The Untold Story of Tucker Carlson’s Ugly Exit From Fox News
When Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott called Tucker Carlson around 11:15 a.m. on Monday, April 24, and said, “We’re taking you off the air,” she didn’t give him a reason. To Carlson, cancellation was unthinkable. He was the highest-rated host across all of cable news—and he was suddenly sentenced to execution. It was like somebody canceling Taylor Swift mid-tour or removing Stranger Things from Netflix before anyone could stream the ending. It made no sense.
Carlson wasn’t given a path to sign off and pretend that it was on his terms, but Scott did offer him one thing—the chance to include his own comment in the press release. For a moment, he thought about saying yes; maybe he did want the breakup to sound mutually beneficial. But he quickly snapped out of that. He was being dumped, and he wanted everyone else to know it too. He tapped out a farewell email to his staff, known as the Tuckertroop, before his Fox email account was disabled. “I’ve never worked with better people in my life, and I don’t expect I ever will,” he wrote, adding: “I’m a little unclear on what’s going on right now, but at this point it looks unexpectedly bad.”
Then the news erupted in public. “Fox News Media and Tucker Carlson have agreed to part ways,” the announcement said, abusing the word agreed and glaringly lacking any quote from the host. His production team was not given a heads-up, so they found out that Carlson was gone the same way as everyone else, through smartphone news alerts or texts from friends. The show’s senior executive producer Justin Wells was also sacked, but the rest of the staff was still on the clock. They were supposed to stay at their keyboards and whip up a replacement show that very night. Instead, they swapped theories about the canceling. One of his producers thought it was tied to Fox’s blockbuster $787.5 million settlement of the Dominion Voting Systems case, which was struck just a few days earlier. Another producer thought it was triggered by ex-producer Abby Grossberg’s lawsuits alleging a toxic workplace. A third wondered if it was somehow related to January 6 protester Ray Epps’son 60 Minutes the night before, when Epps said Carlson was “going to any means possible to destroy my life.” Epps was believed to be preparing a lawsuit against Fox, which he would file in July.
The reason Carlson’s team couldn’t immediately settle on one simple explanation is because there wasn’t one. 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. According to my reporting, many factors contributed to the defenestration of Carlson, which ranks among the biggest bombshells in cable news history, not only because of what his exit meant for Fox, but also what it meant for the Republican Party.
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. After all, he’d been fired from CNN and MSNBC earlier in his career. That’s why, at Fox, he puffed out his chest and pretended to be immune to attack. His long relationship with career vulnerability caused him to foster an image of untouchability. And it worked so well that even now, more than six months after his exit, people are wondering why it happened.
The fact that Fox had no firm plan for its marquee 8 p.m. time slot—no splashy outside hire, no new graphics, no innovative new format—speaks to how suddenly and sloppily Carlson had been terminated. But some of Carlson’s staffers were not entirely shocked. They knew they pushed the envelope far past the point of a paper cut. “It was always going to end badly,” one Carlson producer said. “We knew we were burning too bright.” The royal we was something Carlson always used. He portrayed his production team—and only his team—as a force for good in the battle against the evils he presumed nightly. His entire show was about us versus them, and this approach extended to the rest of Fox, where Tucker Carlson Tonight had the appearance of a rogue unit. According to a Grossberg lawsuit, Carlson’s “bro-fest” environment was antagonistic toward other Fox shows, including Maria Bartiromo’s, where she had worked before. Grossberg said she was hauled into Wells’s office in her first week on the job and asked, “Is Maria Bartiromo fucking Kevin McCarthy?” (No, she said.)
Through interviews for, Network of Lies, I found that 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. Of course, Carlson always genuflected to Fox in public, praising the network for letting him “say what we think is true.” But his expressions of gratitude to Fox didn’t fool management because they knew how he acted in private. Six years in prime time 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.
While at Fox, Carlson always specified that he worked for the Murdochs, which was a way to elevate his standing and diminish what the org chart said: that his opinion show, like all the others, reported through executive vice president Meade Cooper to Scott, who was a rare female CEO in the male-dominated TV business. 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 internal critics, of whom there were many, viewed his treatment of the female executives as part and parcel with the misogyny displayed on his show. More than a dozen current and former Fox staffers brought this problem up to me, unprompted. “Tucker is very titillated by misogyny,” a host said. Some of the staffers theorized that his mother’s mistreatment—she abandoned the family when Carlson was six—engendered a negativity toward women.
The counterpoint I heard from a Fox lifer was that “Tucker didn’t respect anyone of any gender.” Carlson hit men with the same C-word too, so, according to Fox’s boys-will-be-boys etiquette, he was apparently an equal-opportunity basher. (Remember, this was supposed to be a defense of him.)
Carlson told a friend that the word fuck “is so overused it’s lost all its power and meaning,” so cunt was more effective: “It’s super naughty, but it’s to the point.” 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. On the inside, that was partially true. Scott, for example, was personally disgusted by some of Carlson’s on-air comments and off-air conduct but felt hemmed in by Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch. She was in charge—except when she wasn’t.