April 26, 2023 - 7:30am

On Monday, the talking heads kept rolling. Fox News announced via a terse statement that it had parted ways with Tucker Carlson, the channel’s top-rated host, a matter of minutes before CNN fired longtime presenter Don Lemon, who had already been downgraded to a co-host role on CNN This Morning.

Perhaps Carlson’s allegedly toxic work environment or leaked texts about Donald Trump played a role in his departure. Yet the bigger question remains: where does he go now?

While Lemon is yesterday’s man, his angry pearl-clutching a relic of the first Trump administration, for Carlson the immediate future is likely bright. He has shown a gift for repackaging “based” or “dissident” Right-wing trends and talking points, from raw egg “slonking” to the mind-freeing power of nicotine. He will surely have access to an enormous alternative media audience drawn not just from this group but also a significant percentage of his own television audience. That’s not to mention post-Left followers of the likes of Glenn Greenwald and others who admire Carlson’s capacity to resist the establishment line on issues like Ukraine. If he were to start his own podcast, say, he could quickly rival Joe Rogan in the online charts.

Meanwhile, the management at Fox News has been marked by chaos and uncertainty due to a series of erratic decisions by 92-year-old billionaire Rupert Murdoch. These decisions include a proposed merger of his public companies News Corp and Fox Corp, which was later withdrawn; unexpected changes in key editorial positions; the sudden settlement with Dominion Voting Systems; and now the abrupt ousting of Carlson, the undisputed face of the network.

There is a chance that Carlson could link up with smaller but nevertheless established conservative networks like Newsmax or OANN, where he could benefit from their existing audience base and infrastructure, thus ensuring he remains in the public eye. These networks might also offer him greater resources and support compared to venturing out on his own. However, aligning with a specific network could limit his independence and expose him to potential editorial or ideological constraints, which he has already faced at the much larger Fox. Indeed, he might already be a bigger draw than either of those lesser Right-wing networks put together.

A deal with Ben Shapiro and the Daily Wire might be even more lucrative, but it presents its own drawbacks: could a massive personality like Carlson coexist alongside Shapiro and other Daily Wire-associated figures like Matt Walsh, who aren’t as popular but certainly aren’t insignificant? He already had an opportunity like that with Fox, where he wasn’t the most popular guy in the room — his own staffers apparently rejoiced at the news of his departure. A platform like Rumble, Substack, or simply his own media operation would give him the total content and staff control he likely needs at this stage in his career, even if there’s more risk in the move. 

As for the independent online media sphere, which Carlson will likely join, it remains uncertain how an impending recession and changing listener preferences will affect the industry’s future. As the US faces multiple potential crises, will people be willing to pony up for yet another $5 subscription? If not, Carlson — who climbed to network prominence partly by appropriating the “meme magic” and talking points from this segment of the online sphere — could risk becoming just another face in that crowd.

Oliver Bateman is a historian and journalist based in Pittsburgh. He blogs, vlogs, and podcasts at his Substack, Oliver Bateman Does the Work