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Andrea Austria / Media Matters

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Why did Fox News cuck the Tuck?

Eleven theories about Tucker Carlson's ouster

More than 48 hours after Fox News’ unexpected Monday morning announcement that it had cut ties with host Tucker Carlson, there remains no solid explanation for why the right-wing propaganda network got rid of its biggest star. 

The network’s press release, universally described as “terse,” said only that they had “agreed to part ways,” though media reports quickly indicated that the host had been fired. Carlson himself has said virtually nothing publicly about his dismissal, but privately, he has reportedly said he doesn’t know why he was terminated.

Leaks from inside and around Fox News have filled the resulting vacuum with numerous possible explanations. The resulting theories have varying degrees of plausibility and should be taken with a grain of salt: Fox insiders are certainly trying to shape the narrative around Carlson’s ouster for their own benefit and the benefit of the network, and they may or may not have as much insight as they suggest to reporters.

Carlson survived and thrived at Fox amid a series of scandals that would surely have led to his firing at any of the other networks that had previously fired him. He retained the full support of Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch even as he pushed white nationalist conspiracy theories, misled viewers about the dangers of the COVID-19 vaccines, valorized the January 6 insurrectionists, and pushed out “news side” colleagues.

We may never know for certain what factor or factors finally caused the rupture. But the long list of plausible explanations for why Fox finally decided to get rid of Carlson speaks poorly to both his character — and the network that made him its face.

  • Was Carlson fired over known revelations from the Dominion lawsuit?

  • The Washington Post noted in its initial story on Carlson’s ouster that it came less than a week after Fox agreed to pay Dominion Voting Systems a record $787.5 million to settle its lawsuit over the network smearing the company following the 2020 election and that messages revealed in the suit showed Carlson using nasty language about both colleagues and Trump attorney Sidney Powell. 

    “Though Carlson largely avoided trafficking in those specific conspiracy theories, his private messages were among thousands of internal communications made public during its progress through the courts that caused angst and embarrassment for Fox and heightened the company’s legal jeopardy,” the paper reported. “Carlson’s comments about Fox colleagues, as partly revealed in the Dominion case, also played a role in his departure, a person familiar with the company’s thinking told The Washington Post.”

    The Post flagged “messages revealed in the lawsuit” that “showed Carlson referring to Sidney Powell, a female attorney affiliated with Donald Trump, as a ‘c—’” and “referred to management with an expletive: ‘Those f-----s are destroying our credibility.’” He also wrote: “A combination of incompetent liberals and top leadership with too much pride to back down is what’s happening.”

    The Daily Beast subsequently reported that fallout from the Dominion lawsuit’s revelation of the Powell vulgarity and Carlson’s response when the remark was brought to his attention during his deposition “loomed large” in Carlson’s firing.

  • Was Carlson fired because he called a senior Fox executive the c-word?

  • The Wall Street Journal, which like Fox is controlled by Rupert Murdoch, reported Wednesday that Fox’s lawyers in the Dominion lawsuit “had persuaded the court to redact from a legal filing the time [Carlson] called a senior Fox News executive the c-word,” citing “people familiar with the matter.”

    That's likely not the only Carlson comment redacted from the Dominion lawsuit that could cause a stir if it came to light.

    “The private messages in which Mr. Carlson showed disregard for management and colleagues were a major factor in that decision, according to other people familiar with the matter,” the Journal reported. “Although many portions of the Dominion court documents are redacted, there is concern among Fox Corp. executives that if the redacted material were to become public, it would lead to further embarrassment for the network and parent company.”

  • Was Carlson canned over the discrimination lawsuit alleging he operated a hostile work environment?

  • “Carlson’s exit is related to the discrimination lawsuit filed by Abby Grossberg, a producer fired by the network last month,” according to unnamed “people familiar with the situation” cited by the Los Angeles Times on Monday.

    Grossberg filed a lawsuit against Fox in March alleging that as senior booking producer for Carlson’s show, she was subjected to misogynistic and antisemitic comments by program staffers.

  • Was Fox getting ahead of a forthcoming lawsuit from Ray Epps?

  • The Los Angeles Times further reported that Rupert Murdoch “also was said to be concerned about Carlson’s coverage of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. The host has promoted the conspiracy theory that it was provoked by government agents, and Carlson has called Ray Epps — an Arizona man who participated in the storming of the Capitol but did not enter the building — an FBI plant, without presenting any evidence.”

    Epps appeared on CBS News’ 60 Minutes the night before Carlson’s ouster and said the Fox host’s commentary had resulted in death threats. 

    Last month, a lawyer representing Epps sent a letter to Carlson demanding he retract his “false and defamatory statements” about Epps and issue an apology, a potential precursor to a defamation lawsuit against Fox.

  • Was Lachlan Murdoch responding to pressure from his siblings?

  • Insider reported Tuesday that Carlson’s firing may be part of the Murdoch family drama over who will control the network following Rupert Murdoch’s death. From that article:

  • One person close to the family dynamic said Lachlan Murdoch's siblings James and Elisabeth had been using their muscle to influence the thinking on how the network should be run. 

    "Lis' influence is coming out here," this person said. "There is nowhere for Tucker to go but more insane. These guys think they're bigger than the platform."

    A Fox News insider, who is familiar with conversations happening in Australia, said Lachlan Murdoch was looking long term. When Rupert Murdoch dies, Lachlan will need the support of his siblings to run the company because of the structure of the trust. 

    "He's trying to position himself so that they can all get along and he can keep his power but they have some input too," this person said of the Murdoch siblings.

  • Were Fox’s top executives reasserting control over the network?

  • Some journalists have postulated that Carlson’s firing may have been intended to show who really runs Fox.  

    The Journal’s sources “pointed to concerns that the populist firebrand had come to believe himself bigger than the network—a cardinal sin in Fox Corp. Chair Rupert Murdoch’s empire—and was increasingly operating as his own island.” 

    Insider likewise reported that Lachlan Murdoch and Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott may have fired Carlson because they “were fed up with Carlson's belief that he was untouchable, that he was bigger than the Fox News platform.” 

    And Semafor’s Ben Smith similarly suggested that while the rationale for Carlson’s firing may be unclear, the result is that “the Murdochs are back in control of the GOP’s most important institution.”

  • Was Carlson’s show leaving too much advertiser money on the table?

  • The Journal’s sources said Fox was unable to monetize Carlson’s show to the extent its viewership would suggest because it had been successfully targeted by advertiser boycotts over its abhorrent content.

    “While Mr. Carlson’s ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight’ was popular, it was also repellent to blue-chip advertisers,” the Journal reported. “The lack of advertiser demand meant the commercials in many cases weren’t being sold at a premium or at a rate commensurate with its audience size, which meant it wasn’t providing a financial windfall to the network, people familiar with the network’s operations said.”

  • Was Rupert Murdoch upset by Carlson’s overt Christianity?

  • Vanity Fair reporter and Rupert Murdoch biographer Gabe Sherman reported that according to an unnamed source, the Fox Corp. chair “removed Carlson over remarks Carlson made during a speech at the Heritage Foundation’s 50th Anniversary gala on Friday night. Carlson laced his speech with religious overtones that even Murdoch found too extreme, the source, who was briefed on Murdoch’s decision-making, said.”

  • Did Rupert Murdoch’s scotched engagement play a role?

  • Sherman further linked Carlson’s firing to Rupert Murdoch’s recent failed engagement:

  • Rupert Murdoch was perhaps unnerved by Carlson’s messianism because it echoed the end-times worldview of Murdoch’s ex-fiancée Ann Lesley Smith, the source said. In my May cover story, I reported that Murdoch and Smith called off their two-week engagement because Smith had told people Carlson was “a messenger from God.” Murdoch had seen Carlson and Smith discuss religion firsthand. In late March, Carlson had dinner at Murdoch’s Bel Air vineyard with Murdoch and Smith, according to the source. During dinner, Smith pulled out a bible and started reading passages from the Book of Exodus, the source said. “Rupert just sat there and stared,” the source said. A few days after the dinner, Murdoch and Smith called off the wedding. By taking Carlson off the air, Murdoch was also taking away his ex’s favorite show.

  • Has Fox gone woke?

  • Fox News’ competitors in the right-wing media are trying to garner market share and engagement by claiming that Carlson’s firing is a sign that Fox is moving to the left.

    As the influential Twitter personality @catturd2 put it, “Fox News just pulled a Bud Lite.”

  • Did a jealous Sean Hannity stab Carlson in the back?

  • Talk radio host Michael Savage suggested that Fox prime-time host Sean Hannity may have held a grudge against Carlson, who displaced him as the most powerful Fox personality and the most influential media figure within the GOP.  

    “Internal warfare. Sean Hannity may have had a hand in this. He is a very jealous, talentless thug. He is what's known as controlled opposition,” Savage said during a Newsmax appearance. “Remember, Sean Hannity benefited after O'Reilly was sacked by Fox News. He hated Tucker's wild success from the beginning. Hannity may have had something to do with it.”