Fox News Media sent shockwaves through the media world on Monday when a spokesperson announced its Fox News Channel had parted ways with its highest-rated prime-time host, Tucker Carlson.
The news apparently came as quite a bit of a surprise to Carlson himself, who was “caught off-guard” and “totally unaware” that he was about to be dismissed from the cable news channel he’s called home for 14 years.
“He expected to come to work, have his meetings, just as he’s always done,” a source inside the Fox News newsroom familiar with the matter told The Desk on Monday. “We’re in total shock. He was fired. No one expected this.”
The mood inside Fox News has been “tense” over the last week, with the network’s parent company Fox Corporation and its board recently agreeing to pay more than $787 million to settle a defamation case brought by Dominion Voting Systems over election misinformation that was repeated on some Fox News opinion shows, including “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
Fox has largely stood by the prime-time hosts who have come under fire by Dominion and media pundits alike over the last few months, particularly as salacious e-mails and text messages appeared to reveal a stark contrast between what its star on-air talent believed about the outcome of the 2020 presidential election and what appeared on Fox News.
Dominion’s lawsuit last year alleged Carlson and others paraded conspiracy theories on Fox News related to the election — specifically, that there were voting irregularities with some of Dominion’s voting machines used by local governments.
In a guest essay published by the New York Times last weekend, Dominion CEO John Poulos wrote that the settlement was about accountability, and charging Fox more than $787 million hit the network where it hurt.
“Fox acknowledged what we needed it to acknowledge: spreading false claims comes with a huge price tag,” Poulos said.
The settlement did not require Fox to issue an on-air apology or retract any of the controversial statements its commentators or guests made. In a statement, a spokesperson for Fox News Media said the settlement “reflects Fox’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards,” and said that the court’s ruling in the matter found “certain claims about Dominion to be false.”
It was largely believed that Carlson and other on-air hosts at the center of the case would emerge rather unscathed, and there were many reasons to believe this would be the case: Throughout the lawsuit, Carlson’s program helped keep Fox News on the top of the cable news ratings pile, and there was little indication that the settlement would change things.
But it did.
The decision to terminate Carlson — who had about one year left on his contract, according to two sources familiar with the matter — had little to do with the election-related misinformation that was touted on “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” but was spurred in large part by e-mails and text messages in which Carlson was critical of Fox News, its management and some of the messages it was trying to promote.
One text message chain unearthed during the deposition process of the Dominion lawsuit revealed Carlson pushed to have Fox News correspondent Jacqui Heinrich fired after she attempted to fact-check a tweet published by former President Donald Trump that was part of his election fraud movement.
“Please get her fired,” Carlson wrote. “It needs to stop immediately, like tonight. It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.”
Instead, Carlson found himself on the firing line, when he was called into an executive’s office Monday morning and told he no longer had a job at Fox.
It came as a shock to Carlson, a source said, who noted that he ended his show last Friday by telling viewers that they would see him on Monday.
He won’t. Instead, Fox News will air a live edition of “Fox News Tonight,” its prime-time news recap program, until a replacement for Carlson and his show are found.