Weeks later, the media world is still reeling from the events of April 24th; Tucker Carlson, the most watched cable news host in America, was ousted from his coveted 8 p.m. slot at Fox News. His ejection accompanied a staggering $787.5 million settlement which the right-wing network paid to resolve a defamation lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting Systems. Had the case gone to trial as was anticipated, both Carlson and his boss—notorious Fox Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch—would have taken the stand in a spectacle for the ages.
After trading public humiliation for a sizable hole in his pocket, the 92-year-old billionaire made a decision no one expected: to fire Carlson without warning. The immediate reaction from across the political spectrum was shock, followed by a flurry of theories as to why Fox pulled the plug on its top personality. In retrospect, however, Carlson’s ouster should have come as much less of a surprise considering his recent conduct alongside Murdoch’s reputation for expunging recidivist troublemakers.
Mischievous hosts at Fox have never been immune to abrupt removal. Glenn Beck was extremely popular with viewers for his verbal assaults on the Obama administration, but let his conspiracism and outrageous statements get the best of him, resulting in his show’s eventual downfall. Bill O’Reilly dominated the primetime slot for two decades as the biggest star in network history, yet he too was forced out once a slew of sexual misconduct allegations came to light.
Nevermind the hosts; not even former CEO Roger Ailes—who created Fox News with Rupert Murdoch’s financial backing—was insulated from his own misdeeds. As it became evident that Ailes had sexually harassed numerous employees, the media mogul discharged him as well.
Tucker Carlson fits the same mold as the miscreants who came before him. Like Beck, he was deeply conspiratorial on air. His latest obsession led him to portray the January 6th riot as a “false flag” operation orchestrated by the FBI, and to defend the rioters as patriots who “obviously revere the Capitol.” This nasty habit, in conjunction with his incendiary statements on race and immigration, prompted dozens of advertisers to flee Carlson’s show over the years.
Off camera, he faced various allegations of misogynistic and otherwise vile behavior, such as using the c-word in reference to a female coworker. As revealed by court documents, Carlson also routinely lambasted his employer and its senior executives. These offenses, in addition to his show’s shameless propagandizing on behalf of the Kremlin, were all offered as possible reasons for his termination.
Perhaps there was, in fact, a final straw. But a far more likely explanation is that the transgressions simply piled up, and Rupert Murdoch admirably keeps his empire clean of employees whose drawbacks outweigh their merits. Presumably, the Dominion settlement accelerated his decision to cut loose the company’s other lurking liability.
Fox will certainly lose money from Carlson’s dismissal initially. In the first week of his absence, the channel dropped half of its viewership during the 8 p.m. hour and bled nearly a billion dollars in market value. It will be a challenge to find another broadcaster of Carlson’s talent, and they may never do so. But in the long run, Murdoch understands that his real, enduring star is the Fox News brand—not any particular host who sits under its banner.
When Bill O’Reilly left, few imagined anyone could fill his shoes. Yet Tucker Carlson did just that, taking over his time slot and running up similarly commanding ratings. Wait a year or two; the next host to appear at 8 o’clock will surely be as fashionable as Carlson is today. More importantly, if a fresh face can lure back the blue chip advertisers whom he scared off, the decision to oust Carlson may well prove to be a profitable one. (Keep in mind, viewership alone does not generate any revenue; that’s what the commercials are for). If—when—the successor becomes a nuisance, they will likewise be replaced without consternation.
In 2008, conservatism lost an indispensable gatekeeper who kept the kooks at bay when William F. Buckley, Jr. died. It goes without saying, Rupert Murdoch is no Bill Buckley—the man is running a business, not a political movement. But in determining that Tucker Carlson’s bravado was not worth his absurd conspiracies, foul persona, and affection for Vladimir Putin, the elder chairman has done a comparable favor by withdrawing him from the mainstream.
Despite Fox News’ aged audience and burgeoning competition, it remains the preeminent media outlet for American conservatives. So long as that holds true, Murdoch’s hard-nosed aversion to folly will be essential to rehabilitate their wounded intellectual tradition. For the sake of political sanity, here’s hoping that his next primetime hire turns out to be a wiser choice than his last.