Cable TV's most influential host needs a new home.
I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”
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- President Biden formally announced that he was running for president again in 2024. (The announcement)
- Susan Rice, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, is stepping down. (The move)
- Disney is expecting to lay off 4,000 employees, bringing its total number of job cuts in 2023 to 7,000. (The layoffs)
- Warring groups in Sudan have agreed to a 72-hour cease fire to allow foreign governments to evacuate citizens safely. (The cease fire)
- The Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that will determine whether the First Amendment bars government officials from blocking their critics on social media. (The case)
Tucker Carlson. On Monday, Fox News announced it was parting ways with Tucker Carlson, its most popular primetime host and one of the most influential voices in conservative politics. The network released a curt statement saying they had "agreed to part ways" and thanked Carlson for "his service to the network." A rotating cast of Fox News personalities will take over the slot, and Brian Kilmeade filled in for Carlson on Monday night.
The announcement of Carlson's firing comes less than a week after Fox News settled a $787.5 million lawsuit with Dominion Voting Systems, which had sued the network for airing false claims about its voting machines corrupting the 2020 presidential election.
However, the reason for Carlson's firing is still not clear. Many tied it to the Dominion lawsuit, but Carlson largely avoided airing conspiracies about the election, and even had a contentious segment criticizing Sydney Powell, who was one of the largest purveyors of false allegations that Dominion stole the election. The Los Angeles Times reported that Carlson was pushed out by Fox Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch due to a separate discrimination lawsuit filed by former producer Abby Grossberg. In the filing, Grossberg claims that she experienced sexist treatment while working on the show, and that Fox lawyers coached her to make misleading statements while being deposed in Dominion's defamation lawsuit.
Carlson's private messages were among thousands of internal documents revealed during discovery in the lawsuit. Among the messages were Carlson saying that he hated former President Donald Trump “passionately,” an attempt to get a colleague at Fox News fired, and criticisms of Fox News leadership.
For years, Carlson has filmed his show from a remote studio in Maine, where he lives full-time. His primetime, 8 p.m. EST slot, which he has had since taking it over from Bill O'Reilly in 2016, is the most coveted at the network. He was the highest rated primetime host on cable television, averaging about 3.3 million nightly viewers and earning an estimated $20 million a year. Carlson came to Fox from MSNBC, where he also hosted a primetime show. Before that, he represented “the right” on the left vs. right debate show Crossfire on CNN, and separately was the co-founder of the conservative website The Daily Caller.
Over his 14 years at the network, Carlson became best known for inviting liberal guests to his show and confronting them over the day’s controversy live on air. In more recent years, he had become a staunch critic of the Republican establishment and the U.S. government more broadly, regularly airing segments critical of U.S. military intervention and domestic intelligence agencies.
He's also waded into controversy on a regular basis, and drawn advertising boycotts for his on-air comments. He once said immigration made America "dirtier" and has repeatedly aired segments that have drawn accusations of racism, including a recent suggestion that a Tennessee lawmaker named Justin Pearson only got into an elite college because he was Black. In 2021, he produced a series that suggested the January 6 riots were a false flag operation, and in March he shared unaired footage of January 6 while suggesting the day's events had been overblown and misconstrued, which drew bipartisan condemnation from members of Congress.
Notably, Carlson did not get a chance to sign off to viewers, which many media pundits take as a sign he left on bad terms. The Wall Street Journal, which is also owned by Rupert Murdoch, reported that Carlson found out he was being let go about 10 minutes before Fox announced it. His last show was Friday night.
The news of Carlson's firing comes the same day CNN announced it was parting ways with Don Lemon, who had recently left his 10 p.m. EST slot to lead the network's morning show. Lemon was immersed in his own controversy in February, when he remarked on air that women past their 40s were out of their “prime.” Two weeks ago, Fox also let go of on-air and radio personality Dan Bongino. Fox shares fell 3% on Monday.
Today, we're going to take a look at some responses from the left and right, then my take.
What the left is saying.
- Many on the left celebrated the news, criticizing Carlson for spreading conspiracy theories and racism.
- Some argue Dominion's lawsuit helped bring him down, and linked Carlson to white nationalists.
- Others argue that Fox will be fine, and that Carlson's successor could be worse.
In The Washington Post, Erik Wemple said Tucker Carlson, "a terrible individual," is leaving Fox News.
Over the span of 14 years, Carlson "littered the airwaves with conspiracy theories and racist rhetoric." Now, Abby Grossberg is alleging a work environment that subjugates women based on vile sexist stereotypes. Carlson's "history of misogynistic comments dates back many years — including the time that he called journalist Joan Walsh a 'c---.' And as a Fox News host, Carlson’s on-air pronouncements were replete with racism, sexism and an undisguised hatred for people with whom he disagrees."
"In his quest for ratings and fame, Carlson proved willing to run over otherwise powerless people, such as the Maine-based freelance journalists assigned to produce a story about him, or the pro-Trump man whom Carlson wrapped in his conspiracy theory about the FBI and the Jan. 6, 2021, protests," Wemple said. "Carlson also menaced colleagues at the network, as New York Times reporter Nicholas Confessore documented in a year-long investigation. It seems that Fox News was fine with Carlson’s vicious, often baseless, attacks, as long as they were directed elsewhere. Once they started landing closer to home, network leaders took another look at the terrible individual on their payroll."
In The New York Times, Michelle Goldberg said the Dominion settlement won't change much at Fox News, but it looks like the lawsuit itself did.
The timing of Carlson’s ousting suggests Dominion was "responsible for shaking loose the information" that brought him down. "The end of his Fox News tenure should be a reminder to people on the left not to surrender to the cynical illusion that, to revive a Trump-era phrase, LOL nothing matters," Goldberg said. "Sometimes the terrible elements of our political culture seem so immutable that it’s tempting to give in to despair as a prophylactic against perpetual disappointment. But it turns out that it is in fact sometimes possible to shame the shameless. Once in a while, justice is delivered."
Carlson was "the Trumpiest" of Fox News hosts, even though "we now know, thanks to discovery in the Dominion case, that he hated Donald Trump 'passionately.'" Like Trump, Carlson "mined the white nationalist internet for narratives, promiscuously spread wild conspiracy theories, and hinted at the need for violence to take back America." Both Trump and Carlson "were children of privilege" who "sought the respect of the establishment" but never got it. And, like Trump, he found success "by catering to people who despised the world that had spurned him."
In The Atlantic, David A. Graham said Tucker's successor "will be worse."
"Carlson transformed himself from a bow-tie-clad smart aleck playing the role of liberals’ favorite conservative into a MAGA hero, able to channel the grievances of the Trump coalition despite his patrician upbringing and reputation—or perhaps, like Trump, because of it," Graham said. He was a "font of dangerous rhetoric and preposterous lies," and Fox viewers "absolutely loved it... Fox will probably be fine without Carlson, and anyone who hopes that his disappearance from the air will improve the political discourse in this country is too optimistic."
In the past, "people such as Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck" were pushed out and "the network has always found a new figure to replace them, while the hosts themselves have struggled to match their past success. There will be a new Tucker Carlson, and it’s a good bet he or she will be even worse... To remain on top at Fox, hosts have to be ready to continually ratchet up their rhetoric, because the network’s business model depends on continual audience outrage. But audiences eventually become inured and require new and more extreme input. Providing that is a challenging and soul-leaching job—and someone will be delighted to have it."
What the right is saying.
- Many on the right criticize the move, saying Fox News could collapse without Carlson.
- Some criticize Carlson, saying he brought the firing on himself.
- Others praise Carlson's break from the mainstream media and argue this will be good for him.
In Townhall, Matt Vespa asked if this was "the end" of Fox News.
"Carlson sent liberal blood pressures skyrocketing with his smart, concise, and devastating takedowns of liberal narratives, exposing them all as logical fallacies, illiberal hogwash, or outright lies," Vespa said. "He was effective, which is why the left hated him so much; he knew their playbook. It’s why he was the host mentioned by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who not so long ago said how she wanted Fox to be regulated, citing Carlson specifically over his January 6 commentaries."
Who Fox picks next "will show where the network wants to go now that one of its most reliably conservative hosts is gone," Vespa said. "With all due respect to Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, they are both great, but need some help; the pair can’t carry the network. There’s been a slew of other dismissals in the aftermath of the Dominion settlement; maybe Carlson was a casualty of some housecleaning. Is there something more here? Did Dominion threaten more legal action if some people weren’t removed? Who knows, but Murdoch has also parted ways with folks like Bill O’Reilly, who drew a sizeable audience and earned great ratings if it meant protecting the organization's integrity."
In National Review, Noah Rothman said nobody did this to Tucker Carlson.
"Given the extent to which he has primed his audience to believe in the omnipotence of the ill-defined forces arrayed against them, Carlson’s viewers might be tempted to chalk up the summary cancellation of his show to those same forces," Rothman said. "But the sequence of events that produced this outcome was at least as transparent as the last time a prime-time Fox host lost his No. 1–rated program following a costly settlement."
Carlson's name was "all over the embarrassing documents" unearthed by Dominion, and the final straw was a "conventional one," a discrimination lawsuit from Abby Grossberg. "Fox’s decision to cut its losses might have happened behind closed doors, but the conduct that necessitated that decision was entirely out in the open," Rothman said. "No shadowy cabal did this. This outcome didn’t occur as a result of the machinations of some establishmentarian sect or well-heeled lobbying outfit. These are the consequences that Carlson’s own actions inspired, and they are owed only to best business practices."
In Hot Air, David Strom praises Carlson's complete break from the establishment.
Despite growing up "totally embedded" in the establishment, "Tucker has concluded that the Establishment is not simply flawed, but an actual agent of evil," Strom said. "In this he is right, and I say this as somebody who grew up not as privileged as he, but was a child of academics, went to an elite liberal arts college, got a graduate degree at Duke, and taught at elite schools for years. I, too, have concluded that the Establishment is doing evil."
Tucker "tells the truth" that "we are not in the midst of political or policy disputes in the United States. We are in a battle between good and evil. The Establishment has picked the side of evil," Strom said. "Sterilizing children is not a positive good. Promoting crime is not a positive good. Destroying freedom is not a positive good." Tucker knows "the media, including Fox, is inherently corrupt" and he is "going to come out of this in a stronger, not weaker position." That he no longer fits in the mainstream media "speaks well of him, not them."
Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. You can reply to this email and write in. You can also leave a comment.
- Carlson's show regularly offered value, but it seemed to be getting darker and darker.
- In the end, most of what his harshest critics said was true: He spread fear, anger and resentment.
- What's saddest is just how much potential the show had, and how influential it could have been in a more positive direction.
I wrote "my take" today before reading any other arguments about Carlson. And I decided to leave it as is, so you can get the purest look at how I view him.
Let me start by complimenting Carlson. Earnestly. In a sea of news that is both predictable and boring, Carlson was one of the few primetime television hosts who could still surprise me. He didn’t shy away from picking a fight. He was one of the only conservative pundits on the planet who could criticize Trump and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) in the same breath without upsetting the base or the establishment, and he did it regularly. He also did genuinely valuable work, like when he recently got all the major Republican nominees for president to share their views on Ukraine.
In a world where CNN and MSNBC regularly hire former press secretaries or heads of intelligence agencies to come on their shows and perform "the news," Carlson was one of the few hosts interested in questioning the mainstream narratives. He hammered the CIA and the FBI on a regular basis. In recent years, he seemed genuinely anti-war and anti-intervention, and took care not to blindly repeat government talking points, something that is basically absent on other primetime cable news shows.
At his best, he also made excellent television. He brought on guests he disagreed with vehemently and went to war with them. He brought on guests you thought he'd agree with and then embarrassed them (see: Ted Cruz). He covered stories many other news outlets ignored, and he took fresh angles on the news stories every other network droned on about with predictability. On his truly best days he was a skeptic and a fierce interviewer, and he displayed ideological consistency in taking some stances that were oppositional to Republicans.
But Carlson wasn't always at his best.
In recent years, the interviews he did on his show were fewer and fewer. When he did interview guests, like Kanye West, Carlson hid footage from his viewers that substantively changed the interview. As the Dominion lawsuit revealed, Carlson had an obsessive eye on ratings, was willing to mislead his viewers, and was essentially cosplaying as a Trump supporter. He fed his most loyal viewers what he knew would get them to tune in: Rage.
He produced and aired genuinely awful nonsense — claiming mass immigration made the U.S. "poorer, and dirtier, and more divided" and that there was "no economic case" for immigration (disagree or not, there are many). He seemed hellbent on convincing his viewers that any immigrants from "The Third World" are more dangerous, less productive, culturally incompatible, and primed to align themselves with liberals. He has, repeatedly, denied that racial animus is responsible for any violence in the U.S. today, even as we've watched killers in El Paso and Buffalo and Pittsburgh and South Carolina target minority groups in mass shootings.
Throw a dart at any show on the calendar and you will hit an absurdity. Carlson once said vaccine requirements in the military were used to “identify the sincere Christians in the ranks, the free thinkers, the men with high testosterone levels, and anybody else who doesn’t love Joe Biden and make them leave immediately.” He called January 6 rioters “orderly and meek," trying to reframe them as "sightseers.” He told his viewers that teachers who discussed gender in the classroom should "be arrested" and "get beaten up." He once told his audience that Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), a retired Army National Guard lieutenant colonel and helicopter pilot who lost both her legs in the Iraq War, "hates America."
In 2020, we got a clue into why Tucker's show turned so toxic. His chief writer, Blake Neff, was outed as an actual white supremacist. I know the liberal media overuses that term, but in this case, it's appropriate.
In one online forum, where a user asked, "Would u let a JET BLACK congo n****er do lasik eye surgery on u for 50% off?”, Neff responded, “I wouldn’t get LASIK from an Asian for free, so no.” He called Black people lazy and joked about "foodie faggots." In an interview with Dartmouth Magazine in 2018, Neff bragged publicly that “Anything [Carlson is] reading off the teleprompter, the first draft was written by me.” That same year, Carlson cited Neff by name as a "wonderful writer" who helped shape the show’s content.
When Neff’s pseudonymous online personality was outed, Fox News fired him, lambasting him for racist, homophobic, and misogynistic language. But it brought real questions about who Carlson trusted with guiding the messaging of his show, and what was just beneath the surface of his most controversial segments.
I don't know why Carlson got fired — nobody writing about it right now does. To his credit, it is almost definitely not for airing election fraud allegations about Dominion, which he was actually quite good on (you might remember he lambasted Sidney Powell on air for not being able to provide evidence of her claims, something other Fox personalities didn’t do).
What I can tell you is this: He will go down as one of the most influential primetime hosts ever but he had the opportunity to be one of the greatest.
He had the skills, the mind, the skepticism, and the platform. He knows this country and he knows his audience. But instead of embracing debate, rejecting partisan lines, questioning our own biases, talking across the aisle, and seeing fellow citizens as partners in improving our country, he did the opposite. He used his considerable talent to spread fear. He called for anger. He taught viewers to hate the opposition, and told them that the opposition hated them. And he misled his viewers. A lot. His on-air corrections were far less frequent than they should have been.
What’s hardest to swallow is that his show had so much potential. I know because I watched it. On several occasions, maybe once every five or six episodes, between all the feigned outrage and made up controversy, he really did move my position, cover a story I hadn't seen, or reveal something about the establishment I never noticed. He sometimes offered thought-provoking perspectives, and when he had guests, uncovered the absurdity of their lies.
Instead, though, the norm was for his primetime slot to descend into something far uglier, no less predictable, and no more informative than the other cable news shows he so regularly (and rightly) criticized. To me, that is the biggest shame of the Tucker Carlson story: Not just how bad his show got, but how good it could have been.
Your questions, answered.
We're skipping today's reader question to give this story more room to breathe. Want to ask a question? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.
Under the radar.
A group of crisis experts and federal advisers released a report today saying that a lack of disaster preparedness and coordination led to the failed United States pandemic response. The report says Covid-19 exposed a "collective national incompetence in governance." While the group praised Operation Warp Speed, which was led by the Trump administration to fast-track vaccine development, it questioned why similar programs weren't launched to provide protective equipment or antivirals. The 34-member group was designed to offer a 9/11-style commission and forged ahead on its own without approval from the Senate or the Biden administration. It concludes that we aren't ready for the next pandemic, either. Axios has the story.
- +21%. The increase in spending at restaurants in 2022, according to Commerce Department data.
- +29.5%. The increase in spending on groceries in 2022, according to Commerce Department data.
- 3.3 million. The average viewership for Tucker Carlson Tonight during the 8 p.m. hour in 2023.
- 1 million. The average viewership for MSNBC in the 8 p.m. hour in 2023.
- 703,000. The average viewership for CNN in the 8 p.m. hour in 2023.
- 51%. The percentage of Democrats who said Biden shouldn't run again in 2024, according to a new NBC News poll.
- One year ago today, we were covering Emmanuel Macron's victory in France.
- The most clicked link in yesterday's newsletter (and the most clicked link ever!) was the breaking news that Tucker Carlson had been fired from Fox News.
- New video: On Michael Morell, whose name you might be hearing soon.
- Nothing to do with politics: A 43-foot tall fire-breathing dragon burst into flames at Disneyland.
- Take the poll. What do you think about Tucker Carlson's firing? Let us know.
Have a nice day.
A Turkish baby who miraculously survived an earthquake has been reunited with her mother, whom authorities had previously thought was dead. We covered the baby girl’s story in a previous "Have a nice day" section, when she was found buried underneath rubble in Turkey 128 hours after an earthquake. The baby was separated from her mother in the quakes, which killed some 50,000 people, and was dubbed "Gizem" which means "mystery" in Turkish. She was placed into government care until a family member approached officials, saying the baby's mother was alive. A DNA test confirmed the relative’s assertion, and the two were reunited in Adana, where the mother is still being treated for her injuries. CBS News has the story.
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