Tucker Carlson, who over the last decade had a remarkable ascent from a middling career as a pundit with a stint on Dancing With the Stars to the most-watched host in all of cable, was a magnet for controversy at Fox News.
In his six years as host of the 8 p.m. hour, he promoted conspiracy theories, attacked colleagues at the network, and delivered fear-mongering commentary that prompted the New York Times to describe his show as possibly “the most racist” in the “history of cable news.”
But the prime time gig also made Carlson — once a cable news afterthought who was fired from CNN and MSNBC before landing a bottom-rung job at Fox News — one of the most powerful voices in all of American media and politics. He regularly drew 3 million viewers a night, putting him in control of a powerful audience with mighty influence over the Republican Party. When Carlson said jump, Republican leaders said we’ll pardon murderers.
All of that is over now. Fox News defenestrated its top-rated host in a shocking ouster on Monday. Mediaite has reported that the order came from the top — first from Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of Fox Corporation, then from Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott and Fox Corporation CEO Lachlan Murdoch. Carlson was stunned by the news when he was informed by Scott on Monday morning.
A cable news king once seen as untouchable — primarily due to the fact that he operated with shocking impunity at the news network — is now out of a job.
Fox has not given any explanation for Carlson being unceremoniously shown the door without so much as a final episode to say goodbye to his audience. The theories flying around Fox as to why he was canned include redacted messages in which Carlson blasted leadership revealed as part of the Dominion lawsuit; disturbing allegations made by his former booker Abby Grossberg in her own lawsuit; Carlson’s sloppy coverage of Jan. 6 rioter Ray Epps and his legal threats against the host and network.
Regardless of what straw finally broke the camel’s back, Carlson’s exit from Fox News came as an enormous relief to hosts and executives at the network, many of whom were tired of having to answer for his relentlessly controversial and error-riddled commentary. What better way to celebrate the newfound happiness that abounds at the network than by chronicling the biggest Tucker scandals from his six years on top of Fox News.
Great Replacement Theory
Determining the grimmest commentary from Tucker Carlson Tonight is a brain-breaking affair. But his years-long quest to convince his audience that 1. immigrants are making the United States “poorer and dirtier and more divided” and that 2. Democrats are actively trying to “replace” White Americans with foreign immigrants (the ones making America “dirtier”) takes the cake.
That commentary prompted an advertiser exodus from Carlson’s show, universal condemnation, and even a rebuke from Lachlan Murdoch, a notable immigrant, who recently called the commentary “absolutely wrong.”
The backlash did little to chasten Carlson. In fact, much to the consternation of his critics and those who prefer not to have the loudest voice in American media comparing immigrants to invaders, it only seemed to embolden him. He continued to state as fact the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory, a belief that eventually inspired a racist gunman to murder 10 people at a Buffalo, New York supermarket in 2022.
One of the most baffling conspiracy theories promoted by Carlson was that the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol was either a peaceful tourist visit or a false flag attack orchestrated by the U.S. government (it depended on the day).
His “Patriot Purge” series, which aired on Fox Nation in 2021 and suggested the attack was a false flag, prompted an internal riot at Fox News. Veteran anchor Chris Wallace left the network in part because of the batsh*t special, and two other conservative commentators followed him.
And Carlson’s repeated, baseless suggestion that rioter Ray Epps was an FBI agitator forced the 61-year-old into hiding. Epps is now threatening legal action.
Carlson sparked fresh controversy on the subject with his coverage of the Jan. 6 tapes, made available to him exclusively by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). Carlson used select videos from the hours of footage to falsely portray the deadly riot as “mostly peaceful.” He repeatedly claimed, despite reality, that none of the rioters were armed.
His Jan. 6 commentary took a beating from fact-checkers, and was condemned and the Capitol Police chief and top Republicans like Mitch McConnell.
What was so odd about Carlson’s quest to exonerate Trump and his supporters for Jan. 6 was that Carlson privately fumed about the president over the attack, calling him a “demonic force” a “destroyer” and saying “I hate him passionately.” That sentiment was never shared with Carlson’s Fox News audience.
Russia’s Favorite Host
Carlson’s coverage of Russia’s bloody invasion of Ukraine also confounded the media industry. It’s a fairly simply story, especially when compared to most complex conflicts: Vladimir Putin invaded a sovereign country for little other reason than he wanted to. He invented an absurd pretext (the country, with its Jewish president, is run by Nazis) and proceeded to carry out a war in a style all too familiar to other countries who have faced a Russian onslaught: by indiscriminately bombing major cities, murdering civilians, and raping women.
It’s not hard to see who the good guys and bad guys are in this conflict. Sure, there are exceptions. But one country is the aggressor. One country started the war. One country can stop the war. That country is Russia.
Not so on Tucker Carlson Tonight. The host has defended Russia and cast Ukraine as a country deserving of destruction on his prime time show. He questioned why Americans dislike Putin and called Zelensky a “pimp.” He even fell for fake Russian propaganda on the war earlier this month.
Carlson’s bizarro coverage of the Russian invasion earned him the ignominious distinction of being the favorite American pundit of Russian propagandists. When he was ousted on Monday, RT quickly offered him a job.
His Russia coverage is reminiscent of his commentary on the Syrian civil war, where he cast doubt on the generally accepted narrative that Bashar al-Assad, the country’s murderous dictator, is indeed evil. On his show, Carlson insisted that the media was wrong to assert that Assad is a monster who used chemical weapons on his own people. He went as far as insisting, on the basis of no evidence, that the media was “making it up.”
The Regina George of Fox News
Carlson was known behind the scenes at Fox News to be a prolific pot-stirrer. I reported last month that tensions between him and Suzanne Scott had reached a boiling point, fueled both by his enthusiasm for gossip and understandable belief that he could do whatever he wanted at the network.
Per my reporting:
Chaos, in many respects, has become Tucker Carlson’s brand. Sources said he has tried to foment it inside the network as well as outside. Throughout the years, he has worked to fortify his position at Fox News by ginning up internal conflict and leaking negative stories about the network to the press.
The controversial Fox News host has long had a reputation as an industry gossip who speaks regularly with the same community of mainstream media journalists he so often attacks on the air. That Carlson leaks incessantly to reporters is an open secret within Fox News.
“There is no doubt that Tucker spreads shit about hosts he doesn’t like to the press,” one source outside the network told me. “And leadership at Fox News knows it.”
Indeed, as the Dominion case proved, Carlson often trashes his colleagues in private. His attacks on Shepard Smith led to the anchor’s departure from Fox. He tried to get Jacqui Heinrich fired for fact-checking a Trump tweet that mentioned Fox.
One other detail sources told me: That Carlson spread dirt about his boss, Suzanne Scott, to reporters. It should have come as little surprise when Carlson was shown the door, via a call from Scott herself, weeks later.
Tucker Carlson, Shock Jock
Despite his obscenely preppy pedigree (Tucker Swanson McNear Carlson was once kicked out of a Swiss boarding school), Carlson has throughout his career had a penchant for shock jock commentary. That tendency caught up to him in 2019, when liberal watchdog group Media Matters unearthed a series of offensive comments he made on a popular radio show. Among the hits: He called the Iraqi people “semiliterate primitive monkeys.”
The reporting on his past commentary prompted yet another coordinated advertiser boycott of his show and serious headaches for Fox News executives.
Another revelation from those radio appearances is that Carlson apparently loves using the C-word to describe women. In addition to those appearances, Joan Walsh said Carlson repeatedly used the word to describe her. He was revealed as part of the Dominion case to have used the word to describe former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell as well.
According to reporting from Mediaite’s Colby Hall, Carlson’s liberal use of the insult — and the fact that his private messages bashing Fox leadership were seen internally — is one factor that may have fueled his ouster.
Carlson earned a rare spurt of positive media coverage when he traveled to Mar-a-Lago at the start of the Covid pandemic to convince Trump to take the virus seriously.
Unfortunately, that soon gave way to denialism about the virus and false claims about Covid vaccines running rampant on the Fox prime time show. By 2022, Carlson was claiming, against all evidence, that the vaccine made it more likely you were going to contract Covid.
Infamously, Carlson’s misreading of data led him to push the false claim that vaccines were actually killing thousands of people. We may never know the extent of the harm done by Carlson’s just asking questions routine on the most-watched cable news show in America during a public health crisis.
Tucker Carlson Tonight, Staff
Carlson himself was a magnet for controversy, but the staff on his Fox News show earned their fair share of headlines. First, there was Blake Neff. CNN reported back in 2020 that the top writer for Carlson’s show made horrifically bigoted comments for years on an online forum under a pseudonym. Carlson was characteristically defiant over the controversy (in an interview with me in 2020, he defended Neff).
Neff would not be the end of the troubles for Carlson’s staff. As Fox was dealing with the relentless battering of the Dominion suit, a major defamation case the network settled for a whopping $787.5 million, former Carlson booker Abby Grossberg filed her own lawsuit claiming his 8 p.m. show was rife with anti-Semitism, racism and sexism.
Carlson, from what I can tell, had very little interaction with Grossberg. She worked out of Fox’s headquarters, and Carlson broadcast his show from his homes in Maine and Florida. But her claims about the hostile environment working on Tucker Carlson Tonight are fairly disturbing. They include superiors asking her about Maria Bartiromo’s sex life and, naturally, liberal use of the C-word.
When Fox announced Carlson was out on Monday, Mediaite reported that Justin Wells, his executive producer, was out too.