Two weeks after former Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s stunning firing from the channel, he seems to have figured out his next step: Twitter.
Yes, really. Carlson posted a short video on his Twitter account on May 9 announcing the news. He praised the social media site, which has touted its supposed free speech bona fides since it was taken over by Elon Musk last October. Carlson implied that he was fired from Fox News for trying to tell the “fullest” truth too often. Twitter, it seems, won’t have such limits. It also may not have a guaranteed salary, as Musk claims Carlson is only getting subscription and advertising revenue, just like any creator.
Carlson’s announcement caps a tumultuous two weeks for him and Fox News. Since the pundit’s shocking departure and apparent firing on April 24, rumors have swirled as to what the host of one of the highest-rated shows on basic cable possibly could have done to merit it. Fox News’s statement said very little, merely that the two parties “have agreed to part ways” and “we thank him for his service to the network.” After two days of silence, Carlson finally tweeted a video that didn’t directly address the situation.
But it’s also looking more and more likely that Carlson’s ouster was the result of a combination of factors, including disparaging remarks about Fox News executives, a toxic workplace culture, and Carlson’s view that he was untouchable at Fox News and that the network needed him more than he needed it.
Whatever the real reason(s), they were enough that Fox News felt it needed to cut off its biggest star without even giving him a chance to say goodbye. In the aftermath, Fox News’s 8 pm ratings have cratered, while Carlson is throwing his lot in with (another) mercurial billionaire whose belief in freedom of speech has already been shown to have limits.
What’s Tucker Carlson up to now?
He’s on Twitter in a big way. On May 9, Carlson posted a short video on his Twitter account where he announced the news, saying Twitter was the “last big [platform] remaining in the world” that allowed free speech, so that’s where he was going to bring a “new version of the show we’ve been doing for the last six and half years.”
We’re back. pic.twitter.com/sG5t9gr60O— Tucker Carlson (@TuckerCarlson) May 9, 2023
It doesn’t seem like the most obvious next step for Carlson, but there also wasn’t really anywhere else on television for him to go. He’s now been fired from the three major basic cable news channels, Newsmax and OANN would be a major step down, and his content is too controversial for network television.
But Twitter under Musk is very interested in luring creators to the platform, and surely sees Carlson as an opportunity to prove itself. To that end, Twitter has expanded character counts and video length for Twitter Blue subscribers, and it’s changed the old Twitter’s Super Follow feature to “Subscriptions.” Musk has also promised that creators will get a share of revenue for ads in their reply threads, but Twitter hasn’t yet been able to make this a reality.
In Carlson, Musk gets a famous face whose ideals seem to align closely with Musk’s own. The second richest person in the world has increasingly leaned into right wing politics, conspiracy theories, and harbors a long-running hatred of the news media that Carlson has recently taken to criticizing. Perhaps more importantly, Musk gets someone that many of his dedicated fans and Twitter Blue subscribers like and will want to see more of.
It’s not yet known how much money, if any, Twitter is paying Carlson for whatever content he ultimately produces for the site. Musk claims that Twitter has “not signed a deal of any kind whatsoever” and that he hopes “many others, particularly from the left, also choose to be content creators on this platform.” But Musk has also said before that no one would get special treatment on his platform, only to give out verified Twitter accounts for free to accounts with 1 million followers and to thousands of accounts belonging to organizations.
What led up to all this?
On April 24, Fox News announced that Tucker Carlson was no longer with the channel. His show, Tucker Carlson Tonight, which ran on the network for over six years, is over. Fox News Tonight will replace it on an interim basis. Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade hosted its first week. He briefly mentioned Carlson’s departure, saying: “As you probably have heard, Fox News and Tucker Carlson have agreed to part ways. I wish Tucker the best. I’m great friends with Tucker and always will be. But right now, it’s time for Fox News Tonight. So let’s get started.”
Carlson also had a prominent place on Fox News’s streaming channel, Fox Nation, where he hosted a daytime talk show and several documentaries. Fox News’s statement did not specifically mention the future of his Fox Nation shows, and Fox News did not respond to requests for comment on what will happen to the streaming channel’s library of Carlson content.
Carlson was with Fox News since 2009, though his presence was relatively minor until the premiere of Tucker Carlson Tonight in November 2016. Carlson’s last episode aired Friday, April 21, 2023.
What does Tucker Carlson have to say?
Initially, nothing. Carlson was uncharacteristically quiet for two days, emerging on April 26 at 8 pm — the time his show would have been on the air — with a video. It was a two-minute-long diatribe about how powerful people and the media are lying to the American public, and how there are few places left to find the truth. It was almost indistinguishable from the monologues Carlson used to open his show with, down to the fact that it didn’t really say anything or directly answer any questions.
“Where can you still find Americans saying true things? There aren’t many places left, but there are some, and that’s enough. As long as you can hear the words, there is hope. See you soon,” he said.
Good evening pic.twitter.com/SPrsYKWKCE— Tucker Carlson (@TuckerCarlson) April 27, 2023
It was reported that Fox News wanted to keep Carlson off the air for the duration of his contract, but Carlson had other ideas, and may have given up millions of dollars to move on to his next venture. He’s also, reportedly, pretty upset with Fox News and ready to go to war with his former employer.
How sudden was his exit?
Very. Despite Fox News’s statement that implied the decision was mutual, all signs point to Carlson being fired with almost no warning. Carlson reportedly didn’t know he’d been cut until minutes before it was announced. Carlson also signed off on April 21, a Friday, with, “We’ll be back on Monday,” indicating that he expected there would be a Monday show — which, obviously, never happened.
Fox News itself didn’t seem to know for sure that Carlson would be exiting until close to the actual announcement. On the morning of April 24, the channel was still reportedly airing previews of Carlson’s show for that evening, which did not air after all.
In the days following Carlson’s departure, he was still listed as a Fox News personality and his show was still referred to as the channel’s “flagship primetime cable news program.” A week later, those had finally been wiped from the site. Fox Nation removed Carlson’s likeness and shows from its front page within days.
Why did he leave Fox News?
Carlson’s departure has spawned rampant speculation but few facts so far. Fox News has publicly said very little, but many of the reports that portray Carlson in the worst possible light may well come from Fox News itself; the network is well-known for pushing its preferred narrative to the press when it wants to.
The defamation lawsuit with Dominion Voting Systems is believed to have played some role in this. Fox agreed to settle for $787.5 million a few days before Carlson’s firing, and the proximity of the two events makes it seem as though they’re related. But Fox jettisoned its most problematic host related to the Dominion suit, Fox Business’s Lou Dobbs, back in 2021. The network hasn’t fired any of its other hosts, some of whom said far worse than Carlson and were named in the lawsuits.
It’s possible that the lawsuit was a less direct cause of Carlson’s ouster. Carlson apparently criticized many of his colleagues and employers in texts that were uncovered as part of the case. While many of them were and still are redacted, Fox’s executives would have seen them. According to the New York Times, they somehow weren’t aware of them until just before the trial was about to begin. Whatever they said was somehow more objectionable than what Carlson regularly says on Fox News’ own airwaves, and preventing them from getting out was one of the reasons why Fox agreed to the last-minute settlement with Dominion.
A later Times report cited a specific redacted Carlson text where the host made racist comments in reference to a video of several Trump supporters attacking what he referred to as “an Antifa kid.”
“Jumping a guy like that is dishonorable obviously. It’s not how white men fight,” Carlson allegedly said in the text.
Media Matters for America has also obtained behind-the-scenes videos from Carlson’s show where he referred to someone’s girlfriend as “kind of yummy” and makes a crack about his “postmenopausal fans.” He also criticized Fox Nation, saying that “nobody watches Fox Nation because the site sucks.”
Another possible factor is that Fox is being sued by one of Carlson’s former producers, Abby Grossberg, who accused the network of being openly sexist and said Carlson’s staff in particular denigrated women and Jewish people. Fox News has denied those allegations.
More recent reports attribute Carlson’s firing not to one singular event, but to all of them. They point to a pattern of insubordination, disrespect toward Fox News executives, and growing reservations over the content of his broadcasts. Rolling Stone says that Carlson’s intense dislike of Fox News PR head Irena Briganti was a significant factor in his departure. When he tried to get the powerful communications chief fired, he sealed his own fate.
There are some pro-Carlson reports, too. Breitbart’s account portrayed Carlson and Dan Bongino, who announced he was leaving the network on April 20, as innocent victims of Murdoch’s attempt to take back control of his network in the wake of the Dominion settlement. Getting rid of two of its most visible stars, who were also its most independent thinkers, was supposed to send a message to everyone else. And former Fox News host Megyn Kelly has been a vocal defender of Carlson, though there’s no love lost between her and Fox News.
Is there any precedent for something like this?
Carlson himself got the 8 pm time slot after its inhabitant, Bill O’Reilly, was fired in 2017. Tucker Carlson Tonight, which was then in the 9 pm slot, moved to O’Reilly’s spot.
But the circumstances behind the two men’s ousters are much different. O’Reilly’s came after the revelation that Fox paid millions of dollars to cover up sexual harassment allegations against him. His problematic behavior was known about for years. When advertisers boycotted O’Reilly’s show, it was the nail in the coffin. There’s no indication that Carlson is involved in anything like that, and his firing was much more surprising.
There is also precedent for Carlson being fired from jobs. He left CNN in 2005 and MSNBC in 2008. Both times, the firing followed the cancellations of his shows, Crossfire and Tucker, respectively, reportedly due to low ratings. Carlson did not have this issue at Fox News.
How big was Carlson’s audience?
Carlson regularly averaged over 3 million viewers, making his show one of the highest-rated on all of basic cable. He led Fox News’s ratings for years, but his supremacy had recently been challenged: Another Fox News show, The Five, averaged higher ratings than he did in 2022.
Can Fox News recover from this?
If Carlson’s ascendancy at Fox News is anything to go by, the network will probably continue to thrive. When O’Reilly was fired, his was the channel’s highest-rated show, and he seemed irreplaceable. O’Reilly had been with Fox News from its launch and was, for all intents and purposes, its face.
When Carlson moved to O’Reilly’s 8 pm slot, he was able to keep most of O’Reilly’s audience in the desirable 25- to 54-year-old demographic. In fact, he thrived. By 2020, Carlson’s show was at the top of Fox News’s ratings, buoyed by the pandemic and Trump’s election loss. He even set a new record as the most-watched cable news show ever. Carlson developed his own rabid fandom, and weathered plenty of controversies of his own, surviving advertiser boycotts, accusations of racism and sexism, and unabashed and continued support of Russia. Fox gave him two shows on Fox Nation in an effort to drive up the streaming network’s subscriptions in 2021. By the end of Carlson’s run, he’d become a powerful and influential figure both at Fox News and with the right wing in general.
In the days following Carlson’s dismissal, things didn’t go so well for Fox News ratings-wise. Carlson was averaging about 3 million viewers for what would be his last week. The interim replacement averaged just 1.65 million viewers the next week, with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes winning some of those nights. Perhaps more worrying for Fox, its conservative news rival, Newsmax, has seen its 8 pm viewership increase by hundreds of thousands of people. It’s still nowhere close to overtaking Fox, but we know from the Dominion lawsuit texts that the network is terrified of losing viewers, especially to Newsmax.
These are grim numbers, but it’s still very early days, and the network hasn’t settled on a permanent 8 pm show or host yet. Fox News has already proven itself to be bigger than any one of its stars. We’ll see if that’s still true.
Update, May 10, 10:20 am ET: This story was originally published on April 24 and has been updated multiple times, most recently to add more details about Carlson’s new show on Twitter and plans to start his own media empire.