The details surrounding the end of Carlson’s reign at the network are murky.
In a stunning announcement, Fox News said it has ended Tucker Carlson’s reign as the host of the network’s highest-rated primetime show (and one of the highest-rated shows on basic cable, period), effective immediately.
The news comes less than a week after Fox’s massive settlement with Dominion over its spread of misinformation about Dominion voting machines. Though Carlson’s role in the lawsuit was relatively small, some of his texts that were uncovered in the discovery process for the suit made headlines.
In the absence of an explanation for why exactly Carlson is departing so suddenly, there’s plenty of speculation that another, bigger scandal is behind it waiting to be uncovered — something that would merit cutting off the network’s biggest star without even giving him a chance to say good-bye. It’s also still unclear what’s next for Carlson or what Fox News looks like without Carlson at its center.
Here’s what we know so far.
Tucker Carlson is out at Fox News Media. His show, Tucker Carlson Tonight, which ran on the network for over six years, is over. Fox News Tonight will replace it on an interim basis. Carlson also had a prominent place on Fox News’ streaming channel, Fox Nation, where he hosted a daytime talk show and several documentaries. Fox News’ statement did not specifically mention the future of his Fox Nation shows.
While the circumstances are unclear, the departure seems to have been sudden. Carlson’s executive producer, Justin Wells, is reportedly out as well.
Carlson had been with Fox News since 2009, though his presence was relatively minor until the premiere of Tucker Carlson Tonight in November 2016.
When is his last day?
Carlson’s last episode aired Friday, April 21, 2023, according to Fox’s statement.
How sudden was his exit?
Carlson signed off on Friday with, “We’ll be back on Monday,” indicating that he either expected to still have a show or didn’t want to telegraph that he wouldn’t. Reportedly, he was told that he was out on Monday morning. Fox News also didn’t seem to know for sure that Carlson would be exiting until close to the actual announcement. On Monday morning, the channel was still reportedly airing previews of Carlson’s show for that evening, which will not air after all.
As of early Monday afternoon, Fox News’ website still listed Carlson as a Fox News personality and host of Tucker Carlson Tonight, which it says is its “flagship primetime cable news program.” It also still listed Carlson’s show as airing weeknights at 8 pm.
Why is he leaving? (We don’t know!)
Carlson’s departure has spawned rampant speculation but no clear facts yet. The LA Times is reporting that Fox Corp chair Rupert Murdoch was behind the decision to fire Carlson, purportedly over a lawsuit filed by a former employee and Carlson’s on-air assertions that Ray Epps, a man who was part of the January 6 riots, was an FBI informant, which the FBI has denied. The night before Carlson’s firing, 60 Minutes aired an interview with Epps where he said Carlson’s statements led to death threats.
The proximity of the news to the Dominion lawsuit settlement makes it appear that the two are related, but Fox jettisoned its most problematic host related to the Dominion suit, Fox Business’s Lou Dobbs, back in 2021 and hasn’t fired any of its other hosts, some of whom said far worse than Carlson and were named in the lawsuits.
A Washington Post report claims that Carlson’s texts criticizing Fox executives that were uncovered during the Dominion lawsuit were one possible reason for his ouster. Unnamed sources told the Wall Street Journal that there were even worse statements hidden behind redactions in the publicly available documents — which Fox News executives would have seen. And NPR reporter David Folkenflik told Vox’s Peter Kafka that he suspected keeping those out of public view was a possible reason why Fox settled in the first place.
“A ton of stuff was redacted and blacked out … I actually think there’s a lot more embarrassing stuff that’s been sunk by this, that’s been kept hidden, and submerged by the settlement,” Folkenflik said.
Fox is also being sued by one of Carlson’s former producers, Abby Grossman, who accused the network of being openly sexist and said Carlson’s staff in particular denigrated women and Jewish people. Fox News has denied those allegations.
Carlson has yet to make a statement about his departure.
Is there any precedent for something like this?
But the circumstances behind the two men’s ousters are much different. O’Reilly’s came after the revelation that Fox paid millions of dollars to cover up sexual harassment allegations against him. His problematic behavior had been known about for years. When advertisers boycotted O’Reilly’s show, it was the nail in the coffin. There’s no indication that Carlson is involved in any sexual harassment lawsuits or allegations, and his firing was much more surprising.
There is also precedent for Carlson being fired from jobs. He left CNN in 2005 and MSNBC in 2008. Both times, the firing followed the cancellations of his shows, Crossfire and Tucker, respectively, reportedly due to low ratings. Carlson did not have this issue at Fox News.
How big was Carlson’s audience?
Carlson regularly averaged over 3 million viewers, making his show one of the highest-rated on all of basic cable. He led Fox News’ ratings for years, but his supremacy had recently been challenged: Another Fox News show, The Five, averaged higher ratings than he did in 2022.
Can Fox News recover from this?
If Carlson’s ascendancy at Fox News is anything to go by, the network will probably continue to thrive. When O’Reilly was fired, his was the channel’s highest-rated show, and he seemed irreplaceable. O’Reilly had been with Fox News from its launch and was, for all intents and purposes, its face.
But, though Carlson’s show was still relatively new, he filled O’Reilly’s spot just fine, staying atop the ratings, developing his own rabid fandom, and weathering plenty of controversies. Carlson also survived advertiser boycotts, accusations of racism and sexism, and unabashed and continued support of Russia. In fact, he thrived, getting two shows on Fox Nation in an effort to drive up the streaming network’s subscriptions in 2021. Carlson had become a powerful and influential figure both at Fox News and with the right wing in general. He hung out with President Trump (though Carlson’s texts would reveal he hated the man) and landed big interviews with Kanye West and Elon Musk. But Fox News has already proven itself to be bigger than any one of its stars.
How are people responding?
On Fox News, Carlson had become (and happily leaned into being) a polarizing figure. The right wing is predictably furious, though there are a few exceptions, like former Wyoming Republican congresswoman Liz Cheney, who tweeted, “[I]t’s about time.” The other side was, generally, very happy about the news. The View, which was in progress when the news came out, led the audience in singing the chorus of “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.”
Many Fox News staffers are reportedly celebrating.
This is a developing story and updates are ongoing.
Update, April 24, 4:30 pm ET: This story has been updated to add more news and developments.