First, let’s get one thing straight: whatever the spin, Tucker Carlson was fired by Fox News. If this were an amicable split, he’d have no doubt been afforded the opportunity to bid adieu to his millions of nightly viewers. Instead, in thoroughly unceremonious fashion, the network issued a terse press release Monday morning, reading the following:
Love him or hate him, Tucker was the sole relevant news personality on cable television. In a media landscape taken over by podcasts, YouTube channels, bloggers, and social influencers, Carlson was the last of his breed - a nightly TV anchor who commanded the country’s attention with each primetime broadcast.
While rival outlets branded him a “right-wing extremist” up to and after his ousting, Nielsen ratings showed that Tucker Carlson Tonight was the number one show in its time slot among Democrats as of last year (yes, that’s right: more Democrats watched Tucker than Chris Hayes and even Rachel Maddow). Those who followed his program knew that while he certainly held many conservative views on a number of issues, he was also the lone voice in cable giving voice to some truly dissident opinions, including opposition to the indefinite funding of the Ukraine war, advocacy for the pardoning of Julian Assange, and most recently, the defense of the African People’s Socialist Party after they were indicted on Russiagate-like charges. In addition to these specific examples, Tucker would occasionally defy conservative consensus by challenging, for instance, their blind loyalty to capitalism, as he did most notably on Ben Shapiro’s show when he said the following:
In a society where 23-year-olds with 4-year college degrees and initiative - who aren’t smoking weed everyday - when they can’t make enough to buy a car, much less a home, much less get married, much less have children, then why should you be surprised when half of them say they prefer socialism?
Look, capitalism is the best economic system I can think of, that I think anyone’s ever thought of. But that doesn’t mean that it’s a religion and everything about it is good.
Tucker’s tendency to buck right-wing orthodoxy and challenge mainstream Republican policy ideas was a huge part of what made his program as successful as it was. Unlike Chris Hayes, Rachel Maddow, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham, Tucker’s show had the most enviable benefit of being unpredictable - on many topics, viewers couldn’t be quite sure of his take until they heard it firsthand. In other words, Tucker was often one step ahead of his audience, whereas other opinion commentators conform too regularly to their party’s positions to keep their viewers in such suspense.
Because of this, Tucker Carlson was - and still is - irreplaceable. It’s virtually impossible to imagine another host filling his shoes. Cable news isn’t designed for hosts like Tucker - it’s a far more suitable forum for partisan pawns willing to recite boilerplate talking points which confirm the biases of their already siloed consumers. Carlson became an unprecedented success by breaking this mold and appealing to a more viewpoint diverse audience.
Others who have found success in this way - Joe Rogan, Jimmy Dore, Glenn Greenwald, to name a few - have done so online, where they found a loyal base of support across numerous platforms. The internet, while itself host to many a conformist echo chamber, is still an ideological melting pot compared to cable news.
This is why online media has surpassed television in terms of its public influence. No one cares what Maddow or Hannity said yesterday, because we already know their opinions before they say them. They’ll never be zeitgeist shows in the way Tucker’s was, because they exist for the specific and shallow purpose of throwing red meat to their tiny slices of the population who are already convinced that their side is always right, no matter what, no questions asked.
On the other hand, when, someone like Joe Rogan endorsed Bernie Sanders in 2020, it made huge news precisely because it was surprising. Rogan holds many progressive views, but he’s not so doctrinaire in his political philosophy that his embrace of Sanders was something we could all see coming. Rogan - like most Americans - is a mixed bag of left and right-wing opinions, which gives his pronouncements far more weight than those of committed ideologues whose takes on the day’s events (and elections, for that matter) are all but predetermined.
To be clear, Tucker is no Joe Rogan. But he’s the closest thing to him that existed on cable news, which is why he consistently dominated the ratings. It’s why Tucker Carlson was synonymous with Fox News. Almost every mention of Fox in popular discourse referred to Tucker and something he said.
Exactly why he was let go has yet to be disclosed. After settling with Dominion for $787 million, Fox still faces a $2.7 billion defamation suit from Smartmatic, another voting technology company. Could Tucker’s firing be a last minute CYA move by Rupert Murdoch to build a case that the network is changing course? Could it be that Tucker’s views on Russia-Ukraine were too out of step with the rest of the channel’s? Or perhaps Tucker’s monologue last week about media outlets putting pharmaceutical advertisers’ priorities over their viewers’ well-being was the final barb in an ongoing conflict between himself and management, and his exit has been less a surprise to him than to us.
Whatever the reason for his departure, one thing is for sure: the exit of Tucker Carlson marks the end of cable TV as a relevant medium for news and commentary. In canning him, Fox News has rendered themselves as disposable as CNN and MSNBC. They’re now just another network with just another agenda, interesting to no one outside their dwindling demographic of 75+ Reaganites. For everyone else, the internet is now truly the only game in town.
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There is shooting yourself in the foot, then there is what FOX just did... which was shove their whole leg into a canon barrel up to the hip. You can survive the former, not the latter.