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Tucker Carlson’s final days at Fox News: Dominion bombshells, Elon Musk and eating bugs

A nightly lineup of furious monologues and conspiracy theories dominated the most-watched programme on the most-watched network, which came to an end with a desk full of pizza, Alex Woodward reports

Monday 24 April 2023 23:38 BST
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(REUTERS)

Hours after Fox News and the Fox Corporation settled a massive defamation lawsuit minutes before a trial started, Tucker Carlson prepared his viewers for what he characterised as an imminent race war provoked by Democratic officials.

A few days later, while hovering over an open pizza box, he closed out his Friday show with a plug for his 25-minute special in his line of Tucker Carlson Originals winking at a far-right conspiracy theory that world leaders are forcing people to eat bugs.

“We’ll be back on Monday,” said Carlson, moments before taking another bite. “In the meantime, have the best weekend with the ones that you love, and we’ll see you then.”

Those would be his last words on what would be his last appearance on Fox News, the home for his massively influential and most-watched programme on the nation’s most-watched cable news network.

On Monday morning, Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott informed Carlson he was going off air. He lost access to his email account. A four-sentence press release announced Fox “agreed to part ways” with Carlson. A figurehead for far-right commentary and conspiracy theories beamed into airports, military bases and homes and businesses across America suddenly wouldn’t be.

His surprise departure follows a chaotic week for the network in the aftermath of its $787m settlement with Dominion Voting Systems, closing out more than two years of litigation only after hundreds of pages of court documents revealed embarrassing behind-the-scenes statements among Fox executives, producers and its top stars.

Carlson and his programme are also central to a lawsuit from a former producer alleging a toxic workplace where “truth remains a fugitive” and where women are routinely verbally violated “by a poisonous and entrenched patriarchy.”

Abby Grossberg, who was terminated for her role as a senior producer at Tucker Carlson Tonight while in the middle of litigation against the network, said in a statement that his exit is a “step towards accountability.”

“This is some justice for the American people and for Fox News viewers who’ve been manipulated and lied to for years, all in an attempt to boost the channel’s ratings and revenue,” she added.

The announcement of Carlson’s departure also came after 60 Minutes profiled Ray Epps, a Trump supporter who was in Washington DC on 6 January, 2021, but has become a maligned figure among far-right conspiracy theorists and election deniers who believe Mr Epps is a federal plant who incited the riot that brought violence into the halls of Congress.

Lawyers for Mr Epps, whose life and family has been upended by the allegations, wrote to Fox and Carlson demanding a retraction for the “false and defamatory statements” about him.

Dominion accused Fox News Network and its Fox Corporation leadership of amplifying false and damaging claims about the company in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, when conspiracy theories surrounding the election and its outcome swirled throughout Republican politics, amplified by Donald Trump and his allies, and across right-wing media, including Fox’s far-right competitors.

On 19 April, attorneys for Fox and Dominion scrambled towards a settlement before a high-profile six-week trial in Wilmington, Delaware, where Fox leadership including Rupert Murdoch and on-air personalities were expected to testify. Only after 12 jurors and 12 alternates were sworn in did the two parties announce that the case was settled.

Meanwhile, outside the courthouse, a truck with the words “TUCKER CARLSON KNEW” circled around the building for two days.

The night that Dominion’s legal team announced the largest libel settlement in US history and Fox published a statement acknowledging “the Court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false”, Carlson returned to his primetime programme, making no mention of one of the biggest media stories of the century.

What ended up being Carlson’s final week on the network relied on familiar themes from a nightly lineup that has grown increasingly more extreme in recent years, tilting at far-right fringe conspiracy theories, racism and anti-trans attacks.

The night of the Dominion settlement, he brought on Heather Mac Donald, author of When Race Trumps Merit: How the Pursuit of Equity Sacrifices Excellence, Destroys Beauty and Threatens Lives. “Today we’re seeing the change that Barack Obama brought to America,” said Carlson, introducing his guest.

Carlson also aired a second part of his interview with Elon Musk, who shared his dubious warnings about global collapse due to allegedly low birth rates, which he appeared to blame on access to birth control and abortion. “Civilization’s gonna crumble,” he said.

On what would be his final broadcast on 21 April, Carlson downplayed the well-documented impacts of a racially biased housing market with a critical segment against the Biden administration’s plan for a home appraisal workforce.

“The only job training this administration has gotten behind in the last two years is getting Black people to sell more weed in the cities, literally,” Carlson said.

He also compared gender-affirming care for transgender people to Heaven’s Gate cult members, among several recent segments devoted to raising specious arguments about LGBT+ people, on a network consumed by anti-trans activism.

“It sounds familiar. Heaven’s Gate is proof that when religious fanatics command you to surrender your gender and become androgynous, castrate yourself and your children, it’s probably not gonna end well.”

In what were his programme’s final moments, framed by several pizza boxes across his desk while holding a slice, he promoted Let Them Eat Bugs, a special described as an investigation into “environmentalists pushing people to eat bugs.”

Court filings show that Carlson appeared to reject debunked claims about Dominion and allegations of vote manipulation, while at the same time fearing drops in Fox stock prices and viewership if network hosts and reporters publicly admitted that there is no evidence to support false election claims.

Carlson privately raged over the network’s correct prediction that Joe Biden won the state of Arizona, which enraged Trump’s campaign and far-right figures

“We worked really hard to build what we have. Those f*****s are destroying our credibility. It enrages me,” he wrote to his producer on 5 November, according to Dominion’s filings. “What [Trump’s] good at is destroying things. He’s the undisputed world champion of that. He could easily destroy us If we play it wrong.”

Five days later, he told his viewers that voter fraud “happened, and we can prove it.” His segment about “dead” Americans casting ballots prompted a correction.

On 19 November, Carlson ended his broadcast by suggesting that Trump-connected Sidney Powell should publicly reveal the evidence for her baseless claims about widespread voter fraud and manipulation that fuelled conspiracy theories about Dominion and the 2020 election. “We are certainly hopeful that she will,” he added.

The following night, he told his viewers that if Powell could prove mass fraud that manipulated the outcome, “no one will be more grateful for that than us.”

But just four days earlier, he told a producer that “Sidney Powell is lying. F****ing b****.”

“Sidney Powell is lying by the way. caught her. It’s insane,” he later told Laura Ingraham.

The lawsuit from Ms Grossberg, formerly a producer on Carlson’s programme, alleges that not only did Fox’s legal team coerce her testimony in the Dominion case, but she also paints a disturbing work environment bloated by “systemic chauvinism” that repeatedly undermined her decisions and retaliated against her when she complained.

“Ultimately, feeling ignored and unprotected by Fox News, and suffering from severe anxiety due to the unlawful treatment she received from her male supervisors and colleagues,” Ms Greenberg sought medical leave as recommended to her by a therapist, according to her complaint.

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