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Why Did Fox Fire Tucker Carlson? Far-Right Host Helped Fox Mainstream Hate, Conspiracies to Millions

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Image Credit: Lucas Jackson/Reuters

In a surprise announcement, Fox News said Monday it was cutting ties with its top-rated host Tucker Carlson, effective immediately. Although a precise reason wasn’t given, the move came just days after the cable network settled a $787.5 million defamation suit brought by Dominion Voting Systems over lies propagated by the cable network about the 2020 presidential election. Since taking over the primetime slot in 2016, Carlson has also spread far-right talking points about immigrants, Black people and the LGBTQ community. For more, we speak with Madeline Peltz of Media Matters for America, where she has helped to expose Carlson’s extremism. “It creates a major vacuum in the right-wing media ecosystem,” Peltz says of Carlson’s departure.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we turn to the firing of Tucker Carlson. On Monday, Fox News announced it had, quote, “agreed to part ways” with its most popular host. It remains unclear why Fox fired Carlson, who is known for promoting far-right and white nationalist ideas and guests. Over the years, Carlson embraced the racist “great replacement” theory and other anti-immigrant views, compared the January 6th insurrectionists to “sightseers” who were “peaceful,” “orderly” and “meek.” Carlson also recently called on Texas Governor Greg Abbott to pardon a man who was just convicted of murdering a Black Lives Matter activist.

Tucker Carlson’s firing came a week after Fox agreed to pay $787 million in the largest media defamation suit in this country to settle a suit by Dominion Voting Systems for airing false claims about the 2020 election. Emails and texts released as part of the lawsuit show Carlson repeatedly criticized Fox management, as well as Donald Trump, who he privately described as “a demonic force, a destroyer.” Other messages showed Carlson privately did not believe Trump’s lies about the election, but he never told his audience this. Carlson was also named in a new lawsuit filed by former Fox News produce Abby Grossberg, who has described a culture of sexual harassment and general misogyny at the network.

Carlson’s top producer, Justin Wells, was also fired Monday. In 2017, Blake Neff, one of Carlson’s top writers on the show, resigned after it was revealed he had written deeply racist and homophobic remarks in online white supremacist forums and message boards.

For more, we’re joined by Madeline Peltz, deputy director of rapid response at Media Matters, where her two new pieces are headlined “With Tucker Carlson out, other Fox extremists now have the spotlight” and “Tucker Carlson is out at Fox News. Here’s a brief look at his hatred and conspiracy theories.”

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Madeline. If you can start off —

MADELINE PELTZ: Thanks you so much.

AMY GOODMAN: — by talking about what you understand? I mean, all of this, obviously, increased Fox’s viewership. They did not take him off the air before. This comes right after this three-quarters of a billion-dollar settlement with Dominion. Talk about what you understand happened.

MADELINE PELTZ: It’s difficult to overstate the impact that this will have on the cable news universe. In terms of what led to this stunning decision, it’s — there’s a number of factors floating around in the air. Media reporters have given disparate reports over the last 24 hours, but I imagine that there was some — it has at least something to do with the Abby Grossberg lawsuit. You can see that on air his treatment of women, of the #MeToo movement, of speaking up about sexual harassment has been met with derision and mockery, and so it would be — it would make a lot of logical sense for that to be an attitude that was reflected behind the scenes.

But again, Tucker Carlson was a kingmaker at Fox News, in the Republican Party, and the Murdochs stood behind every single outrage cycle that happened as result of his on-air racism. And so, if we know one thing, it wasn’t his on-air commentary. And I think that we will learn more in the coming days about what exactly happened behind the scenes.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And could you expound a little bit about his influence on the Republican Party?

MADELINE PELTZ: Absolutely. I think you can see it in how some of the Senate nominees shook out in the 2022 midterms. He was a singular force in driving the candidacy of J.D. Vance, that he has been a rallying point for the Republican Party’s opposition agenda under the Biden administration. But under the Trump administration, he had this unique ability to speak to what was going on in the White House and influence it via his primetime show. There were times where segments not only led to Trump tweeting in direct response in real time, but also issuing directives for his administration via Twitter. And as you mentioned with the segment on Greg Abbott’s pardon and also Abbott sending National Guard troops to the border, both of those were driven by Tucker Carlson. And there is simply no one who has a loud — who, in the past six, seven years, has been able to exert that type of influence over the Republican Party, and it creates a major vacuum in the right-wing media ecosystem.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Madeline Peltz, if you can talk about — I mean, before this was O’Reilly, who went down over sexual harassment, and then you have Tucker Carlson. If you can talk about the other people? Now there’s going to be rotating hosts. But it seems anyone in that position increases the visibility of Fox News, that this isn’t a singular issue of one man, however white nationalist, racist, anti-immigrant, xenophobic he was.

MADELINE PELTZ: Yeah. I mean, in terms of the sexual — you know, this alleged culture of sexual harassment, this is an issue that extends back to the founding of Fox News, set from the very top. Roger Ailes was forced out after it was revealed that he — what some women who worked under him described as a reign of terror via sexual blackmailing, hiring of private investigators to quash their complaints. So, it’s part of a larger culture at Fox News.

In terms of the future of the 8 p.m. hour, in many ways, Tucker Carlson got lucky. The 8 p.m. hour at Fox News is an institution in and of itself, largely because of the legacy of Bill O’Reilly. And Tucker just stepped into those shoes, and so he sort of had a built-in floor of an audience. And that will continue with the — that will continue with whoever takes over the 8 p.m. hour.

With that said, the bench is very shallow within Fox News. There are not a lot of people who, from where I’m sitting, are in a position to step into this legacy hour. With that being said, the digital right-wing media sphere is extremely overcrowded and has a number of viral personalities that could come in from the outside. And in the meantime, the rotating host model is something that they instituted for the 7 p.m. hour when Martha MacCallum was fired. And they maintained a rotating host for, I believe, over a year, at least a year. And so, it could be a long time before someone steps up, but within Fox News there’s simply no one who can come close to the influence that Tucker Carlson has had over the last few years.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I wanted to ask you — last night, Donald Trump had his first TV appearance since Carlson’s ouster, and he did it on Newsmax, a right-wing rival of Fox News. As we head into the 2024 elections, is this a sign there’s going to be a growing battle between these right-wing outlets?

MADELINE PELTZ: I think that Newsmax is attempting to take advantage of the moment. It’s the same thing that happened when there was backlash to the Fox position, specifically, the Arizona call in the 2020 election. There was a slight bump in ratings for alternative right-wing news channels like Newsmax and One America News. And that was not something that held. And so, I think that given Newsmax’s own volatility with regard to their carriage over the last few months, they are just trying to insert themselves into the headline of this massive story in media, and I don’t think that it’s something that is really going to stick.

I think that Donald Trump’s comments on Newsmax last night and his praise of Tucker Carlson and general deference to Fox shows the continued power that the network has, that this famously unrestrained figure, former president, did not bring down his most inflammatory commentary on Fox News for Tucker Carlson, but sort of staked out a wait-and-see position. And so, I think that that’s also telling.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Madeline Peltz, we want to thank you for being with us, deputy director of rapid response at Media Matters. We’ll to your pieces, “With Tucker Carlson out, other Fox extremists now have the spotlight” and “Tucker Carlson is out at Fox News. Here’s a brief look at his hatred and conspiracy theories.”

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