Former Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson's most controversial moments... And is a presidential bid on the way?
“We’ll be back on Monday".
Famous last words from Tucker Carlson, who has been ousted by Fox News after his last primetime programme on Friday 21 April. He hosted the conservative cable network's most popular show and has been credited with setting the agenda for US conservatives, commanding a huge and loyal audience with his extreme and often radical views.
He was Fox News' top-rated host, with more than three million viewers tuning in on an average night.
In a statement, Fox News said it and Carlson had agreed to "part ways". The brief two-paragraph statement gave no reason for the abrupt decision, but reports suggest that the decision to fire Carlson came from the top – ie: Fox chairman Rupert Murdoch.
Former President Donald Trump said he was “shocked” by Carlson’s sudden departure and joined several other GOP leaders in praising the controversial prime-time host.
The 53-year-old, who first joined Fox as a contributor in 2009 before hosting the Tucker Carlson Show in 2016, is the latest high-profile Fox News personality to be forced out by the network, which just last week agreed to pay nearly $800 million to settle a defamation lawsuit with Dominion Voting Systems over false election claims – the highest known settlement in US media. Hardly coincidental timing. In the lawsuit, Dominion argued that its business was harmed by Fox spreading false claims that its machines were rigged against Donald Trump.
There is also more legal action to come, as Fox News still faces a $2.7 billion lawsuit from another voting technology company, Smartmatic USA, over its coverage of debunked election-rigging claims.
As if that wasn’t enough, Fox is also facing a lawsuit filed in March by former guest booker and Fox News producer Abby Grossberg in which she accused Carlson of "vile sexist stereotypes". Fox News has counter-sued and said it would "vigorously defend these claims".
Fox has stuck with Carlson through thick and thin over the years, defending his often-extreme right-wing views which have earned him condemnation. Let’s focus on the thick part, as we look back at some of the conservative firebrand’s most controversial moments and the toxic legacy the host leaves behind.
Election lies and the January 6 insurrection conspiracy theories
On 6 January 2021, rioters stormed the Capitol building in Washington DC, in an attempt to stop Congress from formalising the election victory of President Joe Biden.
Earlier this year, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy gave Carlson exclusive access to security tapes from the Capitol riot, which the show used to conclude: “The footage does not show an insurrection or riot in progress.”
On 6 March 2023, Tucker Carlson said rioters were "right" to believe the election was "unfairly conducted", despite no credible evidence of election interference.
Carlson’s interpretation was denounced by many, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Racist and anti-immigrant stances
Carlson’s programme became known for peddling populist conservative takes on a wide number of issues ranging from race, gender, "woke" ideology, and immigration. He has made a specialty of promoting racist conspiracy theories through asking questions to his audience, thereby avoiding responsibility or accountability.
This hasn’t stopped him from referring to Iraqis as “primitive monkeys”, that “wokeness” was responsible for the spread of the Coronavirus, stating that former Black presidential candidate Cory Booker wasn't allowed to discuss racism because Booker was “privileged”, and that the Black Lives Matter protesters would “come for you” - in a further display of fear-mongering that had come to define Carlson’s programme.
One statement did get the former Fox host into hot water with advertisers, when he described economic migrants as making the US "poorer and dirtier" and blamed immigration for making homelessness worse.
In the wake of these comments, at least 34 advertisers cut ties with his show, but Carlson defended himself by saying that the backlash was an attack on free speech.
Fox News also dismissed the allegations and said: "It is a shame that left-wing advocacy groups, under the guise of being supposed ‘media watchdogs’ weaponize social media against companies in an effort to stifle free speech."
Critical of US support of Ukraine
Carlson has also been outspoken in questioning the United States support of Ukraine, following its invasion by Russian forces.
“It might be worth asking yourself since it is getting pretty serious: What is this really about?” Carlson said on his show. “Why do I hate Putin so much? Has Putin ever called me a racist? Has he threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him? Has he shipped every middle-class job in my town to Russia?”
White supremacy is a hoax
Following a shooting in El Paso, Texas where a white supremacist killed at least 22 people, Carlson claimed that the racist movement was a “hoax” and that it wasn't a problem in the United States.
It won’t come as too much of a surprise that Carlson is a climate change denier. However, he took it one step further by claiming that wind power was “a scam”.
Women in science? Surely not
In April 2019, Carlson seemed taken aback when even considering that women and feminists could be in scientific fields. Gasp.
This clip is really worth watching, as Carlson flies into a rage when a guest corrects his pronunciation of then-future vice-president Kamala Harris's name.
Bemoaning lack of sexy M&Ms
Carlson has gone off on many rants concerning the “liberal woke agenda”, especially in the aftermath of his condemnation of the changes made to the Green M&M.
He stated that the character was “less sexy” and that “M&M’s will not be satisfied until every last cartoon character is deeply unappealing and totally androgynous. Until the moment you wouldn’t want to have a drink with any one of them. That’s the goal.”
Yes, Carlson bemoaned the fact that he won’t get to take an M&M out for a drink and God knows what else.
Instead of addressing anything that may paint Trump in a bad light - including the raid on Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s home and office in 2018 - Carlson decided that the most important news story was panda sex.
Late Show host Stephen Colbert had a field day with this one:
Tucker had recently become very concerned with masculinity and the threat posed to men by modern society. He proposed a solution on his show: “testicle tanning”.
His interview guest, “fitness professional” Andrew McGovern, was brought on to explain: “If you want to optimize and take it to another level, expose yourself to red light therapy,” he said. “It’s testicle tanning, but it’s also full-body red-light therapy, which has a massive amount of benefits. And there’s so much data out there that isn’t being picked up or covered.”
You won’t be surprised to read that there isn’t a lot of data out there on the benefits of shining red lasers on groins.
Lying for ratings
Carlson is – surprise, surprise – a Trump supporter and has been spreading his election lies.
However, his loyalty was put to the test when a series of test messages surfaced. In a text exchange with an unknown person on 4 January 2021, Carlson expressed anger toward Trump. He said that “we are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights” and that “I truly can’t wait.”
Further texts dated 7 January 2021, a day after the violent assault on the US Capitol, saw Carlson and his long-time producer, Alex Pfeiffer, bemoan how the rioters had believed Trump’s election lies.
Carlson wrote: “He’s a demonic force, a destroyer. But he’s not going to destroy us. I’ve been thinking about this every day for four years.”
This, however, didn’t stop the former Fox host grovelling back to the former president in his final interview with Trump two weeks ago – showing that Carlson thought he could constantly use Trump for his own ends, fearing that the network would lose viewers among the former president’s MAGA fanbase.
What next for Fox?
The split between Fox News and Tucker Carlson could very well make both weaker, as Carlson’s influence on the US media landscape is undeniable.
For the time being, Fox News Tonight will continue to air in Carlson’s 8pm Eastern prime-time slot, hosted by rotating personalities until a new permanent host is chosen.
Carlson’s dismissal seems to be a way of scapegoating to satisfy shareholders, following the defamation lawsuit with Dominion. His departure could have financial repercussions for Fox News in its forthcoming negotiations with cable networks over carriage fees (cable firms paying Fox for carrying its network).
Shares of Fox Corp. slid 4% within seconds of the announcement of Carlson’s departure, but then recovered to be down 2.9% at the end of trading.
What next for Carlson?
Taking a look at other notable people who had a successful run at Fox before their abrupt departures, both Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly spring to mind.
Beck was added to the Fox News Channel line-up in 2009, but after two years his show sunk in the ratings and suffered from an advertiser boycott. He was extremely popular with tea party activists, but after his comments on then-President Barack Obama, stating that Obama had “a deep-seated hatred for white people," more than 400 Fox advertisers told the company they did not want their commercials on Beck’s show. In 2011, Beck told his audience that he was leaving Fox to build his own media network, The Blaze. He has built a powerful brand through a daily radio show, best-selling books and personal appearances, and Carlson could follow in his footsteps.
As for Bill O’Reilly, who left Fox in April 2017 after a 20-year run of The O’Reilly Factor, following accusations of sexual harassment, he has a podcast and radio show, which haven’t garnered the same sort of attention O’Reilly previously enjoyed on Fox. However, he remains one of the country’s most popular nonfiction authors, with his historical series, including the books 'Killing Lincoln' and 'Killing Reagan' consistently selling more than 1 million or more copies in hardcover.
Carlson could turn to writing, head to talk radio like the late Rush Limbaugh, or build his own media enterprise, considering his controversial track record will keep other news agencies at bay. That being said, his viewership could very well follow him to another outlet - One American News Network and Newsmax have openly courted Carlson in the hours after news broke of his departure.
Carlson also received an offer from Russian state media Russia Today (RT) - the Kremlin-affiliated news outlet.
As mad as this sounds, the fit could work, as Carlson has faced criticism over his stance the Russia-Ukraine war, as he has voiced criticisms against Ukraine and its president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, earning him praise from Russia.
Lastly, there are also rumours that Carlson could be eying a presidential bid at some point.
Following the Fox News dismissal, Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy said in an interview with POLITICO that Carlson would make an “good addition” to the 2024 presidential race.
“I think he’d be a good addition to the race,” Ramaswamy said. “I think someone should only do this if they feel called to do it, but I think it’d be good for the country if he got in, to be honest with you.”
Ramaswamy also called Carlson “one of the smartest voices in the conservative movement.”
If Carlson were to enter the 2024 Republican primary, he would benefit from a right-wing and extreme support base and attract some of Trump’s voters. Unless he joins the former president on the ticket, for a double-act that spells only trouble for a divided America still wrestling with Trump’s brand of “alternate facts”.