The last time Tucker Carlson texted me, it was about a Twitter rumor that new management at CNN might toss me overboard. Carlson clearly wanted an excuse to turn a random tweet into national news for his millions of devotees. “Do you have comment?” he asked. “Thanks.” By that point, in April of 2022, I had sworn off any contact with Carlson. I’d had enough of the swearing and trolling. But Monday presented an astonishing reason to reach back out to Carlson. I texted: “Any comment on your departure from Fox?”
It’s been a few hours, and he has not replied yet. Carlson has chosen silence at one of the most consequential moments in his life: his firing from Fox News. Officially, Carlson and Fox “agreed to part ways.” That’s what the terse press release from Fox said. “We thank him for his service to the network as a host and prior to that as a contributor.”
The real “tell” about the terms of Carlson’s departure came in the second and last paragraph, where Fox revealed that “Mr. Carlson’s last program was Friday April 21st.” Carlson is not signing off. To put it more bluntly: He’s not being given a chance to say goodbye. It is technically possible, I suppose, that Carlson turned down a chance to sign off on his own terms. But my 20 years of experience covering cable news suggests otherwise.
Four months after Carlson texted about the rumor of my departure, CNN CEO Chris Licht told me he was canceling Reliable Sources, the Sunday morning program I had led for nearly nine years. Notice that I didn’t call it “my show”—it’s a crucial distinction. News anchors don’t own their time slots, they rent. Anchors who let their egos delude them into thinking they own their time slots, well, they don’t last very long.
But Carlson, more than anyone else in cable news, might have been able to credibly call the 8 p.m. hour on Fox News “my show.” I spent oodles of time on Reliable Sources analyzing the rise of Tucker Carlson Tonight as a force in both television and politics. Carlson became, for a couple of years, even bigger than his network. He was said to have a chummy relationship with Fox Corporation CEO Lachlan Murdoch. He was also said to be sharply critical of the women who ran Fox News for Murdoch. Fox staffers believed that Carlson could get away with anything for two main reasons: his friendship with Murdoch and his reliably high ratings.
But virtually every show gets canceled eventually. Which brings me back to my departure from CNN. Licht showed me grace while ending Reliable Sources: He offered me a final show. One final episode to dissect the media, including CNN, and to say thanks to the viewing public. I could interview whomever I wanted, bring up any topic I wanted, and say whatever I wanted. No one in management read my sign-off monologue in advance. This was the result of mutual respect—and it was mutually beneficial. I had a chance to say my piece, and CNN was credited with being courteous to a departing anchorman.
Sign-offs mean the world to the hosts who are allowed to give them. I could see it in Sean Spicer’s eyes when he said farewell to his fans on the Fox-wannabe channel Newsmax earlier this month. The former Trump White House press secretary tried to use his sign-off to turn Newsmax viewers into his own subscribers: He read aloud the URL for his personal website and plugged his Twitter handle and YouTube account. “Stay in touch,” he said, either eagerly or desperately, depending on your point of view.
For a TV host like Spicer, those last few minutes of airtime are close to priceless. (After I signed off on CNN, multiple people told me that I should have plugged a Substack or something, but I was eager to take several months off.) I’m telling you all of this to emphasize that Carlson is not saying goodbye. The takeaway, at least for some TV insiders, is that Carlson was shoved— hard—by Fox management. As Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman reported Monday, Carlson was blindsided by his own cancellation. Not being given a chance to sign off is the television equivalent of an execution.
“Damn,” a former Fox producer said to me right after it happened. “It had to be O’Reilly-level bad for him to not even get a goodbye show.” You’ll recall that Bill O’Reilly, the longtime renter of the 8 p.m. time slot at Fox, was booted in 2017 in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations and revelations about secret settlements. That’s not why Carlson is out—in fact, a well-placed network source says Carlson was not the subject of any misconduct investigation. Carlson has many, many flaws, but they’re distinct from O’Reilly’s flaws.