We don’t yet know exactly why Fox News decided to fire Tucker Carlson, their prime-time star and ratings magnet. There are plenty of theories, including, of course, Fox’s stock-in-trade — conspiracy theories.
How long will we have to wait before someone is telling us that it was George Soros, with the help of Hillary Clinton, or maybe it would be better if it we go with Nancy Pelosi, who must have blackmailed Robert Murdoch for — just spitballing here — a salacious relationship with a desexualized M&M spokescandy?
I googled the why-was-Carlson-fired question and came up with 72 million hits. If you feel the need to speculate, go ahead. You won’t be alone.
But one thing I can pretty much guarantee: Whatever the precise cause for Carlson’s stunning dismissal, he was not fired because Murdoch was suddenly struck by a force previously unknown to him — that is, common decency.
There’s some other stuff I can also guarantee: Carlson was not fired due to the malignant, racist, misogynist, immigrant-bashing, anti-vaxxing, replacement-theory-espousing, white-nationalist-pleasing, Putin-loving, Zelenskyy-smearing, nightly-fear-mongering, faux populist presence that he displayed on a so-called news channel.
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In fact, it’s for those very reasons — some have called his shtick Trumpism without Trump — that Carlson had such huge ratings. Let’s face it, Carlson does Trumpism even better than Trump, although both possess the special talent of never having to believe what they’re saying.
It’s for those reasons that people, apparently including Carlson, were shocked by Fox’s decision, even though Murdoch has fired bigger stars, including Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes.
And, yes, it’s for those reasons that some are speculating Carlson might actually enter the Republican primary race against Trump or, maybe this, that Trump might pre-empt a challenge by picking him as his running mate.
How many people other than Trump himself are more responsible than Carlson for the ugliness of the present-day GOP? If you need a reminder, the never-Trumper Lincoln Project has put together a Carlson, uh, memorial, featuring clips of Carlson at his smirking, snickering worst.
We know from texts and other documents revealed in the Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit against Fox that whatever Carlson might have said publicly, he actually hates Trump “passionately.” He even called Trump “demonic,” which, for anyone who hasn’t consistently praised Trump, might be defensible. Here’s the strange part: So far, Trump continues to praise him. He knows his audience.
I’m not saying it would happen, but Trump-Carlson would be a fascinating primary race. Which rich-guy, so-called populist would white working-class voters choose? Ask yourself: What would Lauren Boebert do?
Or this: Which one do you think Joe Biden, who just announced he’s running for re-election, would rather face?
Belief in conspiracy theories — most prominently, The Big Lie — is at the essence of MAGA world. And Carlson, as the clips showed, always seemed to be at the ready. You know that if you watched his much-ridiculed apologia for the so-called “meek” and “orderly” January 6 rioters. Or if you’ve seen his accusation, made without any apparent evidence, that a January 6 provocateur he names was an FBI informant. Why does that play? Well, because it feeds into the Deep State conspiracy theory.
And if that whole idea doesn’t bring you down enough, check out David Graham’s piece in The Atlantic with this disturbing headline: “Tucker’s Successor Will Be Worse.” As evidence, Graham notes that it was Carlson who succeeded O’Reilly. But his argument is basically that Fox News is the actual star, not any of its prime-time hosts, and that Fox will inevitably find someone sufficiently nasty to fill Carlson’s owning-the-libs spot. Jesse Watters anyone?
I mean you could say, as Rachel Maddow did Monday night, that Carlson’s fall from grace — and who knows where he’s headed next, but he’s apparently welcome on Russian TV — shows that right-wing media demagogues don’t last forever. She took us on a disturbing trip from Father Coughlin’s wildly popular antisemitic radio show in the 1930s to Rush Limbaugh to Glenn Beck to Bill O’Reilly and on to Carlson.
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But the larger point is that there seems to always be at least one massively popular right-wing demagogue in the media, and that in today’s media world, there are even more opportunities for such, uh, stars to arise.
In the meantime, reporters will be working full time on how Carlson’s tenure at Fox came to an end. Some have suggested that Fox executives were angry about the shots Carlson had taken at them and which were revealed in the Dominion case. Some were pointing to the issue of lawsuits — and maybe more large settlements — to come.
Carlson’s commentary and the risk of having him testify put the Fox News host front and center in Fox’s decision to make a $787.5 million settlement with Dominion. Presumably, he’ll take the same role in Smartmatic’s similar lawsuit. And he’s being sued by former producer Abby Grossberg for running a hostile workplace, as she cites alleged (and perfectly believable) sexism and harassment on Carlson’s part.
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Or it could be that Carlson’s downfall was rooted in an unshakable belief in the notion that he was bigger than Fox. You can hardly blame Carlson if he thought he could get away with anything. Because he had. For six long years as a Fox News prime-time host he had.
And whoever succeeds him can be sure, at least in the beginning, that he — come on, it won’t be a she — will have every chance to make the same deal.
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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