Last Friday night, Tucker Carlson signed off from his top-rated cable news show with the innocuous, “That’s it for us for the week. We’ll be back on Monday.”

Well, no you weren’t, Tucker.  

On Monday Fox News issued a terse, bombshell statement that instantly rocked the media world. “Fox News Media and Tucker Carlson have agreed to part ways,” the statement said. “We thank him for his service to the network as a host and prior to that as a contributor.”

Carlson’s senior executive producer also got word that he’s no longer working at Fox.

I emailed a media friend who has contacts inside Fox News and asked what was going on. He wrote back simply saying, “Big purge coming.”

I suspect it’s no coincidence that Carlson’s ouster – and that’s what it appears to be; reports say he had no warning that Fox was letting him go – comes less than a week after the news channel settled a defamation lawsuit filed by Dominion Voting Systems for a staggering amount of money, nearly $800 million. Dominion argued that Fox knowingly put out fake news stories about how its voting machines supposedly were rigged to give Joe Biden votes that were cast for Donald Trump. Carlson’s show figured prominently in the lawsuit.

But Carlson wasn’t the only big-name cable news star to learn that he’s out of a job. At just about the same time news broke about Tucker Carlson, Don Lemon learned he had been canned by CNN.

News coverage of the week’s media moves from The Hill:

Lemon took to Twitter to say, “I was informed this morning by my agent that I have been terminated by CNN. I am stunned. After 17 years at CNN I would have thought that someone in management would have had the decency to tell me directly. At no time was I ever given any indication that I would not be able to continue to do the work I have loved at the network.”

Years ago, the Ukrainian-American comedian Yakov Smirnoff told a joke about what constitutes a “warning shot” in Russia: “It’s when they shoot at the guy standing right next to you in line.” 

So, was cable news management firing warning shots on Monday? Is this only the beginning of a big purge to come?

Will others follow Lemon out the door at CNN? And at Fox, what about other hosts who promoted Trump’s “big lie” of a stolen 2020 election, even as they told each other they didn’t believe it? Is Sean Hannity in trouble? How about Laura Ingraham? Or Maria Bartiromo?

And what about their nominal boss, Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott — is she safe? She’s the one who made sure everyone at Fox knew that they had to “respect” the audience, as she put it – by which she apparently meant, tell them what they want to hear – to make sure they don’t abandon Fox for other rightwing news outlets, like Newsmax.

Lemon could wind up at MSNBC, a place in tune with his progressive, left-of-center opinions. But what about Tucker Carlson? Where does he go? I wouldn’t be shocked if he became the new big star at Newsmax — or, who knows, maybe the Russia state television channel RT, which, according to a New York Times report, “has already extended a welcome.” 

And why not? Carlson seems to be a favorite of sorts inside the Kremlin. He has questioned U.S. support for Ukraine, and some of his reports have been re-broadcast in Russia.

He’s also big on conspiracies, suggesting that the Jan. 6 Capitol riot was an overblown story.  

Tucker Carlson hit it big because he understood the cable news business model: Pander to your audience. Give them the kind of news they want to hear. Never surprise them with inconvenient facts. Give them red meat so they’ll come back for more.

You get big money for doing that. You don’t get fired — until you become more trouble than you’re worth. Until you become an embarrassment to your employer.  

If the big purge is coming, it can’t come soon enough for anybody who cares about honest journalism.

Bernard Goldberg is an Emmy and an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University award-winning writer and journalist. He was a correspondent with HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” for 22 years and previously worked as a reporter for CBS News and as an analyst for Fox News. He is the author of five books and publishes exclusive weekly columns, audio commentaries and Q&As on his Substack page. Follow him on Twitter @BernardGoldberg.

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.