A new report in the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal about Tucker Carlson's very abrupt firing confirmed Fox News had been lying for years about supposedly not having an advertising problem related to the toxicity of its former prime-time star.
On April 26, the Journal reported that Carlson’s former show, Tucker Carlson Tonight, had been “repellent to blue-chip advertisers,” leaving him dependent on ads from direct-response businesses such as MyPillow, run by pro-Trump conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell. The Journal reported that “people familiar with the network’s operations” explained that Fox was unable to sell its ad time during Carlson’s show at a premium rate, and that the network was missing out on key sources of revenue even as it leveraged his popularity in negotiations over its cable carriage fees.
But this is a very different story from what Fox ever admitted publicly — during the years it stood by Carlson’s misinformation, bigotry, and misogyny — when the network insisted it was not really being hurt financially.
- Back in 2018, following one boycott push over Carlson’s anti-immigrant demagoguery, CNN reported that a Fox News spokesperson said “that all of the advertisers were moving their commercials to other shows on the network and that as a result no revenue had been lost.” (When an independent analysis by The Wrap showed that the December 2018 advertiser boycott had cost the network millions, Fox still claimed “no revenue was lost.”)
- Then in 2020, following paranoid comments Carlson made about Black Lives Matter protests, Fox again insisted there was nothing wrong, repeating in another statement that “all national ads and revenue from Carlson’s show have moved to other programs.”
- In 2022, Fox CEO Lachlan Murdoch proclaimed during a quarterly earnings call “we are currently not seeing an adverse advertising impact on our business.”
Against that backdrop, any mainstream corporations and ad buyers ought to at least hesitate about entering into a further business relationship with such an unreliable and dishonest partner.
We’ve seen this whole movie before, when Fox News broke up with Glenn Beck
This is not the first time that Fox News changed its public spin about one of its vitriolic hosts following their dismissal from the network. BlazeTV founder Glenn Beck previously hosted an extremely popular daily program on Fox News in the 5 p.m. time slot from 2009 to 2011, during which he pushed paranoid and bigoted conspiracy theories. At the time, Fox spokespeople made the same claims they later made about advertiser boycotts of Carlson’s show, claiming that ads had shifted to “other programs on the network, so there has been no revenue lost,” and that “revenue has not been affected in any way.”
Then-News Corp. chairman and current Fox Corp. Executive Chairman Rupert Murdoch himself declared that the network was “not subsidizing the show at all,” and he boasted that Beck’s program was “getting incredible numbers” despite a steep decline in ratings and the loss of hundreds of paid advertisers.
The story changed after Beck and Fox split up. When Beck publicly claimed in 2013 that he had left Fox in order to keep his “soul intact,” a Fox spokesperson emailed a comment to Politico’s Mike Allen, saying: “Glenn Beck wasn't trying to save his soul, he was trying to save his ass. Advertisers fled his show and even Glenn knows what that means in our industry. Yet, we still tried to give him a soft landing. Guess no good deed goes unpunished.”
Beck might even have a point here: Fox’s prime-time ratings are also now in free-fall, as the network struggles to hold on to Carlson’s audience with lesser stand-in hosts.