Tuckered out: Carlson severs ties with Fox News


Gage Skidmore | Creative Commons

Political commentator Tucker Carlson speaks with attendees at the 2018 Student Action Summit. Carlson recently severed ties with Fox News.

TV personality and conservative political commentator Tucker Carlson gained his massive following by spouting racist and xenophobic content on his Fox News show, “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” On Monday, April 24, Carlson severed ties with Fox News, following a $787.5 million settlement with voting company Dominion Voting Systems for defamation. 

“There is no particular reason that I can think of why [Carlson] would want to leave a platform that big,” said DePaul law professor Gregory Mark.

It is widely believed, but not confirmed, that Carlson was fired from the news outlet. 

“They’ve [Fox News] fired people in the past, like Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly,” said DePaul political science associate professor Joseph Mello. “Tucker Carlson, it seems, is just the latest kind of person to run into legal trouble and get fired by Fox [News].”

A large number of votes for the 2020 presidential election, which Carlson claimed had falsified results, were processed through Dominion Voting Systems.

While libel — or written defamation — is illegal, it is very hard to prove libel in court, according to Mark.

“Our laws are designed to foster maximum debate there, so there are very few restrictions and libel laws,” Mark said. “It’s very difficult to prove that you’ve libeled a public figure.”

Reporters question attorneys for Dominion Voting Systems at the New Castle County Courthouse in Wilmington, Del., after a defamation lawsuit with Fox News was settled. (Julio Cortez | Associated Press)

According to Mello, media outlets often get away with stating falsehoods on their platforms since it is difficult to prove that it is malicious and intentional. 

“The problem in this case is they actually have text messages of Tucker Carlson admitting that the things that he’s saying on air aren’t true, so that actually does give evidence to suggest actual malice, which is probably why they paid $775 million to Dominion [Voting Systems],” Mello said. “Because they were afraid that if they went to court, they would lose even more money.”

Carlson’s show was labeled as an opinion entertainment segment, and while the distinction between opinion and news may be evident to some, others do not know or do not notice the difference.

“I don’t think the average viewer gets the distinction,” Mello said. “I think they think that Tucker Carlson is providing news. That’s why they’re watching Fox News. And I don’t think they see it as entertainment.”

Entertainment content is not as objective as news content and is often rooted in opinion instead of fact.

“It’s entirely based on the content of what you say,” Mark said. “You can defame somebody just as easily in an entertainment show as you can on a news show.”

DePaul freshman and political science major Suzan Arab believes Carlson’s words could impact voters.

“People don’t want to go out and vote because they’re like, ‘Oh, it’s just gonna turn into a blue vote,’” Arab said.

Arab believes that Carlson’s content reached such a large audience since it was digestible for the average viewer.

“Because the way that he’s structured, his content is very easy to consume,” Arab said. “So I feel like because of that, that’s why misinformation has become so widespread.”

In the future, Fox News might have a financial incentive to further monitor their show hosts.

“Fox News is probably actually going to write a check for about half of that, and about half of that is going to come from their insurance agent or whatever,” Mello said. “And that insurance agent is not going to be happy about writing that check, and they’re going to ask for some certain protections moving forward, or their insurance premiums are going to go up.”

Carlson is known for his extreme right wing political commentary. Most notably, Carlson has spoken about replacement theory, the Nazi idea that Black and brown people will replace the white population.

“If Tucker [Carlson] had a unique talent, it was his ability to launder these racist ideas,” Mello said.

According to Mello, Carlson’s rhetoric still falls under the First Amendments and does not fall under the category of hate speech, which is not protected under free speech.

“The thing about the First Amendment is it only applies to the government,” Mello said. “So private individuals have the right to say whatever they want, including to be a Nazi. That’s not illegal.”

Arab knows many adults who watched “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” According to Arab, many people will still consume Carlson’s content despite the libel.

“I know a lot of people, especially my friend’s parents, have slowly just left Fox or news in general, because it’s almost like when you lose trust in someone you love,” Arab said.

According to Mark, there are a couple trajectories that Carlson could take with his career moving forward.

“He could do Matt Drudge who used to be a stalwart right winger and he then turns and ends up on the liberal left. I kind of doubt that’s going to happen,” Mark said. “The other thing is he could double down on what made him successful in whatever new format he’s got.”

On Wednesday, April 26, Carlson posted a video on Twitter telling his fans that there are few places where the real truth is told and ended by saying, “See you soon.”