Even though surveys show that the vast majority of Americans do not regularly watch any cable news channel, the biggest name cable news hosts still find a way to be omnipresent. Most people have heard of Sean Hannity, Rachel Maddow, Anderson Cooper, or Tucker Carlson. These are the handful of political influencers who can make national news any time they want, just by opening their mouths, because they’re on national television talking to a million people every night – and those people turn around and talk about it to other people.
But it’s difficult to find anyone as irrelevant as a former cable news host. Once you’re gone from that nightly spot on the television dial, 95% of your relevance is gone with it. Instantly. Just ask Glenn Beck, if you can find him. Or Bill O’Reilly. Or Megyn Kelly, who’s over on Twitter saying intentionally stupid things in a desperate attempt at getting her relevance back. Once you’re a former cable news host, the best outcome you can hope for is that of Keith Olbermann, who has since carved out a small niche online.
And if you’re just done with that world, that’s fine. If you’re tired of having your face on a million television sets five nights a week, and you’d rather do something different with your life that you find more meaningful, more power to you. But you’re not going to be widely heard from again.
This brings us to Tucker Carlson. Details – incomplete, conflicting, possibly intentional misdirection – keep leaking out which supposedly explain why Fox News abruptly fired him yesterday. But nothing that’s surfaced yet about his scandals even comes close to being enough to make Fox want to fire its most profitable employee. Major news outlets exist to turn a profit, and that’s especially true with Fox. Something has happened that’s made Fox conclude that Carlson was about to cease being profitable anyway, so it cut its losses. And we’re not talking about a mere Dominion payoff; Carlson’s strong ratings were going to lead the way in bringing in new nightly revenue to help replace what just went out the door to Dominion. No, something has changed entirely about how Fox views Carlson in terms of profitability going forward.
Whatever this is, however bad it ends up being, however much of it comes out or gets swept under the rug, one thing is for certain: Tucker Carlson is not someone we’re going to be widely hearing from again. At least not at this level. His influence and relevance were based almost entirely on the fact that he was on a million people’s television screens five nights a week – and that’s gone.
What’s Carlson going to do, take a hosting gig at Newsmax or OANN? They could probably only afford to pay him a tenth of what Fox News was paying him. Does he really want to keep putting in this much daily work for 10% of the pay and 10% of the reach? And taking such a gig could erode his ability to bring wrongful termination action against Fox.
But even as Twitter pundits have been insisting that Trump will pick Tucker Carlson as his 2024 running mate, and one person on MSNBC even suggested yesterday that Carlson will run for President himself in 2024, that’s all just silly hype for the sake of hype. Whatever Carlson might try to do next, it won’t amount to much. His only wide scale relevance came from having his face on a million television sets every night. And that’s gone.
Someone will take Tucker Carlson’s place at Fox News, and that person will be just as dishonest and just as awful. Maybe even worse. The good news is that Carlson’s replacement will enter the time slot with less traction, and less experience at figuring out how to craft the precise lies right wing audiences want to hear. So this gives normal Americans a window of opportunity to try to get in there and deprogram the relatives they’ve lost to Carlson’s show.
But someone will take Tucker Carlson’s place. The right wing media lie factory will move on without him. For the people running that industry it’s always been about the money, and for right wing audiences it’s always been about getting to believe those lies. It’s never been about any one particular host; such hosts are always just highly compensated messengers.
Tucker Carlson is done. He’ll face the same fate that happens to everyone who suddenly ceases to have their face on a million television sets every night. Just ask Megyn Kelly, Bill O’Reilly, and Glenn Beck what that fate looks like – if you can find them. It’s just a matter of which former cable news hosts are content with their irrelevance and find meaning elsewhere, and which cable news hosts are forever bitter about having lost their megaphone. You can probably guess which group the ill tempered Carlson will fall into. He’ll likely be bitter and miserable for the rest of his life.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report