Media

Tucker Carlson’s exit deals blow to Fox News 

Tucker Carlson’s shocking exit from Fox News deals a blow to the top-rated cable news network, depriving it of its biggest prime-time star and his proven ability to deliver ratings.  

Fox now will have to figure out who will replace Carlson in what is widely seen as a watershed moment for the network’s editorial strategy.  

Carlson’s ousting comes less than a week after the network agreed to make a massive $787.5 million payment to settle a defamation lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting Systems over its coverage of former President Trump’s false claims of voter fraud and the company’s software. 

The network’s opinion stars, particularly Carlson, were at the center of that case, and the settlement avoided weeks of courtroom testimony that could have proved embarrassing to Fox. 

Yet exactly why Fox and Carlson parted ways and what degree the Dominion settlement played were largely a mystery on Monday.  

“After the settlement in the Dominion litigation and other lawsuits still pending Fox may have concluded that Carlson was simply too toxic to the company and its bottom line,” speculated Mark Conrad, an associate professor of Law and Ethics at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business.

Fox has not commented on Carlson’s departure beyond a statement thanking him for his contributions to the network and announcing his last show was Friday.  

“We have some news from within our Fox family,” Fox anchor Harris Faulkner said on the air Monday. “Fox News media and Tucker Carlson have mutually agreed to part ways.”  

“We thank him for his service to the network as a host and prior to that as a contributor,” the network said in a statement

Fox has survived high-profile exits in the past.  

Former prime-time host Bill O’Reilly was fired by the network after a number of women at the company accused him of sexual harassment. Fox lost star anchor Megyn Kelly to NBC in 2017 after she said she became unhappy with editorial decisions at the network.  

In both of those cases, the network didn’t really look back as its ratings soared during the Trump administration — which generally served as a ratings boon for many news networks and media outlets.  

Yet in succeeding O’Reilly, Carlson became an arguably bigger star and could be more difficult to replace. 

Last year, for example, Nielsen Media Research data showed Carlson was number one with the younger advertiser-coveted 25-54 age demographic, notching an average of 445,000 viewers and 3.1 million in total viewership, a large share of audience for a nonpresidential election year. 

As a result, even though it is clear Fox was happy to have Carlson go, it will face real questions about whether it can keep his audience.  

“It is a decision that many viewers may not accept easily,” Conrad said.  

Yet Fox has posted strong ratings showings in non-prime time hours in recent months, with popular table talk program “The Five” becoming the first non-primetime program to top all of cable news for six consecutive quarters, averaging 3.3 million daily viewers, slightly more than Carlson’s nightly average. 

Shares of Fox Corporation fell roughly 3.6 percent by 1 p.m. on Monday afternoon, falling from close to $34 per share to under $32. Class B stock fell roughly 3.4 percent, from $31 to $29, though the company’s stock had rebounded before the end of trading on Monday. 

Kelly, for one, argued that Fox News made a serious business error in splitting with its star host.

“I don’t know what drove Fox News to make this decision. And it was clearly Fox News’s decision because they’re not letting him say goodbye,” Kelly, who now hosts a popular podcast catering to a conservative audience and has been previously critical of Fox, said of Carlson’s ousting. “That’s my supposition. That’s not inside knowledge. … Talk about misjudging your audience yet again.” 

Carlson’s split from Fox was a shock on Monday, though it was equally understandable given the context.  

As part of the defamation suit brought by Dominion against the news giant, a number of Carlson’s private text messages deriding both former President Trump and Fox leadership around the time of the 2020 election were made public and led to a slew of embarrassing headlines.   

In one message, Carlson said he hated Trump “passionately” and suggested Fox reporters who were fact-checking Trump’s false claims of voter fraud be fired, in fear of upsetting the network’s audience.   

The Wall Street Journal, which like Fox is owned by billionaire conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch, reported on Monday that Fox’s leaders took issue with remarks Carlson made that were derogatory toward the network in those text messages, citing people familiar with the matter.  

The content of much of the communications that had been redacted in the Dominion court documents became known internally to senior Fox management, the Journal reported.  

Rivals to Fox News seeking to get a bigger slice of its audience criticized its decision.  

“For a while, Fox News has been moving to become establishment media, and Tucker Carlson’s removal is a big milestone in that effort,” said Christopher Ruddy, the CEO of the smaller conservative channel Newsmax. He argued the split would send more viewers to his network.  

Other observers questioned whether the exit would hurt Fox that much, given its ability to replace talent.  

Fox has a relatively deep bench of what people at the network consider to be rising stars, including host Jesse Watters, who was last year given his own prime-time show, and comedian Greg Gutfeld, who has spearheaded Fox’s efforts to beat out the other networks in the ultra-competitive late night television landscape.   

But there will be questions about how seamlessly the network can replace Carlson.  

“This changes things permanently,” Donald Trump Jr., the former president’s eldest son, said on Monday of Carlson leaving Fox. “That’s one of the few voices in the Republican party that would call out the nonsense … from GOP senators, governors and otherwise … an actual thought leader … the whole thing is actually mind-blowing to me.”

This story was updated at 5:29 p.m.

Tags Dominion Voting Systems Donald Trump Fox News Megyn Kelly Megyn Kelly Tucker Carlson Tucker Carlson

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