Tucker Carlson, the top-rated host in cable news, "agreed to part ways" with his employer, Fox News, effective immediately, the network announced Monday morning. It was a shocking announcement, seemingly out of the blue, and nobody was more surprised than Carlson, who found out he was being let go an hour before Fox News told the world, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Fox News did not explain why Carlson was being pushed out, and Carlson has not commented publicly on his departure. In fact, "Carlson has told people he doesn't know why he was terminated," and Fox News chief executive Suzanne Scott would tell him only that the decision came "from above," Gabriel Sherman reports at Vanity Fair. But if Fox News and Carlson have been tight-lipped, their silence has been more than filled by knowledgeable unidentified sources dishing to reporters, often with conflicting stories.
Who fired Tucker Carlson?
Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch and Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott decided to fire Carlson on Friday night, after what would end up being his final show on the network, according to The New York Times, the Journal, The Washington Post, and The Daily Beast.
But there were also reports that Carlson really was sacked "from above." The decision "came straight from Fox Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch, with input from board members and other Fox executives," the Los Angeles Times reports. That would fit "a consistent pattern with Rupert Murdoch over many decades," Yashar Ali writes. "He gives people a very, very long rope. And then he wakes up one day and decides he's done," often to their complete shock, and "it's as if the person never existed."
Murdoch "has a history of breaking up abruptly with trusted confidants and talent when greater pressures emerge," and here he "decided he could no longer support the popular conservative pundit," but Lachlan Murdoch and Scott "made the decision to cut ties with Carlson," Variety reports, squaring the circle with two different sources. Some of Carlson's "conduct on and off the air" had been "grating on" both Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch for some time, The New York Times adds.
Why did he get the boot?
Carlson had become "a polarizing and unpopular figure at the network outside of his own staff" and his prime time fiefdom, The New York Times reports, but the recent "tumult unfolding off the air was what contributed to Mr. Carlson's ouster," especially the Dominion Voting Systems defamation lawsuit Fox News settled for $787.5 million a week before he was fired. Text messages and emails released as part of the lawsuit exposed Carlson "as a bully who denigrated colleagues and sources, often in profane and sexist language."
Chiefly, "Fox took issue with remarks Mr. Carlson made that were derogatory toward the network," the Journal reports. "Much of the communications were redacted in court documents but became known internally to senior Fox management." The texts messages released publicly were "embarrassing" enough for Carlson and Fox, but what was he saying about Scott in the redacted messages, or "texting about the Murdochs?" Brian Stelter adds at Vanity Fair. "We don't know. We may never know. But this theory may explain why Carlson's top producer and textmate, Justin Wells, was also terminated."
Carlson's unearthed comments about his Fox colleagues "played a role in his departure," the Post reports — one on-air personality said his firing "sends a message that even the guy with the highest ratings of all, by a long shot, doesn't get to survive this disaster" — but "more recently, Carlson's staff culture had come under scrutiny," thanks to a discrimination lawsuit from former Tucker Carlson Tonight producer Abby Grossberg. The L.A. Times says Carlson's ouster "is related to" Grossberg's lawsuit, noting that Grossberg's lawyer also "suggested that her suit was a key factor in Carlson's exit."
Many rank-and-file Fox workers "view Carlson as perhaps the first of several sacrificial lambs to pay for Fox's Dominion-related misdeeds," The Daily Beast reports. Surprisingly, what really "loomed large in his termination" were "egregious" and "vulgar comments he made about Sidney Powell, the right-wing lawyer behind many of the bonkers 2020 election lies pushed on Fox's airwaves," the Beast reports. In Carlson's Dominion deposition, lawyers "nailed" him for calling Powell a "c--t" multiple times — and following years of sexual harassment complaints, Fox "could not have its biggest star undermining any supposed progress."
Fox News could also be getting out ahead of more damaging revelations involving Carlson, or maybe he finally "came out on the losing end of a long-term internal power struggle at the network," Justin Peters speculates at Slate. But if forced to guess, "I'd bet that Fox News has been wanting to move against Carlson for a while but couldn't do so as long as the Dominion lawsuit was still in play — perhaps for fear that if the network fired the host before the case was resolved, he would go scorched-earth on his former employer if he was called to testify in open court."
Ultimately, Jack Shafer writes at Politico, what Carlson failed to understand — like ratings juggernauts Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, and Megyn Kelly before him — "is that Fox itself, which convenes the audience, is the star."