Fox News Media released a statement on Monday announcing that the network and its biggest star, Tucker Carlson, have agreed to part ways. "We thank him for his service to the network as a host and prior to that as a contributor," the press release continued. "Mr. Carlson's last program was Friday April 21st."By the looks of his final show last week, Carlson did not have any indication that he'd be out of the chair a few days later. Media reporter Brian Stelter, a longtime foe of Fox News and its primetime stars, suggests it is telling that Carlson was not offered the chance to host a final show where he could sign off on his own terms and, perhaps, give his fans an indication of where he intends to go next.
The timing of Carlson's departure is likely instructive. Fox agreed to pay Dominion Voting Systems up to $787 million last week to settle a lawsuit regarding false claims made on Fox airwaves alleging Dominion played some role in rigging the 2020 election against Donald Trump. It’s not just that the claims were demonstrably false, something Fox admitted as part of the settlement. Through the discovery process in the case, Dominion also dug up texts and emails showing Fox News stars and executives—including Tucker Carlson—knew full well the election-fraud claims were lies and allowed them to proliferate on the number-one cable news channel regardless. They told each other so and mocked members of Trump's inner circle, like attorney Sidney Powell, for believing them. A defamation case is difficult to win in the United States, but this was about as open-and-shut as it gets.
Carlson also reportedly disparaged a number of people in and around the Fox News network in his communications, and perhaps most importantly, he slagged off Donald Trump repeatedly. He said the man who’s now once again leading the polls to become the Republican presidential nominee was a “destroyer” and a “disaster” and a “demonic force.” He said he “hates” Trump “passionately.” The departure could come down to burned bridges within Fox, or a genuine attempt from the network to respond to the substance of the Dominion case.
Carlson has lived many lives in media, including as a bowtie-toting host on CNN and MSNBC, a talk-radio guest, and as a writer for Esquire, but he found a new kind of influence and success on the Trump-era Fox News Channel. Carlson often brought in upwards of 3 million viewers a night. That still pales in comparison to a broadcast news show like NBC’s Nightly News with Lester Holt, but it was comfortably number one on cable.
Where Carlson might go next is anyone's guess. Will he start a new media operation, and will it have anything in common with his previous effort at The Daily Caller? Will he find another TV gig? Will he go directly into politics? No word yet on Carlson's next move, but his many fans—and critics—will be watching with anticipation.
Jack Holmes is a senior staff writer at Esquire, where he covers politics and sports. He also hosts Unapocalypse, a show about solutions to the climate crisis.