Skip to content
Home » Opinion: Does it even matter why Tucker Carlson is out at Fox News?

Opinion: Does it even matter why Tucker Carlson is out at Fox News?

We still don’t know exactly why Tucker Carlson is out at Fox News.

Maybe it has to do with his prominent role in the Dominion lawsuit that will cost Fox News $787.5 million. Maybe it has to do with a pending lawsuit from a former producer who claims his show has a toxic, misogynistic and discriminatory workplace. Maybe Carlson, like a lot of big-time stars, became too big for Fox News and didn’t want to play by Fox’s rules. Maybe Rupert Murdoch, Fox’s big boss, finally had enough of putting up with Carlson’s controversial comments.

It could be any, all or none of those things.

Does it even matter?

He will no longer be able to spread his dangerous, divisive and race-baiting rhetoric to a nightly and very impressionable audience of some 3 million.

“What makes Tucker Carlson dangerous is that he spouts a ton of misinformation and disinformation that has the imprimatur of a major cable TV news channel so people believe that what he is saying is true,” Eric Deggans, TV critic for NPR and longtime media reporter, told me.

“He’s the champion of conspiracy theories,” MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace said on air. She mentioned conspiracy theories about elections, COVID-19, the war in Ukraine, and the great replacement theory, which has been cited in some of the written notes left behind by mass shooters.

“It is fair to say, it is not hyperbolic at all, to argue that Tucker Carlson is the throughline for all of them,” Wallace said.

Carlson frequently says things that are not true and often misleading, and can get away with it because his audience badly wants to believe him.

“And,” Deggans said, “it appears on a major cable TV news channel that they trust.”

Not only does Carlson deal in misinformation and disinformation, Deggans said, but his commentary is often rooted in prejudices.

“It often reinforces stereotypes,” Deggans said. “Or upholds ideas held by white supremacists and that’s even more damaging. It’s telling people that their racism is based in fact, rather than based in myths and stereotypes. That’s a serious problem.”

Deggans said Fox News has always denied the existence of systemic racism and its pundits have led the way in failing to acknowledge it. The way that comes out in Carlson’s case is through upholding dangerous messages like the great replacement theory or the idea that George Floyd was not killed because a policeman knelt on his throat, but that he died from drugs, or through trying to minimize Jan. 6 by even saying it was “not an insurrection.”

“Just saying all these things that are not true, but things that his target audience wants to believe are true,” Deggans said. “And it just makes it harder for journalists who are trying to do deals in fact.”

When asked about Carlson, veteran journalist and former CNN and New York Times media reporter Brian Stelter told me in an email, “Tucker Carlson’s show existed in a different reality that was quite derelict and dangerous. He wanted his audience to tremble in fear, not think freely.”

How much influence does Carlson actually have? On one hand, he has the highest-rated prime-time show in cable news, often attracting in the neighborhood of 3 million people. That’s fewer than those who watch any of the network evening newscasts. ABC’s “World News Tonight” often attracts twice as many viewers as Carlson. And, when you think about the entire population, 3 million people really isn’t a lot.

But Fox News is the most popular cable news network and Carlson is its biggest star.

“I’ve always thought he had a lot of influence,” Deggans said.

It’s not just about the details of what Carlson says.

Deggans told me, “Telling people that because you think something is true, because you want to believe it’s true, because you feel in your bones is true, (then) it is true. And it doesn’t matter what facts are out there that disprove what you want to believe. It doesn’t matter that it doesn’t make any logical sense. It doesn’t matter that there is no proof. … That’s what people like him tell his audience.”

And that’s what makes whatever influence he does have so reprehensible and dangerous.

Just because Carlson is gone doesn’t mean his influence is over. Far from it. A playbook he could now follow is to play the role of the martyr, a powerful voice too conservative for even Fox News.

On the surface, there wouldn’t be many landing spots for him — at least not as big as Fox News. He’s not going to CNN, MSNBC or one of the major networks.

My guess is he thinks he might be too cool and important to go to another conservative network such as Newsmax or OAN. But several people who know the TV business told me that Carlson could try to go to a place like that and turn it into his own personal media brand or company. Or he could start from scratch with his own media company with podcasts, newsletters, websites and YouTube channels, for instance.

Wherever it is, it likely won’t be a platform as powerful or prominent as Fox News. And, in a way, that might have led to Carlson’s departure. The Los Angeles Times’ Stephen Battaglio reported that Rupert Murdoch himself, along with the Fox Corp. board, was behind Carlson’s firing, and that it was in large part due to this looming lawsuit from Abby Grossberg over what she called a hostile and discriminatory work environment. In addition, Battaglio reported, Murdoch was concerned about Carlson’s Jan. 6 coverage, which included conspiracy theories that it was provoked by government agents.

In the end, perhaps for the first time in his career at Fox News, Carlson learned a lesson he did not see coming.

“When Fox lets go of big stars,” said New York Times reporter Jeremy W. Peters on MSNBC, mentioning past Fox News contributors such as Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, “these people were let go because they led people to believe that they were bigger than Fox. As far as Fox is concerned, and I think they’re right, no one person is ever bigger than the network itself.”

So, for the moment, we don’t know why Carlson is out. Only that he is.

That’s a good thing.

This story has been updated to include comments from journalist Brian Stelter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

error: Content is protected !!