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What Tucker Carlson’s firing from Fox News means for the network

In the days following the 2020 election, Fox host Tucker Carlson sent an anxious text message to one of his producers. Fox viewers are outraged by the network’s decision to call Arizona for Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Defeated President Donald J. Trump eagerly stoked their ire. As Mr. Carlson and his producers mull over ideas for a new Carlson podcast — one that might help win back the audience angriest about Mr. Trump’s failures — they see both Opportunity also sees danger.

“If we do it wrong, he can easily destroy us,” Mr. Carlson warned in a text released during Fox’s lawsuit with voting software company Dominion.

Mr. Carlson proved to be prescient, if not quite in the way he predicted. His nearly six-year reign in prime-time cable TV came to an abrupt end on Monday when Fox abruptly cut ties with the host and thanked him “for his contributions to the network” in a brief press release.

While the exact circumstances of his departure remained unclear Monday night, the firing came amid a series of high-stakes and costly legal battles in Fox’s postelection campaign aimed at reassuring Trump supporters and winning back trust. his audience. His failure was a fraud.

His departure upended Fox’s lineup of lucrative prime-time programming and shocked a media world more accustomed to Mr. Carlson’s extraordinary staying power. Over the years at Fox, the host has weathered argument after argument.

The network has stood by Mr Carlson after he claimed immigrants had made America “poor and dirty” – as has Fox chief executive Lachlan Murdoch. He seemed dismissive of his own on-air promotion of a racist conspiracy theory called “The Great Alternative,” as well as revelations that he was a prodigious purveyor of the company’s own dirty laundry. When Russia invaded Ukraine, Mr. Carlson’s program frequently promoted the Kremlin’s views, attacked US sanctions and blamed the conflict on US attempts to expand NATO.

The depletion of premium advertisers on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” — driven off by boycotts against his more racist and inflammatory parts — doesn’t seem to be sapping his standing on the network, as long as viewers stay around. With his disdain for the cable network’s top executives, Mr. Carlson came across as close, perhaps untouchable, to the Murdoch family.

Mr. Carlson’s rise as a populist pundit and media figure heralds Mr. Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party: His own transformation from bow-tie libertarian to vengeful populist traces the nativism of the Obama years. The rebellion that split and reshaped the Republican Party. But he has gone hand in hand with Mr. Trump’s presidency, as the New York real estate mogul has made outspoken nativism and fierce cultural resentment the main touchstones of conservative politics.

Despite his private belittling of Mr. Trump — “I hate him,” Mr. Carlson texted a colleague in January 2021 — Mr. Carlson used words about elite corruption, American decline, and the “ruling class,” Replace “traditional” Americans with large numbers of immigrants from other countries and cultures. Through deliberate, hypnotic repetition, he warns the audience that “they” want to control and destroy “you.”

Crucially, he worked to help Fox lure Trump supporters back to the network after Trump’s defeat.

In broadcast after broadcast, he debunked a counter-claim that falsely claimed the election was “taken from the voters” and suggested that the vote was rife with fraud and corruption. After Trump supporters — enraged in part by Mr. Trump and Fox — stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, he reframed the attack as a largely peaceful protest of legal wrongdoing, whose violence The behavior was the product of a false flag operation orchestrated by Trump.FBI

As a programming strategy, it worked: Last year, “Tucker Carlson Tonight” averaged more than 3 million total viewers per night. In his heyday, and perhaps still is, Mr Carlson was considered one of the most influential figures on the right.

But if Fox and its star hosts ever thrived on Mr. Trump, their efforts to deny or overturn the election results also put both the network and the former president at legal risk.

Mr. Trump faces an investigation by a federal special counsel into his efforts to retain power after his defeat and another by a local attorney in Georgia after the losing president was determined to win Asked the Georgia Secretary of State to “find” enough votes to overturn the election results there.

Fox agreed last week to pay three-quarters of the $1 billion to settle defamation claims by Dominion, which sued Fox for spreading false allegations that the voting software company was at the center of a vast conspiracy to trick Trump into winning 2020. .

Mr. Carlson and his show feature prominently in the Dominion case. Thousands of pages of internal texts and emails released as part of the lawsuit suggest that the network’s support for election fraud theories — and the promotion of those theories by Fox News and Fox Business guests and celebrities — was part of a campaign aimed at quelling It was part of a wider campaign of audience outrage over Mr Trump’s loss.

They also revealed that neither Mr. Carlson nor his host colleagues believed the election was rigged, despite their live-streamed comments. The texts show that Mr. Carlson looked down on Fox’s veritable executives, blasting them for “undermining our credibility” by allowing Fox to accurately report Mr. The combination of the top leadership” backed off with great pride. “

The company is also facing a lawsuit from former Carlson producer Abby Grosberg, who said she faced sexual harassment from other Carlson employees and, at the direction of Fox lawyers, downplayed news executives’ role in allowing unverified votes. role on fraud allegations. Air.

Smartmatic, another election technology company that Fox reported on alleged election fraud, is still suing the network. In its complaint, Smartmatic said Fox knowingly published more than 100 false statements about its products. The day after the 2021 lawsuit was filed, Fox Business canceled the show hosted by Lou Dobbs, one of the leading purveyors of baseless theories about election fraud.

In the wake of Mr. Carlson’s sudden firing, current and former Fox employees have speculated about the real reason for his firing and what the company’s plans are for the future.

Few seem to believe that Mr. Carlson will be punished for his long run of inflammatory statements on the air — and if so, why now? — or because of his previous private criticism of Fox executives. (It was pointed out that his prime-time hosts Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham were equally harsh in their own text messages.)

A more interesting question, perhaps, is what Mr. Carlson will do next.

Like his most articulate intellectual predecessor, the commentator and politician Patrick J. Buchanan, Mr. Carlson was one of the few men to succeed not only as a television entertainer but as an institution-builder—he Co-founded the herald right-wing tabloid The Daily Caller — and a movement leader. He has more successfully brought far-right ideas about immigration and culture to a broad audience than any other figure with a mainstream platform.

Now, he’s also one of the few TV talents to be canceled by the three major cable news networks. Before joining Fox, he was a long-time co-anchor of CNN’s “Crossfire” and later headlining the MSNBC show. In recent years, he’s been both a mainstay of Fox News’ primetime lineup and a big name on Fox Nation, the company’s premium streaming network, where he airs a thrice-weekly talk show and occasional documentaries.

At least one putative job offer loomed in the hours after he was fired on Monday.

“Hey @TuckerCarlson,” tweeted RT, the Russian State-backed media outlets. “You can always ask more questions via @RT_com.”

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