Over the years, there were multiple times when Madeline Peltz, Media Matters for America’s deputy director of rapid response, believed Tucker Carlson would be booted from Fox News. Like when, in 2019, Peltz unearthed audio from the 2000s in which Carlson talked about enjoying the idea of young girls sexually experimenting and defended statutory rape. Or when CNN unearthed wildly racist writing by his show’s top writer, Blake Neff, in 2020. But Carlson held on, and Peltz, as she told Jezebel, has “this very clear memory of sitting on the roof of my building, looking up at the sky, and thinking, ‘He’s never going anywhere.’”
But on Monday, Fox News shocked the nation by announcing it had severed ties with Carlson, the network’s most popular, most meme-ified, and, arguably, most dangerous anchor, whose perky bow ties and perennially confused expressions added a veneer to his nightly white nationalist routine.
It remains unclear why Carlson left, though a range of theories have emerged, many positing that he had become a liability to the network amid an ongoing lawsuit against Fox citing his show’s alleged toxic work environment, or that the contents of his redacted statements in documents pertaining to Dominion’s lawsuit against Fox were upsetting to network execs. Peltz’s best guess after following Carlson’s work since 2017 is that it was “some combination of all of these festering problems” between Carlson and the network.
On Wednesday night, Carlson shared a video message to his Twitter followers that didn’t address his departure at all but instead offered foreboding commentary on the state of politics and the media. “Where can you still find Americans saying true things? There aren’t many places left, but there are some,” he said. Well, at the very least, now that his show is gone, that’s one fewer source of wildly racist disinformation!
Peltz told Jezebel that she’s relived by the abrupt, forced end of this chapter of her career. The increasingly dangerous, increasingly bonkers right-wing media machine will continue to churn—but Carlson’s departure gives a bit of breathing room, at least for now. His show was certainly the kind that could—and did—deeply affect viewers’ ideologies. Its segments, which had never exactly been sane, had become so ridiculous in recent years that Peltz says the show “became a parody of itself.” He bitched about the end of masculinity and pitched testicular tanning as a solution. He claimed life-saving covid vaccines were “the single deadliest mass vaccination event in modern history,” and equated vaccine mandates with “Jim Crow.” He called Jan. 6 insurrectionists “orderly and meek.” He lamented the de-sexualization of the green M&M.
More recently, Peltz said, his show devoted itself to electrifying culture wars and right-wing panics: He stoked panic about drag shows. Earlier this month, he interviewed Elon Musk, giving the Twitter CEO a platform to insist that they impregnate every woman within a 100-mile radius to save mankind.
Through the ridiculousness, Carlson’s show’s wild success meant that once-fringe conspiracy theories from the most insular, far-right corners of the internet could blow up overnight if referenced by Carlson, Peltz said. He’d found such success at Fox News because “it seems he could only thrive in uniquely toxic environments,” having lost nearly every other job in cable news that he’d ever held. Peltz’s most lasting impression of Carlson is that he’s a “nepo baby”—his father, Richard Warner Carlson, was a looming figure in conservative media, and his stepmother is the heir to a frozen food fortune. “Yet, I sat through years of him cosplaying as the voice for the working class,” Peltz said.
Besides that mysterious little Wednesday vlog, Carlson has yet to publicly comment on his departure from Fox, and Rolling Stone reported on Tuesday that while the former star-pundit is livid about his termination, the network has compelled his silence by waving a massive oppo folder on him over his head. Carlson, like Don Lemon, who was also terminated from CNN this week, has since employed one of the most aggressive lawyers in Hollywood to represent him.
According to Peltz, Carlson’s future in conservative media “probably depends on what kind of non-compete he signed,” which might preclude him from joining another network, and could limit his career options to becoming a Matt Walsh-adjacent streamer, or, my personal recommendation, a Cameo star charging a few hundred bucks to wish your racist uncle a happy birthday.
Carlson built his career around racism, birtherism, sexism, and nearly every other nasty “-ism” in the book. Given the toxicity he’s responsible for, Peltz said, it’s deeply ironic—and depressing—that his downfall would be ushered in not by any of that, but likely by arcane legal complexities.