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Tucker Finally Taught Us Something, After All

It’s not enough to have the ear of presidents and governors, if you are propagating lies.

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In media circles, there is a post-Trump era theory that has been quietly making the rounds, positing the only way to report the news is to take a strong political position – which is, traditionally, a big no-no in journalism – and that reporting the news from a nonpartisan standpoint is a losing battle and a surefire way to flaccid ratings.

Cable network stars like Fox News’s Tucker Swanson McNear Carlson (gotta’ use the full name) appeared to personify the case, with his extreme, right-wing views, propounded night after night, drawing prime-time ratings that consistently trounced every other talking head on television.

The abrupt firing of Carlson this week highlights just how quickly a major star can be torn from the media firmament. Carlson’s very public jettisoning was reportedly spearheaded by the chief executives of Fox, Suzanne Scott and Lachlan Murdoch, the eldest son of Fox’s top boss, Rupert Murdoch, the billionaire executive chairman of Fox sister company News Corp.

While the decision was made Friday, it seems Carlson was only told of his firing on Monday morning, with his senior producer, Justin Wells, also given the boot. Carlson apparently did not see it coming and, while the dust has yet to settle, more details are likely to surface in the days ahead. As of this writing, Carlson has made no public statement and his Twitter feed has gone cold.

I can still remember walking into the News Corp. Building on Avenue of the Americas to visit colleagues at The Wall Street Journal and seeing a larger-than-life wall poster of Carlson towering gloweringly over the elevator banks. To call it startling and gauche would be an understatement. I also felt a little bit sorry for my colleagues having to see it every day. Yet, here was a TV news host who had somehow managed to amass enough power – just by being on Fox – to goad presidents and governors into doing his bidding.

Could it be that Carlson’s firing was entirely predictable, as he made a point of continually pushing the outer limits of what was legal and credible, spreading misinformation about the 2020 presidential election, downplaying the Jan. 6th insurrection and relentlessly trolling opponents with sexist, racist, and bigoted smears?

So far, it seems the reasons behind Carlson’s departure are directly related to his questionable behavior – and a flurry of lawsuits. Last week, Fox was forced to settle a defamation suit with Dominion Voting Systems for a record $787.5 million – a legal tangle in which Carlson’s false stories about the latest presidential election figured prominently.

While other big names at Fox were similarly cited in the Dominion suit for doing the same, they have not (yet) been fired. In Carlson’s case, it appears a second set of legal actions could be a factor. In March, Abby Grossman, a former Fox producer, filed a lawsuit against Carlson (which also named Wells) alleging he marshaled a bullying, misogynistic and discriminatory culture in the workplace.

In the wake of Carlson’s ejection, Grossman’s lawyers issued a statement that sounded more like a declaration of war – not just on Carlson but on Fox News itself, targeted by Grossman in two lawsuits. “Whether it’s troubling allegations of workplace discrimination and sexual harassment and misconduct, to accusations of spreading malicious lies,” Fox executives “have unfortunately to date failed to bring about actual meaningful changes to the network’s abhorrent culture of lawlessness,” they said.

The lawyers added: “Our client, Abby Grossberg, remains committed as ever to obtaining vindication of Fox News’s violations of not just her rights, but rights of others whose voices have been silenced, or who fear retribution for exposing the truth, through her two lawsuits against Fox.”

Given that Carlson took over from former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, who was fired from the network in 2017 amid a torrent of sexual harassment allegations (which he denied while paying tens of millions of dollars to settle), one might wonder if it wouldn’t be best for Fox to conduct a thorough exorcism once and for all. In fact, by firing Carlson, the network may be getting its ducks in a row to contend with the next batch of lawsuits.  

It also should not be overlooked that Carlson’s ouster may be a canary in the coal mine for Trumpism and the herculean efforts undertaken by many of the former president’s GOP satellites, political leaders and television commentators alike, to hold sway over his highly energized political base.

The revelations of the Dominion Voting Systems defamation lawsuit allowed the world to see that while, privately, Carlson despised Trump, he and other heavy-hitters at Fox were obsessed with capturing the Trump base to prop up their ratings. Something we also see America’s politicians doing.

Although an erstwhile confidante of Trump’s, Carlson never was in it to support or appease the former president – it was all about riding Trump’s coattails to wealth and power.

Will Carlson’s dramatic flameout be a one-off, or could it be a harbinger of things to come, as the U.S. gears up for the next presidential election cycle?