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Why Fox News Fired Tucker
Accountability and autocrats in this propaganda era
Here’s an extra edition of my newsletter, tracking the breaking news that stunned so many today…
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Fox News fired its most-watched prime time host today — news breaking this morning, and upending the media, political and legal worlds.
Carlson has been a key driver of a wider problem at Fox News and across part of conservative politics — an embrace of lies and propaganda as a habitual, normalized driver of an authoritarian political agenda.
So this is as much about power and sedition as it is about “media” or ratings.
Indeed, legally, Carlson was not the main target or defendant in the defamation case that cost Fox over $700 million. He is the most influential defender of the insurrection in public life. Carlson is a “truther” about the greatest domestic, traitorous, convicted sedition in the modern era. (He falsely told his audience the Jan. 6 attack was “definitely not a violent terrorist attack, it wasn't an insurrection.”)
Make them pay
Rupert Murdoch personally oversaw Carlson’s firing, the LA Times reported today, citing the false Jan. 6 coverage and ongoing legal pressure.
Fox’s misleading and false coverage have proven extremely expensive.
While some initially downplayed Fox’s recent surrender in the Dominion defamation case — even though it literally broke the record for the highest defamation penalty against a major media company — it was clear that such a large cost would hit Fox’s bottom line.
That radically upends the company’s corporate “math.”
I pointed this out in my newsletter about that settlement last week:
The penalty wipes out over 15% of the company's annual profits.
As a business matter, the Trump-allied lies about the 2020 election, which were peddled primarily from Nov. 2020 to Jan. 2021 and fueled the insurrection, have now cost the company far more than it ever “made” the company (in ratings and related profits).
That’s the kind of math that Murdoch, and his corporate board, understand…
Carlson signed off Friday’s show telling viewers he’d be back today. He was not. This is a remarkably swift application of that math.
It also sends the strongest possible message to everyone left at Fox News, if a host as popular as Carlson can’t “get away” with this, no one can — in this new, post-Dominion era.
If Murdoch and company leadership decided to pay and pivot — to wipe out months of profits with one settlement, and then wipe out more revenue with one firing, then they are clearly executing a broader strategy.
None of that means they “changed” their minds. It suggests they are changing the incentives, punishments and direction of their media company. That is a reaction to pressure and accountability in court.
We may be witnessing the redrawing of the lines in real time.
That is rare — especially in First Amendment law, where defamation cases are notoriously hard to win, for good reason. (As I’ve repeated on air, most journalists, including very conservative ones, do nothing like the lying Fox platformed around Jan. 6.)
As a broader precedent, the huge financial penalty and swift firing shows the kind of lies and claims that will be punished today. That is not only relevant to Fox and Carlson, but to other people in media. Note that Dominion’s other, outstanding defamation cases include people who use (and allegedly abuse) the airwaves — but who are not journalists in the first place, like Trump lawyers Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani.
The Good News
This is much larger than one anchor, or even one case. But the scale and speed of these changes reinforce something that many enemies of democracy want you to forget — the justice system can still work, lies can have consequences and the truth remains pretty powerful — which is precisely why autocrats and coup-planners are so afraid of it.
P.S. Here’s my other recent piece on this story:
P.P.S: Here’s our MSNBC coverage of this story from tonight, and our special report on the new song “Mr. Police”: