The Tucker Carlson Backlash and the Fox Conundrum

April 29th, 2023 4:00 PM

Back there in the 1960’s golden era of rock and roll, (from 1966 to 1968) a group known as Buffalo Springfield dominated the air waves for a rock moment Their big 1967 hit was titled "For What It’s Worth." And its lyrics included these memorable lines:

There's something happening here

But what it is ain't exactly clear 

…Paranoia strikes deep

 Into your life it will creep 

It starts when you’re always afraid

Step out of line, the man come and take you away…

The lyrics came to mind this week in watching Fox reel from the backlash of the company’s “parting ways” with host Tucker Carlson. (And full disclosure, I am a Newsmax contributor.)

And speaking of Newsmax? The network has not been shy in reporting its 8 p.m. audience nearly doubled Monday, reaching 531,000 viewers, based on Nielsen figures. The following night, the number rose to an average 562,000 viewers, a five-fold increase from the previous week.

By contrast, the Tucker hour's ratings at Fox plummeted, from 2.59 million on Monday (when his departure was formally announced) to 1.7 million on Tuesday and 1.3 million on Wednesday.

After the decision to “part ways” was announced I was listening to the Clay Travis and Buck Sexton radio show. A caller named “Judy” got through. She was livid with Fox and vowed to never watch Fox again. She was, she said, now moving permanently to Newsmax. Clearly, Judy has not been alone.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but Tucker himself has released his own two-minute video statement on Twitter. In less than 24 hours the video had brought in over 60 million views. Yow.

The obvious question in all of this is exactly that opening line from the Buffalo Springfield: 

There's something happening here

But what it is ain't exactly clear

That might be considered an understatement here.

One can only wonder, as many have, why in the world Fox would shut down its number one host. Tucker Carlson is a very popular conservative and a decidedly smart guy as well. All of which has been evident on his nightly show, and all of which his audience both understands and loves.

Not to mention another popular host, Dan Bongino, has also vanished from Fox.

So why in the world would Fox do this?

Over at Breitbart, they called it a "brazen power play" by the Murdochs and saw parallels to the HBO Murdoch-echoing drama Succession.  

[B]oth Carlson and Bongino are technically still under contract by the network. Bongino’s contract runs through the end of April and Carlson’s through the 2024 general election. Both are, sources say, trying to negotiate exit packages—and even after they formally have those agreements in place, there will be non-disparagement clauses that prevent them from ever speaking the truth about this.... 

As of right now, the plan remains the same: pay out Carlson’s contract and keep him on the sidelines through the 2024 elections,” one source close to Fox News senior executives told Breitbart News. “They knew they would take a beating for this, but everyone — and I mean everyone — is pretty rattled. They weren’t expecting the blowback to be this bad. Hate to say it, but it’s clear that Rupert has lost a step or two. 

One can only shake one’s head at the idea that over at Fox…. 

… everyone — and I mean everyone — is pretty rattled. They weren’t expecting the blowback to be this bad.

It boggles the mind that the people who created, own and run Fox News could be this far along in their creation and ownership of this network and not understand in a blink that the “blowback” from silencing Tucker could in fact be “this bad.”

All of which leads to the larger questions of what, exactly, Americans are really seeing as all of this drama unfolds. Is Fox deliberately turning its sights into becoming an “establishment” network? 

That, I suspect, gets right to the real reason the Fox management cut Tucker loose. He was saying things on air that went against the grain of Establishment “truths”. Whether it was his opposition to the war in Ukraine, his thoughts on the transgender obsessions or saying that illegal immigrants were literally littering the countryside of the American Southwest, Tucker was fearless.

Notably he happily showed the January 6 inside-the-Capitol videos given to him by Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Tellingly others in the GOP leadership - like Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell - were livid at Tucker’s presentation of internal videos that directly contradicted the presentations of the House January 6 Committee. Tellingly, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer was so incensed that he demanded Rupert Murdoch take him off the air. And also tellingly, Schumer has now been granted his wish. 

As Tucker said exactly: “Debates like that are not permitted in American media.” Bingo.

But with all of this, debate and questions still swirl mightily about the real reasons behind Tucker’s removal. Not to mention what all of this means for the future of Fox and, as well, the future of Newsmax and other conservative media.

In fact, it is too soon to say what will happen with all of this. What’s really happening and where it will end up is indeed a conundrum. 

The Cambridge Dictionary defines “conundrum” as “a problem that is difficult to deal with”. Safe to say, this self-inflicted problem has become difficult - make that very difficult - for Fox to deal with.

But however they do deal with it, the conservative media world is in the midst of some kind of change. How will it end up? Stay tuned.