NEW YORK (AP) — Fox News on Monday ousted prime-time host Tucker Carlson, whose stew of grievances and political theories about Russia and the Jan. 6 insurrection had grown to define the network in recent years and influence GOP politics.
Fox said that the network and Carlson had “agreed to part ways” but it offered no explanation for the stunning move, saying that the last broadcast of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” aired last Friday.
The break comes amid a cascade of bad legal news for Fox and Carlson. A week ago, Fox agreed to pay more than $787 million to settle a lawsuit with Dominion Voting Systems over the network’s airing of false claims following the 2020 presidential election — shortly before Carlson was expected to be called to testify.
CBS’ “60 Minutes” on Sunday aired a report about a man caught up in a Jan. 6 conspiracy theory who said Carlson was “obsessed” with him, and whose lawyer has put Fox on notice of potential litigation. Carlson was also recently named in a lawsuit by a former Fox producer who said the show had a cruel and misogynistic workplace and that she had been pressured to give misleading testimony in the Dominion case.
Meanwhile, CNN axed its own embattled anchor, Don Lemon, part of a one-day bloodletting in cable television news.
Carlson, who worked at both CNN and MSNBC earlier in his career, ditched his bow-tie look and quickly became Fox’s most popular personality after replacing Bill O’Reilly in the network’s prime-time lineup in 2017.
His populist tone about elites out to get average Americans rang true with Fox’s predominantly conservative audience, even leading to talk about him becoming a political candidate himself one day.
He did not immediately return a message seeking comment on Monday.
Shares of Fox Corp. slid 4% within seconds of the announcement of Carlson’s departure.
“Tucker Carlson had become even bigger than Fox News,” said Brian Stelter, who is writing an upcoming book about Fox, “Network of Lies.” “His sudden ouster will have profound consequences for Fox News, for TV news and the Republican Party.”
When Carlson’s exit was announced during a live showing of the ABC daytime talk show “The View” on Monday, the studio audience applauded. Host Ana Navarro then led the crowd in a singalong to a line from the song, “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.”
Earlier this year, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy gave Carlson exclusive access to security tapes from the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot, which the show used to conclude “the footage does not show an insurrection or riot in progress.” His interpretation was denounced by many, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The “60 Minutes” report Sunday was about Raymond Epps, a former Marine and Trump supporter from Arizona who was in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021. He was later falsely accused of being a government agent conducting a “false flag” operation to start trouble that would be blamed on Trump supporters. Epps and his wife had to sell their business and home because of threats tied to these conspiracy theories.
On CBS, Epps said Carlson was “obsessed” with him and “going to any means possible to destroy my life.”
Carlson had been expected to be among the first witnesses called if Dominion’s case had gone to trial, but the two parties settled last Tuesday on the same day that opening statements were expected.
Dominion had contended that some Fox programs had falsely aired allegations that the company had rigged the election against President Donald Trump, even though several Fox executives and personalities didn’t believe them. Carlson’s show was not among them; he’d be an unlikely candidate to take the fall for that lawsuit.
In several messages, though, Carlson spoke candidly about his distaste for Trump at the time and his fear that the network was losing viewers among the former president’s fans.
He was also quoted using profane language to describe Sidney Powell, the Trump supporter and conservative attorney who was given airtime on other Fox shows to spread lies about Dominion, and called her a “psychopath.”
Carlson was recently named in a lawsuit filed by Abby Grossberg, a Fox News producer fired after claiming that Fox lawyers had pressured her to give misleading testimony in the Dominion lawsuit. Grossberg had gone to work for Carlson after leaving Maria Bartiromo’s Fox show.
Her lawsuit says that Grossberg learned “she had merely traded in one overtly misogynistic work environment for an even crueler one — this time, one where unprofessionalism reigned supreme, and the staff’s distaste and disdain for women infiltrated almost every workday decision.”
On her first day of work at Carlson’s program, Grossberg said in her lawsuit, she was met with large, blown-up photographs of Rep. Nancy Pelosi in a bathing suit with a plunging neckline.
Fox has called the lawsuit “baseless.”
On his show, 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?”
“Fox News Tonight” will air in Carlson’s 8 p.m. Eastern prime-time slot, hosted by a rotating array of network personalities, for the time being.
“We thank him for his service to the network as a host and prior to that as a contributor,” the press release from the network said.
FILE – Tucker Carlson, host of “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” poses for photos in a Fox News Channel studio on March 2, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)