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Tucker Carlson “got too big for his boots” at Fox News and was fired in part for alienating “large swaths” of the company, according to a revelatory new account of the downfall of the network’s biggest star.
Carlson, a rightwing conspiracy theorist who was dismissed in April despite his status as the most-watched cable TV personality, believed himself to be irreplaceable, the journalist Brian Stelter says in his new book Network of Lies, reported on Tuesday by Vanity Fair.
But ultimately Carlson’s escalating toxicity, which included an undercurrent of white supremacy and a penchant for demeaning women and minorities, led Lachlan Murdoch, the then chief executive of Fox Corp, to pull the plug, the book says.
“He committed the cardinal Fox sin of acting like he was bigger than the network he was on,” Stelter said.
“His brand, weird as it was, revolved around the idea that he could call anyone the C-word, or anything else, at any time. He could say anything, do anything, and never be held accountable, so long as he commanded the attention and affection of millions.
“Carlson was believed to have Trump-like hypnotic power over the GOP base. He was believed to be irreplaceable. But that impression was, in large part, a creation of Carlson’s. In truth, Carlson had alienated so many people, instigated so many internal and external scandals, fanned so many flames of ugliness, that his firing was inevitable.
“That’s why Fox dropped Carlson. It wasn’t one thing. It was everything,” Stelter writes, as excerpted exclusively by Vanity Fair.
Arguably the biggest of the scandals in which Carlson was embroiled was the Dominion lawsuit, which ended in a $787.5m settlement as a landmark trial was getting under way. The voting company Dominion brought the suit after numerous Fox personalities broadcast false claims that the voting machine manufacturer was involved in a plot to steal the 2020 presidential election for Donald Trump instead of the genuine victor, Joe Biden.
Stelter is best known as the former chief media correspondent for cable news giant CNN and the host of the CNN program Reliable Sources, which no longer airs.
Meanwhile, his book knocks down the theory, pushed by Carlson, that the Fox presenter’s firing was a condition of the settlement with Dominion, and points to a variety of reasons for his dismissal floated by Fox insiders at the time. They included Carlson’s sending of incendiary, racially charged texts – texts that Dominion’s lawyers were believed to be preparing to dwell on in court if the trial in Delaware had gone ahead.
“The reason Carlson’s team couldn’t immediately settle on one simple explanation is because there wasn’t one,” Stelter said in the book.
“Though Carlson would later suggest his ouster was a ‘condition’ of the Dominion suit, there’s no evidence to support that theory, and both parties deny it. Nothing about [it] made sense. Dominion harbored no special ill will toward Carlson … his name did not come up at all during the negotiations, according to my sources who were involved in the talks.”
The book recounts how Carlson’s growing sense of invulnerability mirrored his increasingly frequent forays into extremism, conspiracy theories and outright unpleasantness towards Fox colleagues and outsiders whose views contrasted with his own.
“Six years in primetime had reshaped Carlson, darkened his heart, driven him to the edge. He berated Fox News executives in New York. He belittled people (like me) who scrutinized him. In the view of some of his own colleagues, he became unglued,” Stelter writes.
The author went on: “According to sources on the staff, Carlson shit-talked both women as well as his number one enemy within Fox News, the entrenched public relations boss Irena Briganti, whom he called a ‘cunt’.
“Carlson’s producers and writers were more loyal to him than to Fox as a network. They were a saboteur squad of true believers, regarding the mother ship as almost enemy territory, since as a Fortune 500 company, Fox Corp had policies in place promoting diversity and supporting transgender employees, the very types of things Carlson railed against on air.”
When the decision came in April to fire Carlson, Stelter said, it was a bombshell move akin to “somebody canceling Taylor Swift mid-tour, or removing Stranger Things from Netflix before anyone could stream the ending. It made no sense,” he said.
“To Carlson, cancellation was unthinkable. He was the highest-rated host across all of cable news and he was suddenly sentenced to execution.”
In the end, however, the Murdochs had just had enough. The final decision was Lachlan’s, Stelter says, flexing his muscles just months before he would succeed Rupert Murdoch as the overall new head of Fox and News Corp upon his father’s retirement in September.
“It was a tale as old as TV,” Stelter writes. “Stardom is a potent and often destructive drug. Icarus flew too close to the sun; he got his wings melted. Carlson flapped away, higher and higher, until one day the Murdochs just couldn’t tolerate his flapping any more. ‘He got too big for his boots,’ Rupert told at least one confidant.”