Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photo: Jason Koerner/Getty Images

Why Did Fox News Fire Tucker Carlson?

The host’s misogyny is a leading theory.

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photo: Jason Koerner/Getty Images

Fox News released a statement on Monday morning that shocked the worlds of media and politics: Tucker Carlson is leaving the network — effective immediately. No reason was given for the abrupt firing of the highest-rated cable-news host, and Fox’s precise motivation for getting rid of him is still a partial question mark. Below is the latest on what we know about Carlson’s big exit.

Carlson decries the state of debate in video message

Carlson released a brief monologue on Wednesday night, his first appearance since being fired. Carlson didn’t directly reference his termination in the two-minute video message, nor did he say anything about what he would do next. Instead, he criticized the content and quality of debate on television, claiming that the most important topics “get virtually no discussion at all.” At the end, he wondered aloud: “Where can you still find Americans saying true things? There aren’t many places left, but there are some, and that’s enough. As long as you can hear the words, there is hope. See you soon.”

He wasn’t told why he was fired

A Fox News source told New York’s Shawn McCreesh that Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott and Lachlan Murdoch made the decision to fire Carlson on Friday, echoing reporting in the New York Times and elsewhere.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Carlson heard the news only ten minutes before Fox announced it publicly, and the network plans to pay out the remainder of his current contract, last renewed in 2021, which amounts to about $20 million per year.

A “person close to Fox leadership” commented to Semafor, “This is just classic Murdoch assassination — you’re their closest friend, their favorite child, and now you’re dead.”

Carlson has reportedly already hired entertainment lawyer Bryan Freedman, who has been representing ousted CNN host Chris Cuomo.

Carlson hasn’t commented publicly on the circumstances surrounding his departure. On Tuesday night, the Daily Mail reported that he looked “like a man without a care in the world” on his way to dinner with his wife in Boca Grande, Florida. Carlson was in a jokey mood during a brief exchange with a Mail reporter:

‘Retirement is going great so far,’ chuckled Carlson, 53, as he emerged from his $5.5 million beach home in Boca Grande, Florida on Tuesday night.

‘I haven’t eaten dinner with my wife on a weeknight in seven years.’

Pressed on his future, the flame-throwing former host of Tucker Carlson Tonight flashed a broad smile and joked: ‘Appetizers plus entree.’

Carlson’s misogynistic behavior is a leading theory for his ouster

Carlson’s departure comes less than a week after Fox News settled a defamation suit with Dominion Voting Systems but also in the middle of an ongoing lawsuit filed by former producer Abby Grossberg, who worked on Carlson’s show. Both episodes showcased Carlson’s and his staff’s penchant for misogyny — a tendency that reportedly didn’t go over well with top brass.

The Daily Beast reports that while a constellation of factors led to his ouster, Carlson’s comments about the conspiracy theorist Sidney Powell, revealed during the Dominion lawsuit, might have sealed his fate:

But most egregious, and what loomed large in his termination, people familiar with the matter told Confider, was how during his deposition with Dominion lawyers, when he was asked if “this wasn’t the only time you referred to Sidney Powell as a cunt,” the Fox News star responded: “You know I-I-I can’t know and I just want to apologize preemptively. I mean you’re trying to embarrass me, you’re definitely succeeding as I am embarrassed.” Carlson being nailed in court documents for his repeated use of the overtly misogynist C-word was a key factor in his demise, as Fox News had rid itself of Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly after years of sexual-harassment complaints and could not have its biggest star undermining any supposed progress. 

On Wednesday, the Journal lent more detail to Carlson’s misogynistic comments, reporting not only that he had used the same vulgarity about an unnamed Fox executive but that he was proud of it:

Several weeks ago, as Fox News lawyers prepared for a courtroom showdown with Dominion Voting Systems, they presented Tucker Carlson with what they thought was good news: They had persuaded the court to redact from a legal filing the time he called a senior Fox News executive the C-word, according to people familiar with the matter.

Mr. Carlson, Fox News’s most-watched prime-time host, wasn’t impressed. He told his colleagues that he wanted the world to know what he had said about the executive in a private message, the people said. Mr. Carlson said comments he made about former President Donald Trump — “I hate him passionately” — that were in the court documents were said during a momentary spasm of anger, while his dislike of this executive was deep and enduring.

The Journal also reports that “the private messages in which Mr. Carlson showed disregard for management and colleagues were a major factor” in his firing and that the network was worried about possible fallout from more private messages that haven’t been seen by the public.

Then there’s Grossberg. In a pair of lawsuits against Fox News, she alleged that the network’s lawyers had attempted to make her one of the scapegoats for the Dominion case and claimed widespread misogyny and discrimination at the company, detailing specific allegations against Carlson’s team.

In her federal court filing, Grossberg described the work environment of Carlson’s show as one that “subjugates women based on vile sexist stereotypes” as well as “typecasts religious minorities and belittles their traditions.”

On Grossberg’s second day of work, Justin Wells, a senior producer, asked her if her previous boss, Maria Bartiromo, had ever had sex with Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House Speaker. Grossberg said her colleagues joked about the attractiveness of women politicians and, in one instance, recounted hearing one co-worker call a Republican congresswoman “fat” and implied she had gotten her job by sleeping with her predecessor.

Grossberg alleges she was personally discriminated against for being Jewish and witnessed offensive remarks about Jewish people. She recalls Alexander McCaskill, her direct supervisor at the time, singling out an Israeli colleague and admonishing him to other co-workers for taking time off for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. When that same employee visited a Jewish bakery for lunch, McCaskill joked that the man went to “the Jew bakery” and “to see his people.”

Wells was terminated alongside Carlson, Semafor reports.

In a statement responding to Carlson’s firing, Grossberg called the move “a step towards accountability for the election lies and baseless conspiracy theories spread by Fox News, as well as for the abuse and harassment I endured.”

In an NPR interview which aired Friday, Grossberg said her complaints about the work environment fell on deaf ears:

“I ultimately went and complained to one of my supervisors about the abuse and the bullying and the gaslighting and misogyny that I was putting up with at Tucker,” Grossberg said. “And his response to me was, ‘We’re just following Tucker’s tone. That’s Tucker’s tone.’ And I do really believe that it all trickles down from the top.” When asked if she blames Carlson for the toxic environment, Grossberg said that she does. “It’s his show,” she said.

She also dismissed the notion that Fox News was doing the right thing by firing Carlson. “They don’t care about telling the truth and they don’t care about women, all they care about are ratings and revenue,” Grossberg said.

Other revelations from the Dominion lawsuit might have been damaging

Carlson’s vulgar comment about the unnamed Fox executive wasn’t his only recent criticism of management. Citing “a person familiar with the company’s thinking,” the Washington Post reports that “Carlson’s comments about Fox management, as revealed in the Dominion case, played a role in his departure.” The Post cited two such exchanges:

“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. It was a sentiment echoed by others at Fox in the fall of 2020, as even network officials who disbelieved Trump’s election-fraud conspiracy theories fretted that countering them strongly would alienate their conservative viewers.

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.”

During discovery for the case, multiple texts were made public revealing that Carlson loathed Trump behind the scenes while he praised the then-president in public. (In an apparent effort to mend fences, Carlson interviewed Trump earlier this month.) Carlson’s position after the 2020 election put him at odds with most of the rest of Fox News, which was distancing itself from the presidential loser.

For Vanity Fair, Brian Stelter reports that the texts we’ve seen weren’t the only private messages unearthed by the Dominion lawsuit:

Hundreds of pages of emails and text messages from within Fox were published in Dominion’s pre-trial legal filings. But there is a huge number of other pages that remain out of public view. The redactions were voluminous. Only three groups of people know what those pages contain: Dominion’s lawyers, Fox’s top executives, and obviously the people who were sending and receiving the messages. So what was Carlson saying about, say, Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott? What was he texting about the Murdochs? We don’t know. We may never know. 

Carlson’s above-the-law attitude was a problem

A consistent theme of the coverage surrounding Carlson’s exit is that he saw himself above reproach at Fox News, in part because his show was such a phenomenon. “Some of the people pointed to concerns that the populist firebrand had come to believe himself bigger than the network — a cardinal sin in Fox Corp. Chair Rupert Murdoch’s empire — and was increasingly operating as his own island,” the Journal reports. He maintained a longstanding rift with management, and the animosity went both ways:

In recent years, battles between Mr. Carlson and Fox management got so bad that former Trump aide Raj Shah was appointed to be his internal advocate and an intermediary between Mr. Carlson and Fox’s communications department, according to people familiar with the arrangement and filings in the Dominion case.

Mr. Carlson was livid that Fox News didn’t do more to protect him from the negative press coverage around the Dominion case that he was expected to testify in, given that the primary actors responsible for the false election-fraud claims at the heart of the suit were other Fox hosts and commentators, according to people familiar with the matter.

But Fox has a history of cutting ties with popular figures — Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly, most notably — who then struggle to retain the relevance they had at the network while Fox remains a juggernaut.

It undoubtedly didn’t help Carson’s case that he seemed not to be well liked at the network. The Times reports that he was a “polarizing and unpopular figure at the network outside of his own staff.”

Yet another lawsuit and lines crossed on air

Carlson’s personal conduct probably wasn’t the only factor in his firing. Though the network largely stood by him as he espoused increasingly radical white-nationalist views over the years, top brass were not always onboard with his more extreme programming. The New York Times reports that his conspiratorial take on the January 6 Capitol riot was one such example:

One early point of contention was Mr. Carlson’s 2021 documentary, “Patriot Purge,” which advanced the conspiracy theory that the attack that day was a so-called false flag operation designed to discredit the former president and his political movement. Lachlan Murdoch was said to have been caught off guard by the program, which also led two conservative Fox News contributors to quit in protest, Jonah Goldberg and Stephen Hayes.

The Times also notes that when Carlson released misleadingly edited footage of the riot — footage that had been handed to him by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy — he drew criticism from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a personal friend of Rupert Murdoch’s.

Carlson’s January 6 views created legal problems, too. A third Carlson-linked lawsuit is looming for the network: a potential defamation lawsuit by former U.S. marine Ray Epps, an attendee of the January 6 insurrection. Carlson has insinuated that Epps was a government agent working to sow violence at the demonstration turned riot that day at the U.S. Capitol. During an appearance on 60 Minutes the night before Carlson was fired, Epps said the Fox News host was “going to any means possible to destroy my life and our lives.”

Carlson’s propensity toward on-air racism and conspiracy-mongering didn’t just do reputational damage to the network; it cost the network money. The host prompted many major advertisers to flee his show, and the Journal reports that the boycott had a deleterious effect on ad revenue:

The lack of advertiser demand meant the commercials in many cases weren’t being sold at a premium or at a rate commensurate with its audience size, which meant it wasn’t providing a financial windfall to the network, people familiar with the network’s operations said.

The Washington Post reported that Murdoch had grown weary of Carlson’s segments on the war in Ukraine — like the graphic which described president Volodymyr Zelensky as a “Ukrainian pimp.” After one show in March, Murdoch joined a newsroom meeting to push back on Carlson’s messaging.

Or maybe Rupert Murdoch just hated a speech Carlson made

In a follow-up report on Tuesday, Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman wrote that none of the existing theories for Carlson’s firing quite add up and that, according to a Fox source, a source said Rupert Murdoch did not react well to a recent, religion-heavy address Carlson gave:

A new theory has emerged. According to the source, Fox Corp. chair Rupert Murdoch removed Carlson over remarks Carlson made during a speech at the Heritage Foundation’s 50th Anniversary gala on Friday night. Carlson laced his speech with religious overtones that even Murdoch found too extreme, the source, who was briefed on Murdoch’s decision-making, said. Carlson told the Heritage audience that national politics has become a manichean battle between “good” and “evil.” Carlson said that people advocating for transgender rights and DEI programs want to destroy America and they could not be persuaded with facts. “We should say that and stop engaging in these totally fraudulent debates…I’ve tried. That doesn’t work,” he said. The answer, Carlson suggested, was prayer. “I have concluded it might be worth taking just 10 minutes out of your busy schedule to say a prayer for the future, and I hope you will,” he said. “That stuff freaks Rupert out. He doesn’t like all the spiritual talk,” the source said. 

Sherman had also recently reported that Murdoch’s disdain for religion was a factor in his sudden split from Ann Lesley Smith, to whom he was engaged for two weeks until suddenly calling off the wedding earlier this month. Per the Tuesday Vanity Fair story, Smith and Carlson had recently dined at Murdoch’s Bel Air vineyard, during which Smith read Bible passages aloud and “Rupert just sat there and stared.”

Sherman frames both Murdoch’s nixing of the engagement and (possible) firing of Carlson as part of a “string of erratic decisions” pointing to a diminished mental state.

“A TV character who exploited the worst impulses of the American right”

Intelligencer’s Jonathan Chait reflects on Carlson’s legacy:

Carlson’s career defies parody and challenges analysis because it has always been laid bare. Carlson inherited the fake-populist shtick used by Bill O’Reilly and honed it into something like performance art. He ranted conspiratorially about “them,” laying sinister plots in their opulent lairs, against “us.” The Carlson version of the character was a campy, scenery-chewing performer who exceeded O’Reilly in every way.

The high-pitched squeals and goofy facial expressions were the superficial expressions. The deeper and more sinister aspect of Carlson’s success was his realization that his audience craved racist and nativist resentment in higher doses than his predecessor had been able to supply.

Read the rest of Jon’s response to the news of Carlson’s firing here.

Fox News staffers were shocked too

Per the Post, one unnamed staffer said, “We’re just learning of this like everyone else. Total surprise on my end.” Another commented, “This is major. It sends a message that even the guy with the highest ratings of all, by a long shot, doesn’t get to survive this disaster.”

They aren’t the only ones making that point:

How Fox broke the news on TV

A rotating schedule of hosts will take over Carlson’s 8 p.m. slot in the coming weeks, and he will not have a final show. His departure is so abrupt that Fox News was still previewing an episode of his show as of Monday morning. Shortly after the statement was made public, Carlson’s departure was announced on air without much enthusiasm:

Fox News host Brian Kilmeade appeared during Carlson’s spot at 8 p.m. on Monday and made a brief acknowledgment of the seismic news.

After stints as a host at CNN and MSNBC, Carlson joined Fox News in 2009 as a contributor, slowly working his way up the ranks to become a prime-time host. In 2017, when Bill O’Reilly was forced out over multiple sexual-harassment claims, Carlson quickly rose as a force in conservative media in the Trump era, becoming the network’s highest-rated host in prime time. With that growth, he is now a pernicious influence in Republican politics, pushing anti-vaccine theories and openly racist ideas. His importance was arguably without precedent for the network:

Carlson’s television experience includes being the first contestant eliminated from season three of Dancing With the Stars.

“We’ll be back on Monday”

As many have noted, Carlson’s rapid departure means he won’t have an opportunity to say farewell to his viewers. At the end of his last show, on Friday night, he promoted an upcoming special about eating bugs and signed off with “We’ll be back on Monday.”

Instead, Carlson apparently found out he wouldn’t be back — on Monday:

This post has been updated.

Why Did Fox News Fire Tucker Carlson? What We Know.