Fox News says it has “agreed to part ways” with Tucker Carlson, one of its most popular and controversial hosts, less than a week after settling a lawsuit over the network’s 2020 US election reporting.
The network said in a press release that the last programme of Tucker Carlson Tonight aired on Friday. “We thank him for his service to the network as a host and prior to that as a contributor,” the network said.
Fox News Tonight will air in Carlson’s 8pm prime-time slot - hosted by a rotating array of network personalities - for the time being.
The famously right-wing and usually outspoken commentator has so far been silent on the announcement, but speculation is rife as to whether his departure is related to the defamation case, or even a potential move into politics.
But who exactly is Tucker Carlson, and why is he parting ways with the Fox News network?
Who is Tucker Carlson?
Tucker Carlson is a right-wing American political commentator, and until last week, the host of Fox show Tucker Carlson Tonight.
The 53-year-old quickly became Fox’s most popular personality after replacing Bill O’Reilly in Fox’s prime-time line-up in 2016. He has consistently drawn headlines for controversial coverage, including most recently airing tapes from the January 6 Capitol insurrection to minimise the impact of the attack, which claimed seven lives.
A leading personality in the so-called culture wars, Carlson frequently delivers angry monologues criticising everything from what he describes as the "woke" agenda, to Black Lives Matter, and has also been accused of spreading misinformation about Covid-19.
Carlson famously complained about M&M chocolates changing their mascots, saying the new characters were "unsexy" and he would not want to go for a drink with any of them.
The commentator, from California, is married with four children. There has been speculation for a number of years that his popularity with US Republicans would see him eventually run for the US political party.
Why is he leaving Fox?
Fox has not explicitly stated why Carlson is leaving the network, but the move comes days after it agreed to pay Dominion Voting Systems more than US$787 million dollars (£631 million) and acknowledged that some of its reporting following the 2020 election – which allowed former US president Donald Trump’s aides to amplify false charges of election fraud – was incorrect.
But that reporting mostly concerned other shows, not Carlson’s. His name did come up during the case, primarily because of email and text messages that were revealed as part of the lawsuit, the Associated Press reports.
Carlson and other Fox hosts were caught in private messages doubting their own network’s allegations about Dominion’s role in the supposed election fraud, while also being concerned that Fox was losing audience among Trump fans at the time. In some of them, Carlson privately criticised Trump, saying he hated him passionately.
Carlson was also recently named in a lawsuit filed by Abby Grossberg, a Fox News producer sacked after claiming that Fox lawyers had pressured her to give misleading evidence in the Dominion lawsuit. Ms Grossberg had gone to work for Carlson after leaving Maria Bartiromo’s Fox show.
Her lawsuit says that Ms Grossberg learned “she had merely traded in one overtly misogynistic work environment for an even crueller one – this time, one where unprofessionalism reigned supreme, and the staff’s distaste and disdain for women infiltrated almost every workday decision”.
Fox countered with its own lawsuit, trying to bar Ms Grossberg from disclosing confidential discussions with Fox lawyers and saying in a statement that “her allegations in connection with the Dominion case are baseless”.
Politico commentators have also long reported the popular host might parlay his TV perch into a run for president in 2024, standing for the conservative Republican Party.
It appeared Carlson was unaware of his imminent departure when signing off from his final show on Friday, the Independent reports.
Closing out his show, the right-wing commentator cheerily said of his last segment: “What a great way to the end the week”. “That’s it for us for the week, we’ll be back... We’ll be back on Monday – in the meantime have the best weekend with the ones you love. See you then.”
What was the lawsuit Fox News settled last week about?
Fox News reached a last minute settlement with voting machine company Dominion Voting Systems last week, after the company alleged that the news outlet spread harmful claims about the security and reliability of their machines in the aftermath of the 2020 US election.
The Delaware trial for Dominion Voting Systems’ US$1.6 billion dollar defamation lawsuit against Fox News was expected to begin on 18 April, but at the eleventh hour, Fox News settled for $787.5 Million with the company.
The case, which centred on whether Fox defamed Dominion by spreading incorrect claims that the company rigged the 2020 US presidential election to prevent former president Donald Trump winning, would have seen Fox News heavy hitters like Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and potentially even founder Rupert Murdoch take the stand.
Dominion Voting Systems, which provided election machines to 28 US states in the 2020 presidential election, claims Fox News damaged its business when it aired conspiracy theories that those machines were used to rig the election in favour of Joe Biden, the Guardian reports.
The judge who allowed the trial to go ahead said the evidence had shown it was “crystal clear that none of the statements relating to Dominion about the 2020 election are true”. Dominion chief executive, John Poulos, said following the settlement: “Fox has admitted to telling lies about Dominion.”