(Bloomberg) — Fox News, in announcing Monday that it’s parted ways with Tucker Carlson, is losing a host who brought in millions of viewers but proved too much to handle even for corporate chiefs Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch.
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Lawyers for Dominion Voting Systems Inc. uncovered evidence that Carlson insulted his management, colleagues and guests. A still unresolved suit by former Fox producer Abby Grossberg accuses the popular host of misogyny and contributing to a hostile workplace. After Fox agreed to settle Dominion’s defamation case for a record $787.5 million, the Murdochs decided it was time to say goodbye to their star.
Lachlan Murdoch, Fox Corp.’s chief executive officer, and Suzanne Scott, who heads Fox News, made the decision Friday night to let Carlson go, according to a person familiar with the situation.
“He was uncontrollable,” said Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters for America, a nonprofit group critical of the network. “At some point you get just too big for your britches.”
Efforts to reach Carlson were unsuccessful.
His departure leaves a big hole for Fox News to fill. Fox Corp. shares closed almost 3% lower Monday, a reflection of how much he meant to the business. Other networks have already begun courting Carlson, who was paid more than $10 million a year. He’ll likely be a thorn in Fox’s side, criticizing the channel publicly, much as he did privately.
Chris Ruddy, CEO of the Newsmax TV network, said he “would be interested in having a conversation” with Carlson now that he’s left Fox. The network’s decision “did not make sense” given the viewers he draws.
“I think it opens the door to a lot of Fox people checking out Newsmax,” Ruddy said in an interview.
One America News Network, another conservative channel, also wants to meet with Carlson. “Maybe Fox News’ loss could be OANN’s gain,” the company said on Twitter.
Carlson’s termination came as a surprise to employees of Fox News, which as late as Monday morning were promoting an interview with presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy scheduled for that night.
Carlson himself had no advance warning of the move, said the person familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified discussing internal deliberations. He signed off his program Friday night with: “We’ll see you Monday.”
Gone along with Carlson is his producer, Justin Wells. Dan Bongino, another controversial Fox News host, departed last week after failing to sign a new contract with the network. His situation was unrelated to Carlson’s.
Smug, opinionated, always at the center of controversy, Carlson was the most popular host on cable TV. In what turned out to be his second-to-last week on the air, Tucker Carlson Tonight accounted for four of the 10 most-watched broadcasts in prime time, according to Nielsen data. The only programs with more viewers: the NBA playoffs.
Yet he continued to land Fox in hot water, from promoting claims on the air that the 2020 presidential election was rigged, even as he privately called guests like Trump lawyer Sidney Powell, who promoted the conspiracy theory, a liar, to hosting Patriot Purge, a three-part series on the Fox Nation service that painted a sympathetic portrait of the Jan. 6 rioters.
Carlson also gave airtime to the theory that Ray Epps, a Trump supporter who protested in Washington after the election, was actually a plant from the federal government who helped instigate the Jan. 6 riot to make Trump supporters look bad. Epps recently told 60 Minutes that Carlson was “obsessed” with him.
Emails and other communications uncovered in the Dominion case and Grossberg’s suit showed Carlson using derogatory language about Powell and accusing colleagues of “destroying our credibility” for rightly calling Arizona for Biden. He told fellow host Sean Hannity “please get her fired” after Fox News reporter Jacqui Heinrich said on the air there was no evidence that any election system changed votes.
Fox News is the flagship of Fox Corp., particularly since the Murdochs sold the bulk of their company’s entertainment assets to Walt Disney Co. in 2019. The company’s cable TV division, of which Fox News is the largest part, accounted for about a third of Fox Corp.’s revenue and two-thirds of profit in the most recent quarter.
Carlson, 53, who also produced specials for the company’s Fox Nation streaming business, was a big source of new subscribers for the $6-a-month service.
Fox News has weathered such controversies before, including the firing of network CEO Roger Ailes and host Bill O’Reilly over allegations of sexual harassment.
“The history of television is littered with news anchors who falsely believed that it was their own personal rapport with viewers that was the explanation for their high ratings,” said Andrew Tyndall, who writes about the TV news business. “Just think of how few viewers followed Katie Couric or Brian Williams to pastures new.”
–With assistance from Erik Larson.
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