Why was Tucker Carlson fired from Fox News?

The six reasons why Fox’s top anchor may have been too toxic to keep on the payroll

Graig Graziosi
Thursday 24 August 2023 01:56 BST
Related video: Tucker Carlson’s final words on Fox News as host ‘parts ways’ with network

Tucker Carlson was fired from Fox News.

After the dueling choruses of doomsayers and giddy celebrants died down on 24 April, the question of why Carlson was reportedly fired still lingered.

While there is no definitive answer to that question at the moment, there are a few contenders that – in part or in full – may explain why the conservative cable news network axed its biggest star without giving him so much as a goodbye tweet.

But first, the context.

Fox News announced it was “parting ways” with Carlson in a statement in April.

The statement confirmed that Carlson's last show occurred the preceding Friday, which ended with him eating pizza with Pennsylvanian delivery man Tyler Morrell, who was honoured after he helped police stop a suspected car thief.

At the end of the segment, Carlson told his viewers he would see them again next week.

The statement's language – and later comments by Fox News anchors – seemed to imply that Carlson and Fox split ways mutually, though the statement lacked any comment from Carlson. Later details suggested that Carlson was blindsided by the decision, which reportedly came from the top of the network as late as the morning he was fired.

Since then, Carlson has launched his own show on Twitter. The new show, at least in its first episode, is little more than a 10-minute monologue delivered by Carlson but devoid of any notable production value.

Despite Carlson’s new show appearing to be a low-rent version of his Fox News program, the network still considers his new endeavor a breach of contract.

In early June, Fox News’ attorneys contacted Carlsons’ to inform him they believed he breached his contract. The former anchor’s attorneys said posting to social media is simply Carlson exercising his free speech.

“Fox defends its very existence on freedom of speech grounds. Now they want to take Tucker Carlson’s right to speak freely away from him because he took to social media to share his thoughts on current events,” Carlson’s lawyer, Bryan Freedman, told Axios.

Since then, Carlson has started his own video series on X/Twitter. Despite his leaked comments suggesting he hates Donald Trump, the former president will be skipping the first GOP presidential primary debate to sit down with Carlson for an interview starting at 9pm EST on 23 August — the same time as the debate.

While Carlson seems to have made a safe landing at X/Twitter, the question remains: why did Fox News drop him?

It seems Carlson does not even know the answer to that question; Vanity Fair reported that Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott would not reveal to him the exact reason why he was being let go.

Grossberg lawsuits

The most likely theory is one that lays the blame squarely on Carlson's shoulders — accusations of rampant misogyny in the workplace finally caught up to him.

The seeds of Carlson's demise at the network may have been planted in a lawsuit; not the Fox-Dominion lawsuit, which cost the network $787.7m to settle, but in lesser-known litigation brought by a former producer.

Abby Grossberg, who formerly worked on Carlson's show, sued Fox News, alleging that Carlson and his producer, Justin Wells, had displayed rampant misogyny and anti-Semitism in the workplace.

Ms Grossberg claims in a federal court filing that Carlson's show "subjugates women based on vile sexist stereotypes" and that it "typecasts" religious minorities and "belittles their traditions."

Former Fox News producer Abby Grossberg in an interview with NBC News (NBC News)

The filing includes examples of the alleged misconduct, like Mr Wells asking her if then-Fox News anchor Maria Bartiromo — who Ms Gorssberg formerly worked for — has slept with House Majority Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

She said that people in Carlson's shop made crude comments about women politicians' looks and theorised on which had slept their way into their positions in government.

Ms Grossberg also said her direct supervisor, Alex McCaskill, mocked an Israeli colleague for taking off for Jewish holidays. He further suggested the colleague's visit to a "Jew bakery" was for him "to see his people."

Further building the case of rampant misogyny in Carlson’s orbit are allegations that the anchor — allegations he seemingly confirmed during a deposition with Dominion’s lawyers — that he frequently called MAGA conspiracy theorist and infamous “kraken” lawyer Sidney Powell a “c***”, according to The Daily Beast.

What's most compelling about this theory is that Mr Wells — who is a prominent figure in Ms Grossberg's lawsuit — was fired alongside Carlson on Monday.

Fox News issued a statement to The Independent responding to Ms Grossberg’s claims.

“FOX News engaged an independent outside counsel to immediately investigate the concerns raised by Ms Grossberg, which were made following a critical performance review,” a spokesperson said. “Her allegations in connection with the Dominion case are baseless and we will continue to vigorously defend Fox against her unmeritorious legal claims which are riddled with false allegations against the network and our employees.”

He weirded out Rupert Murdoch with religious rhetoric

Carlson often blended nationalism, white supremacist conspiracy theories, and conservative Christian persecution paranoia into a turgid slurry of fear-mongering and hate, and he did so again during the Heritage Foundation’s 50th Anniversary gala on Friday.

He may have gone too far.

A source claiming familiarity with Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch’s decision to can Carlson told Vanity Fair that the religious nature of the anchor’s comments made the boss-man uncomfortable and prompted the firing.

Carlson spoke in absolutist terms, about good and evil, and suggested that individuals who support trans existence are simply incapable of being reasoned with. He told the crowd to pray for them.

He also likened abortions to child sacrafice.

“That stuff freaks Rupert out. He doesn’t like all the spiritual talk,” the source told the publication.

Mr Murdoch reportedly was similarly freaked out after his now-ex fiance whipped out a Bible during a dinner party and began reading passages out loud from the Book of Exodus, according to Vanity Fair.

The source theorised that Carlson’ eschatological musings reminded Mr Murdoch of the incident and left him feeling uneasy about keeping the anchor on the air.

Carlson's criticisms of Fox News leadership

Another leading theory is that Carlson was dropped in the wake of the Dominion lawsuit due to his sharp criticism of Fox News' leadership. Those comments were made public by reporters who obtained court filings related to Dominion's lawsuit.

A person familiar with the company's rationale told The Washington Post that higher-ups at Fox News did not take his comments lightly, and that they "played a role" in his firing.

“Do the executives understand how much credibility and trust we’ve lost with our audience?” Carlson wrote in a message the day after Fox News called the 2020 election for Joe Biden.

He later said "those f****** are destroying our credibility," and complained that there was a "combination of incompetent liberals and top leadership with too much pride to back down" causing problems at the network.

Tucker Carlson Dominion Lawsuit (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Further complicating Carlson's role as Fox News' top anchor were texts revealing that he secretly loathed Donald Trump, and looked forward to a time when the network could ignore the former president.

A section of redacted texts exists that could contain more — and more damning — comments from Carlson. Those texts are only known to Fox News, Dominion’s lawyers, and the individuals who sent the messages, according to Vanity Fair. It is unclear — and may never be clear — if those messages played any part in Carlson’s downfall.

Both of those explanations suggest that Carlson dug his own grave with Fox News. He has his own theory about why he was axed — one which leaves him less culpable — that suggests Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch's children want to sanitize the network for prepare it for a sale once their father passes.

The Murdoch children theory

In a theory that could easily serve as a story arc on HBO's Succession, Carlson reportedly believes he was removed from the network because Mr Murdoch's children are planning to sell the company, according to Vanity Fair.

It's no secret that Carlson is divisive to advertisers. He is frequently dogged with claims that he is misogynist, transphobic, racist, and offers up apologetic defenses of nefarious actors like the Capitol riot defendants and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Advertisers stopped buying airtime on Fox News in 2018 after Carlson said immigration makes the US "dirtier," and periodic calls for advertiser boycotts by the public have caused his sponsors to dwindle since.

James Murdoch, with sister Elisabeth, father Rupert and brother Lachlan at the National Portrait Gallery in 2007 (Getty)

“The show has almost no big-name advertisers left right now,” Kara Alaimo, a public-relations expert who teaches at Hofstra University, told the New York Times in 2020. “This is just not an issue you want to be on the wrong side of, if you’re a mainstream brand.”

Under Carlson's theory, if the Murdoch children want to sell Fox News for the maximum possible profit, the brand needs to become less toxic to big name advertisers. That means he needed to go.

There is currently no public indication that the Murdoch children plan to sell the company.

Possible Ray Epps defamation lawsuit

The night before Carlson was let go, Ray Epps — a 66-year-old man who attended Donald Trump's rally that preceded the Capitol riot and who later became the focus of a conservative conspiracy theory that upended his life — told 60 Minutes that the former Fox News anchor was "obsessed" with him and was trying to "destroy" his life.

In short, the conspiracy theory alleges that Mr Epps is actually a federal plant who was sent to the march to incite the Capitol riot, painting Trump supporters in a bad light and justifying the mass arrests and prosecutions that followed.

Mr Epps, a Trump supporter, was captured on video the day of the march telling other Trump loyalists that the police were not their enemies and cautioning against escalation.

That has not stopped him from being subjected to near constant harassment and death threats from conservatives, some of which likely only know about him thanks to Carlson's regular boosting of the conspiracy theory on his show.

Fox News already paid out the largest settlement for defamation in US history to Dominion Voting Systems. If Mr Epps were to sue Carlson and Fox News for defamation, it could force the company into another massive payout to avoid further public embarrassment similar to what it experienced in the Dominion case.

The Dominion Settlement

Two sources speaking to Axios told the publication that Carlson had spoken with Fox executives about his firing. The sources claim Carlson was told he was let go as part of the Dominion settlement.

A Fox News spokesperson said it is “categorically false” that he was fired as a result of the lawsuit settlement.

Many of Carlson’s counter-claims agaisnt Fox News have stemmed from the Dominion settlement.

In the weeks since his firing, Carlson has accused Fox News of defrauding him, claiming that the company broke its contract with him after executives “intentionally and with reckless disregard for the truth” went back on promises they allegedly made.

He further accused Fox News of breaking a promise to him that they would not settle the Dominion lawsuit “in a way which would indicate wrongdoing” on the part of him or his show.

Before and after his firing, VICE and Media Matters published stories that included leaked footage of Carlson during broadcasts that was never aired. VICE ran a story showing unaired portions of Carlson’s interview with anti-Semitic rapper Kanye West, while Media Matters ran a compliation of clips during of Carlson on set between recordings. Carlson speaks freely during the downtime and trashes Fox News’s “Fox Nation” streaming service in one clip. In another he complains about being asked to wear a sweater during an interview with accused sex trafficker Andrew Tate.

Carlson has claimed that Fox News intentionally leaked the media in an effort to sully his reputation.

Fox News has vehemently denied the claims.

The former Fox News star’s lawyers also voiced their intention to push for a subpoena the communications of Fox News PR Chief Irena Briganti, who Carlson claims masterminded the alleged smear campaign.

“Make no mistake, we intend to subpoena Ms. Briganti’s cell phone records and related documents, which evidence communications with her and all media, including, but not limited to The New York Times,” his attorneys stated in a letter.

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