As a business proposition, Monday morning’s earth-shattering announcement that Tucker Carlson is out at Fox News comes off as the dumbest thing since, well…
Maybe tying Bud Light’s brand to a transgender attention grabber? I dunno.
Here was Fox News’ statement heralding the decision to part ways with its No. 1 ratings workhorse…
NEW YORK — April 24, 2023 — FOX News Media and Tucker Carlson have agreed to part ways. We thank him for his service to the network as a host and prior to that as a contributor.
Mr. Carlson’s last program was Friday April 21st. Fox News Tonight will air live at 8 PM/ET starting this evening as an interim show helmed by rotating FOX News personalities until a new host is named.
FOX News Media operates the FOX News Channel (FNC), FOX Business Network (FBN), FOX News Digital, FOX News Audio, FOX News Books, the direct-to-consumer streaming services FOX Nation and FOX News International and the free ad-supported television service FOX Weather. Currently the number one network in all of cable, FNC has also been the most watched television news channel for more than 21 consecutive years, while FBN ranks among the top business channels on cable. Owned by Fox Corporation, FOX News Media reaches nearly 200 million people each month.
That announcement came at a substantial cost, even before Carlson’s time slot came and went and the ratings were tabulated. In stock trading Monday, Fox Corporation dumped a billion dollars in market capitalization in just a few hours after the announcement, and an untold thousands of viewers tanked their Fox Nation streaming subscriptions; Carlson’s long-form interview show was the prime attraction for that service.
The first cause of Carlson’s ouster mentioned in media reports was the $787 million settlement Fox reached with Dominion Voting Systems over the latter’s lawsuit against the cable channel; Carlson, in the legacy media narrative, was one of those at fault for the suit. Except that’s a shaky narrative, at best; Carlson absolutely took Sidney Powell, the lawyer most responsible for spreading the anti-Dominion accusations of systemic electronic voter fraud, to the woodshed over her refusal to provide evidence to back up her claims. He took a good deal of abuse from the anti-Dominion gang over that, but his position ultimately was vindicated.
And the scuttlebutt has it that Carlson was planning to go on the air Monday to defend himself against accusations that he had been the one to blame for the suit. Inside Carlson’s camp, it was made clear after the announcement that all of the normal preparations for a regular show Monday night were underway when the news came that he was out.
He was, in fact, planning to interview GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, almost certainly on the topic of the latter’s appearance on CNN late last week. We’ll get to that shortly.
Carlson wasn’t fired over the Dominion suit. His insistence on clearing the air about the suit and his relationship to it might have been the last straw at best, but it wasn’t the cause, either.
The fact is that Tucker Carlson is out at Fox News for the same reason that Glenn Beck didn’t last there. Or, for that matter, Dan Bongino. As the rumor mill has it, Judge Jeanine Pirro and Maria Bartiromo may not last long, either. Carlson and the others being purged are independent thinkers unwilling to blindly swallow and regurgitate the standard corporate media narratives.
This wasn’t all that important a characteristic not so long ago. But in the last five to seven years, as those narratives have become more offensive, more insidious, more poisonous, and more counterfactual, the value of free thinkers and outspoken questioners of the status quo has skyrocketed.
At the same time, their supply in corporate media has dwindled. Carlson was the last of them on cable news, or at least the last with his own show.
He’s MAGA, but he wasn’t a Trump acolyte. He’s conservative, but hardly a GOP parrot. He’s unapologetically pro-American, but that doesn’t translate to jingoistic support for every military adventure the Beltway uniparty cooks up. He’s capable of an intelligent and respectful interview with figures on the left who similarly are willing to espouse independent thoughts — like Glenn Greenwald and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., for example.
None of that works for Fox News anymore. Fox News wants to present hour upon hour of Sean Hannity–style controlled opposition.
That is not what Tucker Carlson has to offer.
We’re going to move on to what happened Monday at CNN in just a minute because it’s relevant to the topic of this column, but before we do, we want to show you the last thing Carlson said publicly before Fox News cut him loose. This was Carlson at the Heritage Foundation’s annual confab over the weekend. He gave a sensationally good speech that unwittingly defines his evolution as a conservative pundit and media personality. The irony that he would be cut loose just a couple of days later is quite thick…
He concluded with a recognition that everything can end at any time, and when Heritage’s Kevin Roberts suggested he’d have a job at the think tank if something were to go wrong at Fox News, it was almost like Roberts and Carlson knew what was coming.
And maybe they did, in a general sense. Though again, Carlson and his staff were preparing for a show on Monday when Rupert Murdoch dropped the axe on him.
Contrast that thoughtful speech from Carlson with the last major public appearance that CNN’s Don Lemon, who also was fired Monday, made — ironically enough, with an interview of Ramaswamy that Carlson was scheduled to discuss with the presidential candidate Monday night…
Unlike Carlson’s ouster, which came out of the blue, anybody could see Lemon getting the axe from a mile away. This disrespectful interview alone would have been enough to end him, but of course it came on top of a heap of other shoulda-been-career-killing gaffes over the past several years.
The Carlson and Lemon separations are essentially opposite reactions showing the same rot, however. Which is that cable news is dying, and rapidly. Even despite his massive ratings, Carlson’s audience is a quarter of Joe Rogan’s — the fact is, Fox News has held him back more than supported him over the last few years. And Fox’s corporate suits have reined in his examinations of critical issues — the Jan. 6 footage is an obvious example, but there are many others.
In CNN’s case, it isn’t Lemon’s firing that shows the decline, but the fact that it took so long. His ratings indicate that he’s an audience killer. He’s the worst interviewer in cable news, and it isn’t close. He’s abusive toward his colleagues, his off-air behavior is inexcusable and inappropriate, as his legal trouble over allegedly sexually assaulting a waiter indicated, and the things he says are stupid in ways that assault the sensibilities of people with ordinary intelligence, much less those far smarter than he is.
And everyone knows why he lingered like he did. Don Lemon kept his job because he was black and gay. It didn’t matter that he’s as terrible a cable host as Karine Jean-Pierre is as a White House press secretary — the people in charge of CNN couldn’t bring themselves to separate from him because woke bean-counting wouldn’t allow it. How do you fill out your corporate cable news intersectional bingo card without Don Lemon?
Ultimately, Lemon destroyed the shows he hosted and, after that Ramaswamy interview, there simply was nothing left to salvage.
There won’t be much left to salvage following Carlson’s ouster, either. When he passes from Fox News to his next iteration — perhaps at the Blaze or the Daily Wire as a player-owner, or perhaps in turning the Daily Caller into a multimedia empire and streaming platform of its own, or maybe as part of some new venture; surely there would be investors lining up to fund a Carlson-headlined media distribution channel of some sort — he’s going to show that he’s bigger than they are.
As he should. Because he is. The talent is always more relevant than the suits. And when the suits forget that, the market cap numbers invariably will render a verdict.
The era of cable news being relevant in American media is ending. It was ending even before Carlson’s departure from Fox News. Something else is coming, and that something else almost certainly will not be part of the corporate media conglomerate complex that has destroyed news media in this country.
So don’t be sad that Tucker isn’t on the air. Definitely don’t be sad that Lemon is gone. Be happy for what’s to come. It’ll be better.