Tucker Carlson and Fox News, a divorce with losses and crashes… for all

Tucker Carlson, the star presenter of the ultra-conservative Fox News channel, left his post on Monday. A surprise divorce which reveals the extent of the problems of the chain of Rupert Murdoch and which could cost Donald Trump dearly.

The king of audiences for the queen of American PAF channels is gone. The very controversial host Tucker Carlson left the no less decried ultra-conservative channel Fox News on Monday, April 24.

This departure – which would have been provoked by Rupert Murdoch, the big boss of the News Corp empire to which Fox News belongs – represents a “media and political earthquake”, assured the news site Vox, summing up the general feeling of the commentators.

Consequence of the Dominion scandal?

Fox News has topped the ratings since the early 2000s in the United States. And Tucker Carlson was the star of it, bringing together since 2017 more than three million spectators every evening in front of his show at 8 p.m.

A formidable platform which allowed him to be one of the most influential voices on the far right of the political spectrum. “He embodied and accompanied the transformation of the Republican Party into a populist and anti-system movement”, sums up Thomas Gift, director of the Center for the Study of United States Politics at University College London.

It is therefore a page in its history that Fox News turns by separating from Tucker Carlson. A decision that comes just a week after the end of the resounding defamation lawsuit brought against the chain by Dominion, a company manufacturing electronic voting machines which found itself at the heart of a conspiracy theory dear to fans of Donald Trump . “It’s hard to ignore the concomitance between this departure and this trial. But I would hesitate to see it as a signal that Rupert Murdoch is trying to correct the image of his channel,” said Thomas Gift.

The trial had indeed lifted part of the veil on the internal kitchen of a chain ready to twist the neck of factual reality to please the most fanatical pro-Trump Americans. And the shadow of conspiracy theories promoted on Fox News by Tucker Carlson hung over the entire proceedings.

As such, the star presenter of the chain could appear as the sacrificial lamb to try to restore the editorial image of Fox News. It was necessary to separate from the main promoter on the air of a potpourri of conspiracy theses around the so-called electoral fraud during the presidential election of 2020, which had “become too toxic a cause, even for Fox News”, decrypts René Lindstädt, a political scientist at the University of Birmingham who has written about the political influence of Rupert Murdoch’s channel.

Tucker Carlson, an economic cost for Fox News

But restoring the image for what? It is indeed difficult to imagine that this will boost the audiences. “This departure certainly won’t satisfy the network’s core audience of Donald Trump supporters, and it surely won’t convince Democrats that Fox News has become less partisan and worthy of be watched,” said Anurag Mishra, a specialist in American politics at the International Team for the Study of Security (ITSS) Verona.

And then Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham or Maria Bartiromo occupy a niche very similar to that of Tucker Carlson and do not seem threatened for the moment. Suffice to say that if a business of “standardization” is underway, it is very limited.

In fact, the experts interviewed by France 24 judge that “it is an accumulation of reasons more or less linked to the Dominion affair which led to the disgrace of Tucker Carlson in the eyes of Rupert Murdoch”, summarizes René Lindstädt.

Thus, there is probably a personal dimension to this dismissal. The grand unpacking of private conversations of Fox News stars during the Dominion trial “revealed that Tucker Carlson harshly criticized Rupert Murdoch in private, which the latter, who personally built the presenter’s career on the air, did not didn’t have to bear,” said David Colon, a historian who has written about Rupert Murdoch and media manipulation.

There are also the well-understood economic interests of Fox News executives. They will soon start negotiations on increasing cable royalties (what operators pay Fox News to put the channel on their package), and would seek to raise them above three dollars per subscriber. This is the channel’s main source of income, far ahead of advertising. What relationship with Tucker Carlson? “Since the Dominion affair, the network has faced increasing calls for its withdrawal from the cable operators’ offer. By firing the host, Rupert Murdoch no doubt hopes to soften the criticism and make it easier to the increase,” says David Colon.

Too Trumpist and too anti-Trump at the same time

And then there is the case of Donald Trump. “Tucker Carlson’s relationship with the former president is complicated and adversarial, but either way it’s a problem for the channel,” says Thomas Gift. Indeed, Fox News wants to do away with its image as a pro-Trump propaganda organ. Other Republican primary candidates are getting more and more air time, like Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida. But, at the same time, Fox News does not want to cut ties with the ex-president, who remains the favorite in the polls on the right.

Either way, Tucker Carlson is a liability rather than an asset. On the one hand, “he continues to remain publicly a fervent defender of Donald Trump and all the conspiracy theories that this last vehicle”, assures Anurag Mishra. Indeed, when the star of the channel publicly takes up the cause, it is difficult to portray yourself in a media open to other candidates.

But on the other hand, the Dominion lawsuit revealed private messages in which Tucker Carlson reveals his hatred for Donald Trump. If the latter becomes the official candidate of the Republican Party for the presidential election of 2024, Donald Trump “could decide that Fox News is not worthy of trust”, estimates René Lindstädt.

Read also One America News, the small disinformation channel that feeds Trump’s tweets

In the meantime, this departure of Tucker Carlson is bad news for the ex-president’s campaign. Indeed, the ex-host with three million spectators was not only the spokesperson for the words of Donald Trump. For René Lindstädt, “he also played kingmaker” by trying to promote the rise of the Republicans closest to the ex-president, by promoting them on the air.

The former president was also guaranteed to be on Tucker Carlson’s show whenever he wanted. “It’s not so obvious now, and since Donald Trump hasn’t started using Twitter again either, he may run out of media space to express himself,” said Anurag Mishra.

It’s also a risky move for Fox News. Admittedly, this is not the first time that the chain has parted ways with a star who seemed irreplaceable. She survived the firing of two chain giants: Bill O’Reilly in 2017 and Glenn Beck in 2011.

But there is a difference with the current context. “In recent years, there has been a proliferation of ultra-conservative media who want to overshadow Fox News. The latter must be very careful not to lose its historic audience that Tucker Carlson represented like no other”, summarizes René Lindstädt. Small far-right channels – such as Newsmax or One America News – would probably be happy to offer refuge to Tucker Carlson and his three million fans.

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