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Opinion Tucker Carlson, a terrible individual, leaves Fox News

Then-Fox News host Tucker Carlson speaks during the 2022 FOX Nation Patriot Awards at Hard Rock Live on Nov. 17, 2022, in Hollywood, Fla. (Jason Koerner/Getty Images)
5 min

Fox News’s decision to “part ways” with prime-time host Tucker Carlson is practically a choose-your-own-ending sort of story: Compelling reasons to oust Carlson have been piling up for years. It’s about time Fox News finally deployed one, or 50.

The immediate context for Carlson’s departure, announced on Monday, appears to be the cable network’s $787.5 million settlement last week with Dominion Voting Systems over allegations that Fox News coverage of the 2020 presidential election defamed the company. But even if Carlson’s surprise departure followed the high-profile payment, the connection isn’t open-and-shut. Far from a focus of the Dominion case, Carlson was responsible for just one of the 20 broadcasts at issue; most were the work of other network stars — Lou Dobbs, Maria Bartiromo and Jeanine Pirro. And Carlson actually called out pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell for the lack of evidence for her election-fraud allegations.

What’s more, the settlement did not include a requirement for Fox News to publicly apologize or retract the many false and damaging statements it broadcast about Dominion from November 2020 through January 2021. (A Dominion spokesperson offered “nothing on that from us right now” when we asked on Monday whether the agreement included a personnel component.)

Erik Wemple: There's a big hole in the Dominion-Fox News settlement

But legal filings in the case also exposed the dramatic difference between Carlson’s on-air rhetoric and his private comments about Donald Trump.

On Friday, Carlson finished his program by sharing pizza with a delivery driver who helped catch an alleged car thief. “That’s it for us for the week,” said Carlson. “We’ll be back — by the way, the entire episode of ‘Let Them Eat Bugs,’ not quite as good as pizza, streaming now on Fox Nation. … We’ll be back on Monday.”

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But, no, Carlson is out before hosting another episode. “Tucker Carlson Tonight” was for years one of the top-rated shows in cable television, and if there is one thing that Fox News cares about — as also evidenced by the internal communications laid bare by Dominion’s lawsuit — it’s ratings. The fact that Carlson’s last show aired without a sign-off to viewers suggests that Fox News didn’t trust Carlson with its airwaves under changed circumstances.

What Tucker Carlson said about Trump in private texts vs. on Fox News

Yet the network trusted him for 14 years, a span in which Carlson, a veteran of CNN and MSNBC, littered the airwaves with conspiracy theories and racist rhetoric. So important was Carlson’s oeuvre that in 2021, Fox News inked a deal with him to do thrice-weekly interviews on streaming platform Fox Nation, plus documentaries under the title “Tucker Carlson Originals.” He was Fox News’s franchise personality, following a disjointed path to prominence. Carlson joined Fox as a contributor in 2009 and later moved up to a weekend co-host on the risible “Fox & Friends” franchise; he once fell asleep on air. When an evening slot opened up in 2016, Carlson grabbed the opportunity, breaking out as he hammered critics — including the Erik Wemple Blog — and left-leaning types in pugilistic segments that helped mold an audience.

Carlson’s hammering wasn’t limited to external critics. Court filings in the Dominion litigation exposed many of Carlson’s candid thoughts about others at Fox News, including executives. “We devote our lives to building an audience and they let Chris Wallace and Leland f---ing Vittert wreck it,” Carlson said in one exchange with a colleague. Such comments about management “played a role” in Carlson’s ouster, according to reporting by Post colleagues Jeremy Barr and Sarah Ellison.

Who at Fox News ever — ever — would have supposed that the guy willing to smear others willy-nilly would similarly bash his colleagues?

There is other ugliness. A lower-profile lawsuit, filed in March by Abby Grossberg, a former Fox News employee who worked on “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” alleged violations of pay-equity laws, gender discrimination and retaliation, among other issues. Her complaint paints a dire picture of the work environment under Carlson. As head of booking for Carlson’s show, Grossberg endured “a work environment that subjugates women based on vile sexist stereotypes, typecasts religious minorities and belittled their traditions, and demonstrates little to no regard for those suffering from mental illness,” reads the complaint. Staffers on Carlson’s show, the complaint says, regularly engaged in misogynistic banter about women in the news: “In these discussions, no woman, whether she was a Republican politician or a female staffer at Fox News, was safe from suddenly becoming the target of sexist, demeaning comments.” (A Fox statement says the claims are “riddled with false allegations.”)

As the Erik Wemple Blog has pointed out, Carlson’s history of misogynistic comments dates back many years — including the time that he called journalist Joan Walsh a “c---.”

And as a Fox News host, Carlson’s on-air pronouncements were replete with racism, sexism and an undisguised hatred for people with whom he disagrees. In his quest for ratings and fame, Carlson proved willing to run over otherwise powerless people, such as the Maine-based freelance journalists assigned to produce a story about him, or the pro-Trump man whom Carlson wrapped in his conspiracy theory about the FBI and the Jan. 6, 2021, protests. Carlson also menaced colleagues at the network, as New York Times reporter Nicholas Confessore documented in a year-long investigation.

It seems that Fox News was fine with Carlson’s vicious, often baseless, attacks, as long as they were directed elsewhere. Once they started landing closer to home, network leaders took another look at the terrible individual on their payroll.