I’m sure Fox News was happy to be rid of Tucker Carlson for all the reasons they say. But since Fox held on to Carlson despite all the headaches and the lost advertising revenue, I argue that something really big must have come up. With the Murdochs, that has to mean something monetary.
Every day, it seems there’s a new theory about why Tucker Carlson was suddenly fired. There are at least 11 theories out there, according to Media Matters’ roundup. They include everything from Carlson’s religious remarks offending Rupert Murdoch to Carlson using the “c-word.”
What we do know is that the firing was sudden and dramatic, given that Carlson signed off on his Friday night show saying “we’ll be back on Monday.” and was reportedly blindsided by his subsequent firing on Monday and given neither a reason for it nor an opportunity to say good-bye to his viewers. That suggests Fox did not want the reason publicly known and that it was something big.
Multiple reports have said that the firing was related to texts and messages that had been redacted in the Dominion lawsuit briefs as well as Carlson’s obnoxious, disrespectful behavior. All the reports, which seem based on anonymous Fox sources, suggest Fox was eager to make Carlson’s “embarrassing” and “insubordinate” behavior the reason Fox’s top personnel decided to fire him.
The Wall Street Journal, a Murdoch-controlled publication, put forth that messaging. Via Media Matters:
“The private messages in which Mr. Carlson showed disregard for management and colleagues were a major factor in that decision, according to other people familiar with the matter,” the Journal reported. “Although many portions of the Dominion court documents are redacted, there is concern among Fox Corp. executives that if the redacted material were to become public, it would lead to further embarrassment for the network and parent company.”
The Journal’s sources “pointed to concerns that the populist firebrand had come to believe himself bigger than the network—a cardinal sin in Fox Corp. Chair Rupert Murdoch’s empire—and was increasingly operating as his own island.”
“While Mr. Carlson’s ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight’ was popular, it was also repellent to blue-chip advertisers,” the Journal reported. “The lack of advertiser demand meant the commercials in many cases weren’t being sold at a premium or at a rate commensurate with its audience size, which meant it wasn’t providing a financial windfall to the network, people familiar with the network’s operations said.”
The New York Times also reported that Carlson’s firing had to do with redacted texts:
Despite the fact that Fox’s trial lawyers had these messages for months, the board and some senior executives were now learning about their details for the first time, setting off a crisis at the highest level of the company, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions.
The Washington Post similarly reported that “Carlson’s private communications” were “key to his departure.” But WaPo also suggested management dissatisfaction with Carlson was at least part of the reason: “The decision also came after months of tension and complaints within Fox about Carlson’s lack of respect for Fox’s upper ranks.”
I’m sure all of those things played a factor but I don’t believe that any of them are the reason that propelled Fox to suddenly boot its big star, especially since the network was reportedly in the middle of negotiating a renewal of Carlson’s contract for secret reasons.
My theory? The redacted texts and/or Grossberg tapes made Fox liable in a lawsuit
According to the Los Angeles Times, “Carlson’s exit is related to the discrimination lawsuit filed by Abby Grossberg, a producer fired by the network last month.” According to the Times, “[Rupert] Murdoch’s son Lachlan, executive chairman of Fox Corp., and Suzanne Scott, chief executive of Fox News Media, decided late Friday that Carlson had to go.”
It's not clear from the Times article how Carlson’s exit relates to Grossberg but a couple of possibilities come to mind. One is that the redacted messages would prove a slam-dunk for her lawsuit. The other is that one of the 90 tapes she reportedly has puts Fox in legal jeopardy for a defamation claim by Ray Epps and/or Smartmatic or some other person or entity. Or both.
For what it’s worth, my guess is that it involves Ray Epps. More from Media Matters:
The Los Angeles Times further reported that Rupert Murdoch “also was said to be concerned about Carlson’s coverage of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. The host has promoted the conspiracy theory that it was provoked by government agents, and Carlson has called Ray Epps — an Arizona man who participated in the storming of the Capitol but did not enter the building — an FBI plant, without presenting any evidence.”
Epps appeared on CBS News’ 60 Minutes the night before Carlson’s ouster and said the Fox host’s commentary had resulted in death threats.
Last month, a lawyer representing Epps sent a letter to Carlson demanding he retract his “false and defamatory statements” about Epps and issue an apology, a potential precursor to a defamation lawsuit against Fox.
In Grossberg’s interview on MSNBC this week, she made a point of bringing up Ray Epps. Her comments indicated she had information that Carlson’s Epps theory was nonsense and, even worse, Carlson and his staff knew that and promoted it anyway. From my Crooks and Liars post on this:
“Tucker was very set on finding an FBI person who was implanted in the crowd and spinning this conspiracy that they were ultimately the ones responsible for the Capitol attack,” [Grossberg] added. She went on to explain that she could find no evidence for such a thing, that an attorney for one of the Proud Boys had told her, twice, "There is no conspiracy, get away from this stuff. This is dangerous, tell Tucker to stop.”
"The response was, 'Well, find somebody else. Tucker is really intent on this.'"
Host Nicolle Wallace immediately suggested this involved Carlson’s Epps conspiracy theory (Epps was a member of the Oath Keepers not, as far as I know, the Proud Boys, but it’s easy to conflate the two). Grossberg didn’t confirm or deny that. Instead, she said she was unable to find any Proud Boy or Oath Keeper who was working for the FBI. It suggests Carlson knew his conspiracy theory was unfounded.
As I wrote in my previous post, Grossberg said that when she first learned there was big news about Carlson (before she knew he had been fired), she thought the news had to do with Epps.
On Brian Stelter’s April 27 podcast, fellow Vanity Fair writer Gabriel Sherman, who has written extensively about Fox and the Murdochs, noted that normally when Fox wants to be rid of someone, “there is a carefully-crafted plan. The PR department leaks things.” Citing the ousting of Glenn Beck from Fox as an example, Sherman added “by the time the decision was made, the media had digested that this relationship was going sideways.” But isn’t this exactly what has been happening, except that this time it’s after the fact?
And if there was something that could prove damaging in a libel or other case, there’s no way Fox would be telling us what that was.
Sherman went on to suggest that Carlson was ousted because Rupert Murdoch has lost his marbles. But I don’t buy it. First of all, the reporting is that Lachlan Murdoch and Suzanne Scott first made the decision Friday night, then looped in Rupert over the weekend; and B) I think Lachlan and others would have stepped in and prevented the firing of Fox's top star if it were merely based on a senile whim.
I suspect we’ll find out eventually, somehow, why Carlson was fired. The New York Times reminded us this week, “The settlement of the Dominion case, however, has not ended the threat posed by the messages. The New York Times, The Associated Press and National Public Radio have challenged the redactions, meaning they could still become public.”
Meanwhile, in case you missed it, you can watch the first 12 minutes of Grossberg’s April 25, 2023 interview with MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace below.
And do share your own thoughts and theories in the comments section below.
(Carlson caricature by DonkeyHotey via Flickr and Creative Commons license)