Fox News has just lost its greatest entertainer
Earlier today, Fox News announced that it was parting ways with its star host Tucker Carlson, effective immediately. There will be no long goodbye: the network’s press release stated that Carlson, 53, had broadcast his last episode on Friday. And just like that Fox’s leading man, and the most popular cable host on American television, was no longer theirs.
No clear details have yet emerged as to the reason for the termination of Carlson’s employment. Viewership certainly wasn’t the issue — as of last week, Tucker Carlson Tonight was the only cable show in the country pulling in over three million viewers. Perhaps it had something to do with the $787.5 million defamation settlement that Fox reached with Dominion Voting Systems last week (in which Carlson’s show played a large role), or with the advertiser boycotts, typically coordinated by Democratic-aligned NGOs that explicitly targeted at Carlson’s programme.
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Perhaps there was some element of palace intrigue, or displeasure among the suits at NewsCorp about Carlson’s continuous courting of controversy. Name your scary “conspiracy theory” — antivax, aliens, Great Replacement, JFK assassination, 2020 election theft, January-6-was-an-inside-job — and there was a good chance Carlson had floated it on air at some point in the last half-decade. Plus, there was that documentary on sunning your testicles.
Presumably all these details will come out in the next days and weeks, as will partisan polemics on Carlson’s legacy. For the Left, he was a terrifying Julius Streicher-type figure, a symptom of the Republicans’ alleged collapse from the noble party of business interests and Cold War hawkishness into conspiratorial, pro-Russian fascism (I say “alleged” because you can read the same things written about Reagan in the ‘80s). For the Right, he was either a dangerous demagogue or, more commonly, a noble crusader against both the crushing conformity of mainstream opinion and the Brezhnevian monotony of conservative counter-programming — and one that could channel the growing current of paranoia on the American Right.
For others still, Carlson’s show was, whatever his considerable flaws, one of the few places left on American television where one could count an alternative to the uniparty consensus on topics like Ukraine, Covid, and the increasingly brazen meddling of the American security apparatus in domestic politics.
All of which is true, or true enough in its own way. Speaking as a conflicted fan of Carlson, and one who generally has little patience for establishment liberal pearl-clutching, even I at times found his rhetoric to at times be incendiary, conspiratorial, and yes, even “irresponsible”; I also thought he was the only cable host worth watching, for the reasons listed above.
But mostly I thought Carlson was tremendously entertaining, in much the same way that Jon Stewart’s Daily Show used to be before Trevor Noah transformed it into yet another vehicle for dreary sermonising under the guise of comedy. Carlson’s show was a circus — ”the greatest show on Earth,” as an old roommate used to call it — and Carlson himself the latest and greatest in a hallowed American tradition of carnival barkers and hustling self-promoters who had a showman’s eye for the outré and grotesque and outrageous. This was a man who could serve as a truer expression of the American folk spirit than all the polished talking heads for whom “the news” is something grave and serious, and not what it is in fact: a vulgar and somewhat disreputable branch of showbiz.
Whether Fox News will be “healthier” in Carlson’s absence is uncertain — but it will definitely be more respectable and considerably less fun.