Fox News Media shook the U.S. broadcasting and political landscape by announcing Monday that it has parted ways with top-rated primetime host Tucker Carlson, a stunning move with implications for the network’s audience primacy, litigation battles, and the 2024 election.
Fox News Media said Monday that the two had “agreed to part ways” and thanked him “for his service as a host and prior to that as a contributor.”
“Mr. Carlson’s last program was Friday April 21st,” said the network’s statement. “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.”
The announcement immediately drew attention to Fox News’ legal woes.
Less than a week ago, the network settled a defamation lawsuit over its 2020 election coverage with Dominion Voting Systems for a whopping $787.5 million, while at least two other lawsuits are pending.
The convergence of the litigation with Mr. Carlson’s departure fueled speculation that the longtime Fox News figure had come to be viewed as a liability despite his primetime dominance and growing political influence.
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Mr. Carlson had no immediate comment on the news, but clearly he didn’t expect his Friday show to be his last. At the end of the program, he bid his audience a cheerful farewell and said, “We’ll be back on Monday.”
Arguably no cable news host on the right or left has held as much sway for the last several years as the 53-year-old Mr. Carlson, a ratings magnet who had the most-watched cable news program in 2021 and the second-most watched show in 2022 – behind another Fox News Channel program, “The Five.”
“Tucker Carlson Tonight” was recently named the second-most-watched cable news show during the first quarter of 2023, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Justin Wells, the show’s senior executive producer, has reportedly left Fox News as well.
A Fox News Media spokesperson declined to comment on the reports.
Shares of Fox Corporation dropped by as much as 5% after the unexpected news broke Monday as conservatives and media figures struggled to digest the ramifications.
SEE ALSO: ‘Inaccurate’: CNN disputes Don Lemon’s account of his firing
Former Trump campaign adviser Steve Bannon called it “blockbuster news,” describing Mr. Carlson as “really the reason to watch Fox.”
“With this I don’t know why anybody needs to watch anything on the Murdoch empire because Tucker was the mainstay of the populist voice over at Fox,” Mr. Bannon said on his Monday podcast.
Brian Stelter, a former CNN media analyst who frequently attacked Fox News, tweeted that Mr. Carlson’s exit represents “an earth-shaking moment in cable news.”
Donald Trump Jr. said on “The Charlie Kirk Show” podcast that “I think it changes things permanently,” calling Mr. Carlson “a once-in-a-generation-type talent” and “one of the few voices in the Republican Party that would call out the nonsense.”
“To see him go is mind-boggling,” he told Mr. Kirk, the president of Turning Point USA, whose program appears on the Real America’s Voice network.
Don Trump Jr on Tucker leaving Fox:
“This changes things permanently.”pic.twitter.com/P29ffGTzcs
— Citizen Free Press (@CitizenFreePres) April 24, 2023
Meanwhile, the hosts of ABC’s “The View” celebrated Mr. Carlson’s departure by doing “the wave,” after which Ana Navarro led the audience in singing lyrics from the 1969 hit song “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.”
Why Fox would willingly part with Mr. Carlson is unclear, but his departure comes with the network embroiled in legal troubles over its airing of claims that rigged voting machines helped propel Democrat Joseph R. Biden to victory in the 2020 presidential election.
Fox settled the lawsuit Thursday shortly before the trial was scheduled to begin, but still on the legal horizon is a defamation lawsuit filed in 2021 in New York state court by Smartmatic.
The voting technology company seeks $2.7 billion, more than the $1.6 billion in damages alleged by Dominion, for comments made on the air by Trump lawyers Sidney Powell and Rudolph W. Giuliani.
A Fox spokesperson called those damage claims “disconnected from reality,” though Smartmatic attorney Erik Connolly called the Dominion settlement “a marker, and it’s a marker that we think we should be exceeding.”
Mr. Connolly told CNN last week that “$787 million is a good start. But it’s not the right finishing point.”
The firm also wants an apology and a retraction, he said. The terms of the Dominion lawsuit were not disclosed, but no public apology was announced.
Former producer Abby Grossberg, the head booker for Mr. Carlson’s show, filed a lawsuit last month against Fox alleging that she was coerced into giving misleading testimony about Dominion in a deposition.
The network said she was released for divulging private corporate information.
Mr. Carlson has long been mentioned as a possible Republican political candidate.
His opposition to U.S. military intervention in Ukraine and defense of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange put him at odds with most Republican lawmakers but gained him a devoted following among younger voters with libertarian and/or populist leanings.
CNN senior media analyst Oliver Darcy said that Mr. Carlson “outside Donald Trump really was the person commanding the GOP, really directing it. You saw Republican lawmakers, prominent Republican lawmakers, often grovel at his feet.”
Meanwhile, Donald Trump Jr. called Mr. Carlson “one of the few people actually speaking to independents and across the aisle and winning them over with facts, logic and reason.”
“It’s actually mind-blowing to me, and I guess to everyone else, given what you’ve seen happen to Fox’s market cap in the last few hours,” he said. “I hope whatever he does, he continues to be that voice for conservatism, because again, he’s one of the few people pushing those boundaries.”
Some Carlson fans on Twitter urged him to run on a ticket with former President Donald Trump, a candidate for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination.
However, court documents filed in the Dominion lawsuit indicate that Mr. Carlson may not be on board.
According to the Dominion document unsealed last month, in Jan. 4, 2021, text messages to a coworker, Mr. Carlson said, “we are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights,” and “I hate him passionately.”
Still, former Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, a Trump fan, tweeted her support for Mr. Carlson.
“The best decision I ever made was leaving Fox. Good for you, @TuckerCarlson. You’re free & uncensored!” she said.
Speculation was rife that Mr. Carlson may leap to another platform such as Rumble or Newsmax seen as more conservative than Fox News Channel.
Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy took the opportunity to ding rival Fox News.
“For a while Fox News has been moving to become establishment media and Tucker Carlson’s removal is a big milestone in that effort,” Mr. Ruddy said. “Millions of viewers who liked the old Fox News have made the switch to Newsmax and this will only fuel that trend.”
Mr. Carlson isn’t the only Fox personality to exit stage right.
Dan Bongino, host of the Saturday night program “Unfiltered,” said Thursday on his podcast that he has left after failing to come to an agreement with Fox on an extension.
“I want you to know it’s not some big conspiracy,” said Mr. Bongino, who was banned in January from YouTube.
“I promise you. There’s no acrimony. This wasn’t some WWE brawl that happened. We just couldn’t come to terms on an extension,” he said.
In 2017, Mr. Carlson replaced Bill O’Reilly, who hosted the popular show “The O’Reilly Factor” until he was forced out over sexual harassment allegations.
Mr. O’Reilly now hosts “No Spin News” on the First TV network.