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Fox “parts ways” with a uniquely toxic voice.
It was as abrupt as it was shocking. No goodbyes, no real attempts to make it look amicable, negotiated, or especially well planned.
Tucker Carlson was fired. And he didn’t see it coming. On Friday he signed off as usual: “We’ll be back on Monday.” Yesterday morning, Fox was still promoting Monday’s episode. Fox News’s biggest star was told he was out 10 minutes before it was announced.
It was the sort of cold brutality that, in other contexts and with different victims, Tucker would have relished, perhaps even chortled over. But he was out at Fox, fired with the same enthusiasm that marked his departures from previous gigs at CNN and MSNBC. Think of it as Tucker’s Trifecta.
(CNN’s Don Lemon was also fired yesterday, but we’ll get to that later.)
It wouldn’t have been especially surprising if the head on the spike had been Maria Bartiromo, or Judge Jeanine, or even Laura Ingraham. But it was Tucker whose body was tossed from the ramparts — and the media/political universe reeled.
Coming less than a week after Fox settled Dominion’s lawsuit for $787.5 million, the timing of Tucker’s defenestration is suggestive, but it’s still not clear exactly what happened. Tucker was actually not among the worst of the election deniers, and had carefully distanced himself from the most toxic lies pushed by Trump World figures like Sidney Powell.
I wish I could tell you that Tucker’s demise was the result of a sudden spasm of decency at Fox; that he was sacked because of his open bigotry and embrace of the racist Great Replacement Theory; or because of Fox’s revulsion over his Putinism; or a belated recognition of the human cost of his vaccine denialism.
I would love to think that Paul Ryan rolled out of bed Sunday morning, got Rupert on the phone, and said that his conscience simply wouldn’t allow him to stay on the Fox board if Tucker was allowed to continue dumping his toxic sludge into the body politic.
Ryan's sit-down interview with journalist Charlie Sykes on February 23 was released in podcast form on February 28. During the interview, Sykes asked Ryan why he did not stand up to people at Fox News who pushed "toxic sludge, racism, disinformation, and attacks on democracy."
"I want to make sure that we get through this moment and I think — this screed you just made on Fox — I think that was probably just Tucker," Ryan told Sykes.
Ryan added that he and Carlson are "different kinds of conservatives."
"Do I disagree with Tucker on this stuff? Of course, I absolutely disagree with him," Ryan said.
I would like to think that the trauma of the Dominion case finally forced Ryan & co. to confront Tucker’s blatant revisionism of the January 6th insurrection, or that the company was repulsed by his deeply dishonest faux documentary, Patriot Purge, his weird obsession with blaming a Trump supporter named Ray Epps for being an FBI agent who provoked the insurrection; or his cynical manipulation of January 6th footage to downplay the violence aimed at Capitol police.
It would be somewhat reassuring to think he was fired over the rank hypocrisy — of saying one thing in public and quite another in private— that was exposed in his text messages.
I would like to think all of that led to a dramatic pivot at Fox.
But that’s probably not what happened.
We don’t know but there are many theories out there today. There’s a messy lawsuit: “Tucker Carlson Is Accused of Promoting a Hostile Work Environment.”
Carlson’s former head of booking, Abby Grossberg, said that male producers regularly used vulgarities to describe women and frequently made antisemitic jokes.
The Daily Beast’s reporting suggests that Tucker’s penchant for using the c-word to describe women, including Sidney Powell, was a factor. (Although Puck’s well-sourced Dylan Byers is skeptical: “I am reliably told that this was not a primary cause for his termination, and I don’t think any credible person would believe that Fox News, which promoted election denialism and MyPillowism, is such a PG-13 culture.”)
But it was Carlson’s comments about Fox management, as revealed in the Dominion case, that played a role in his departure from Fox, a person familiar with the company’s thinking told The Post.
“Do the executives understand how much credibility and trust we’ve lost with our audience?” Carlson wrote to a colleague in a message a day after Fox, like other media outlets, called the election for Joe Biden….
In another message, Carlson referred to management with an expletive: “Those f-----s are destroying our credibility.” He later wrote: “A combination of incompetent liberals and top leadership with too much pride to back down is what’s happening.”
The Wall Street Journal reports: “The company took issue with remarks Mr. Carlson made that were derogatory toward the network, people familiar with the matter said. Much of the communications were redacted in court documents but became known internally to senior Fox management, the people said.”
In other words, Tucker’s arrogance, chronic assh*lery, and hubris may finally have caught up with him.
Tucker had come to think of himself as bigger than Fox. The Murdochs begged to differ.
Byers speculates that “late-stage Murdoch, perhaps chastened by his Dominion headache, and all the future litigation to come, may be more focused on enjoying his own twilight days rather than ceding his platform to a born-on-third-base narcissist who privately behaves like he’s bigger than the Fox brand. In the end, as the events of Monday reminded us, there’s still only one guy in charge at Fox.”
We don’t know what comes next, either for Carlson or Fox. His fellow staffers reportedly reacted with “pure joy.”
“No one is untouchable,” one producer told Rolling Stone. “It’s a great day for America, and for the real journalists who work hard every day to deliver the news at Fox.”
The Atlantic’s David Graham warns that whoever replaces Tucker will actually be worse. And Tucker himself is unlikely to fade away.
But whatever happens, it’s important to recognize that this is very much a BFD.
Yesterday morning David French tweeted: “We don’t know Tucker’s replacement (could be someone worse), but for now his removal is a blow against his ideological movement *and* against the incredible malice and dishonesty of his public presence. That sheer malice is a hallmark of the new right, and it took a blow today.”
This is exactly right.
While the other Fox News hosts are hardly ornaments of American journalism, Tucker was a uniquely malign and toxic figure. He was worse because he was smarter. He was more dangerous because he knew what he was doing. He had an extraordinary aptitude for lying with malicious glee, for his chop-logic and bigotry, all delivered with a smirk.
Over the last few years, Carlson has arguably done more than anyone else in the media to bring grievance-laden conspiracy theories from the edges of the fever swamps into the political mainstream.
While others on Fox trafficked in the various tropes of the right, it was Carlson who systematically advanced white identity politics and poisonous conspiracy theories, all while he was relishing his role as Vladimir Putin’s most useful idiot.
“Tucker’s show was uniquely toxic,” wrote NBC’s Ben Collins, “a composite 4chan in a tie with the occasional $5 word. He targeted low-level pariahs he knew couldn’t fight back, so people who looked like them were afraid to speak out. He sat atop a pipeline of lies. Its absence will be very noticeable.”
Tucker was singularly skilled at mainstreaming white nationalist talking points and acting incredulous when anyone called him on it. But he mastered the steady drip. Over five years, the Great Replacement went from 8chan manifestos to Primetime on Fox News. It was no accident.
The chans thought Tucker was one of them and it’s hard to argue he wasn’t. The goal was to get 4chan talking points on air and they often succeeded.
As AEI’s Brent Orrell noted, an underappreciated aspect of Tucker’s demise is that “by getting rid of Tucker, a whole circus gets derailed.”
Last year the New York Times published a deep dive that bluntly declared Carlson’s show “may be the most racist show in the history of cable news — and also, by some measures, the most successful. . . . [His] show teaches loathing and fear.”
Night after night, hour by hour, Mr. Carlson warns his viewers that they inhabit a civilization under siege — by violent Black Lives Matter protesters in American cities, by diseased migrants from south of the border, by refugees importing alien cultures, and by tech companies and cultural elites who will silence them, or label them racist, if they complain. When refugees from Africa, numbering in the hundreds, began crossing into Texas from Mexico during the Trump administration, he warned that the continent’s high birthrates meant the new arrivals might soon “overwhelm our country and change it completely and forever.” Amid nationwide outrage over George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer, Mr. Carlson dismissed those protesting the killing as “criminal mobs.” Companies like Angie’s List and Papa John’s dropped their ads. The following month, “Tucker Carlson Tonight” became the highest-rated cable news show in history.
Tucker thought the whole thing was a joke.
It would be nice to think that Tucker’s firing means he was wrong about all this; that we’ve reached a turning point where toxic bigotry is beyond the pale. Lines have been re-drawn. Gates are re-kept. The empire of decency has struck back.
The truth is that Tucker gave the audience what it wanted. And it wants more of what Tucker was selling, even if they have to take it from someone dumber, and less talented.
In other news:
Don Lemon was fired by CNN, and it was even uglier than the Fox/Tucker imbroglio.
In a video titled "Freedom" — which opens with a scene of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, followed by an image of an abortion rights protest — Biden said that after spending his first term fighting for the country’s democracy, "MAGA extremists are lining up" to cut the social safety net and take away personal liberties.
Aaron Rodgers is no longer a Green Bay Packer. And, I have to tell you, most of us Cheeseheads are ready for it.