplace culture.” Additionally, while Tucker Carlson has been dismissed, many Fox News personalities who share some of his misogynist, white supremacist, xenophobic and homophobic views (albeit if not as explicitly) like Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham remain at the channel, seemingly because they aren’t creating the same level of internal division or costing the company as much in “clean-up.”

Tucker Carlson may be gone, but as long as the audience who loved him remain Fox News’ core demographic, the network will be forced to find a perhaps equally offensive personality to take his place. So while Tucker Carlson is leaving, what he stands for certainly isn’t.