Fox News has fired Tucker Carlson, its highest rated and most profitable host, in a move so dramatic that he’s not even being allowed to do a final show. The initial presumption was that it was in response to the Dominion settlement. But if anything, after Fox had to write a check that large, it would be more inclined to keep Carlson around – because he can help Fox bring in replacement revenue the most quickly. So what happened here?
I’ve long said that the first rule of understanding cable news hirings and firings is that networks to not ditch hosts that are highly profitable. Fox News kept cleaning up Bill O’Reilly’s scandals for as long as he was delivering the kinds of ratings that turned a profit, and only ditched him once his scandals reached a point where they made him unprofitable. On the opposite end of things, MSNBC has bent over backward to keep Rachel Maddow in the fold, even though she now only wants to work part time, because she still delivers ratings when she does go on the air.
So I’m going to stick with my longtime premise and say that Fox News would not be firing Tucker Carlson today if it expected him to remain profitable. Something new has to have happened, and it’s not as simple as the fact that Fox had to write that big Dominion check. The Washington Post reported a few hours ago that Carlson’s departure may have been related to some unflattering remarks that he’d made about Fox management, which were uncovered during Fox’s internal Dominion investigation. But this doesn’t sound like nearly enough for Fox to fire its biggest cash cow.
So did that internal Fox probe uncover some other things about Carlson? Is this why Fox was so desperate to settle with Dominion ahead of trial? It appears Smartmatic wants to go to trial no matter what, so could Fox be afraid that this Carlson dirt will come out and wants to get ahead of it? But still, how bad would such dirt have to be in order to prompt Fox to make this kind of move?
Some political pundits who are vaguely connected to Carlson are suggesting on Twitter that he was planning to use his show tonight to ‘vindicate’ himself in relation to January 6th, and that it may be related to a guy named Ray Epps. For a long time, Carlson and other right wingers have claimed that Epps, a January 6th protester, was secretly sent by the FBI to turn the protests into an insurrection in order to make Trump look bad. Just yesterday, 60 Minutes featured Epps and exposed the absurdity of Carlson’s claims about him. If Carlson really was planning to go on the air tonight with yet another phony conspiracy theory that was going to get Fox in even more legal trouble, could that have been the reason Fox immediately fired him?
On the other hand, the LA Times is reporting that Fox’s firing of Carlson is at least partly related to the discrimination suit filed by Abby Grossberg. She’s accused Tucker Carlson of sexist behavior. Of course she also accused Fox News of illegally trying to suppress evidence in the Dominion case, and her attorney recently claimed on MSNBC that unnamed criminal prosecutors are now looking into that obstruction.
Then there’s Vanity Fair, which is reporting that Tucker Carlson claims he doesn’t know why he was fired, and that Carson has hired the specific entertainment industry attorney that you hire when you think a major news outlet has wrongly terminated you. In other words, whatever went down today, Carlson appears to looking to go to war against Fox News.
Even with all the various scandals and debacles surrounding Tucker Carlson that I’ve pointed to above, we don’t yet know specifically why Fox News fired him. What does stand out is that there are so many scandals and debacles swirling around this guy, with so many of them seemingly approaching their crescendo.
Whatever the last straw may have been today – and it’ll all come out eventually – it’s possible that Fox News looked at the totality of all the liabilities that Tucker Carlson has been racking up, and decided that he was about to become unprofitable after all. Dominion. Smartmatic. Epps. Grossberg. How many potentially costly scandals has Carlson been racking up? How many more checks will Fox have to write? At some point even a host who brings in a ton of revenue can cost his employer so much in losses that he becomes unprofitable on the whole. In the end, Carlson may have simply committed the cable news cardinal sin of turning himself into a bad financial investment for his network.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report