NEW YORK: Fox News Media and top-rated host Tucker Carlson have agreed to part ways, it said, less than a week after the media company and its parent Fox Corp settled a defamation lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems for US$787.5 million.
Carlson was expected to be a key witness in the trial centring around Fox’s false claims that the 2020 presidential election had been manipulated in favour of Democrat Joe Biden, who defeated incumbent Donald Trump.
Carlson’s next move is unclear. His prime-time show, “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” had been the highest-rated cable news program in the key 25-to-54 age demographic, regularly attracting more than 3 million nightly viewers on Fox, the most-watched U.S. cable news network.
“We thank him for his service to the network as a host and prior to that as a contributor,” Fox News said in a statement.
Fox shares dropped sharply on the news but recovered some losses and were last off 2.8% in active trading.
The settlement with Denver-based Dominion averted a lengthy trial that would have put Fox’s content and operations front and centre. The company still faces additional legal battles, including a US$2.7 billion suit from voting technology company SmartMatic and a lawsuit filed by former producer Abby Grossberg, who said Fox coerced her testimony in the Dominion case.
Grossberg, who had been Carlson’s head of booking, last month accused network lawyers of pressuring her to provide misleading testimony. She also said Fox exposed her and others to rampant sexism and misogyny. Fox fired Grossberg, saying her legal claims were “riddled with false allegations against Fox and our employees.”
Claims of manipulation
Dominion had alleged that statements made on Carlson’s show after the 2020 election were defamatory, saying messages between the media personality and his team were proof they knew that claims the company’s ballot-counting machines were used to manipulate the presidential election in Biden’s favour were false.
Filings from the Dominion lawsuit included documents that showed Carlson and other hosts discussing concerns about the network’s reputation and casting doubt on the plausibility of Trump’s claims of election fraud.
But in the immediate weeks after Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 election, smaller, more conservative rivals to Fox such as Newsmax saw viewership rise as they questioned election results. Dominion alleged that Fox staff, ranging from Carlson and members of the newsroom to the board of directors, knew the statements about Dominion were false but continued to air them to avoid losing more viewers.
“For a while Fox News has been moving to become establishment media and Tucker Carlson’s removal is a big milestone in that effort,” Newsmax Chief Executive Christopher Ruddy said in a statement.
Dominion is also suing Newsmax, along with One America News, another smaller conservative media network, for making similar debunked claims as Fox about vote rigging, seeking US$1.6 billion in damages from each network.
Carlson’s last program was April 21, the company said in the statement. It said that “Fox News Tonight” will air live at 8pm starting today as an interim show helmed by rotating Fox News personalities until a new host is named.
After the announcement of Carlson’s departure from Fox News, a Trump spokesperson tweeted: “Fox News is controlled opposition.” Trump gave an interview to Carlson earlier this month that aired on Fox.
Republican US representative Lauren Boebert, who has been a staunch Trump supporter, was quick to back Carlson. “I stand with Tucker Carlson!” she tweeted shortly after the news broke.
Carlson joined Fox News as a contributor in 2009 and became a co-host of “Fox & Friends Weekend” in 2012. He began hosting his primetime show in November 2016. In 2021 Fox announced a multi-year deal with Carlson to provide content for its Fox Nation streaming service.