He’s known as a difficult-to-handle showboater who lies to everybody’s faces, an ambitious little turd who fancies himself kingmaker to new European fascist regimes and Judge of Candy Mascot Sexiness. If he is not on Fox News, he has no power, and if he has no power, then it’s damn unclear why any of the other Republican candidates would want to get within a mile of him, much less risk their campaigns on him. Carlson’s closer to Trump than anyone else, and you’d have to be a special kind of dull not to worry that a debate he hosts would be filled with questions that demand Republican candidates take far-far-right positions—in other words, just a front for Carlson’s own white nationalist-infused extremist agenda.
If Carlson didn’t have a reputation for being himself, he could be in a position to call in a few favors. But a bully doesn’t get to call in favors after the bully has had both arms lopped off at the shoulders. Without a show on Fox, Carlson’s only as relevant as Glenn Beck, or Bill O’Reilly, or any of the other has-beens who fled or were kicked from the network to find that only a small fraction of their former audiences followed them out the door.
That “plan” is probably dead in the water. So the larger question for Carlson is what to do next. He appears to have ruled out “shut up, just shut up for God’s sake and enjoy your piles of money,” and he appears to be quite certain, in fact, that if his choice is between getting a new pile of money and shutting the hell up, he’ll forgo the money.
He doesn’t want to have to choose, though, which leads to the next new leak from the Tucker camp. “Sources close to” Carlson have now fed Axios a claim that he is “preparing to unleash allies to attack Fox News in an attempt to bully the network into” letting him work for or create a competing company—despite the $20 million per year Fox contract that forbids it. He needs that contract to go away if he’s going to have any influence whatsoever in the 2024 election race.
So here come the threats: Axios says Carlson “knows where a lot of bodies are buried, and is ready to start drawing a map,” according to a “Carlson source who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.”
The first thing you need to keep in mind here is that when a reporter relays information from “a source close to” someone important, we’re probably looking at a shopped story—one the source was explicitly asked to give to the media. When they say “who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly,” that just means the source doesn’t want their own name attached. And yes, “source close to [newsmaker]” can often just mean “[newsmaker]” themselves.
It’s another dodgy little game from Tucker, whose entire career has been based on a willingness to be quite dishonest for the purposes of self-promotion. He’s warning that he will “unleash allies” to talk about all the internal dirt Fox News has tried to keep buried; because his contract forbids him from saying it aloud himself, he’s handing off the dirt to “allies” and claiming that doesn’t count as breach of contract.
“His team is preparing for war,” says a “friend” who talked to Axios. Pfft.
It’s probably not best to get too excited about this. It’s true that he might have a lot of dirt on Fox News, but that’s only because Tucker Carlson was the dirt at Fox News. Media Matters for America has been reporting on a trove of behind-the-scenes videos in which Carlson is, yes, extremely damn gross; you would think a lifetime of being in front of cameras would be enough to stop him from making continued sexual references when the big camera light is shining bright in his direction, but no. One can only imagine what he might have said when the lights turned off again.
What Carlson probably means by “dirt” is not all the lawsuit-provoking behavior that came from his own show and staff. It’s probably details about petty conflicts that might show that actually, Fox News executives think their viewers are complete rubes—and that is not news. Tucker might mean to strip viewers from the network by revealing that the Murdoch kin and empire aren’t all that invested in toppling democracy to create new European ethnostates, for example, or in pardoning Jan. 6 insurrectionists, or in closing the borders. Instead, it’s all a big game intended to attract the most gullible conservatives so advertisers can hoover up their money.
We’ve already established, though, that Fox News viewers don’t care. The network has so far been injured not at all by the revelation that the Fox News opinion lineup was knowingly lying through their teeth about election fraud; Fox executives believed that lying to their audience about it would get them more viewership than telling the truth, and they were plainly right. There’s nothing Tucker Carlson can accuse Fox News of that will hurt them in the slightest, because the Fox News audience does not care. Tucker knows that better than everyone still at the network.
It’s clear Tucker is lashing out. In the Post story leaking his aspirations to hold his own primary debate—presumably one with blackjack and carnival rides and neo-Nazi talking points—it’s noted that Newsmax head Christopher Ruddy has already “approached” Tucker with a willingness to “rebrand” all of Newsmax into a Tucker Carlson network. That might make Tucker feel very important indeed. But Newsmax ain’t Fox News, and Tucker Carlson on Newsmax will have little more reach than Bill O’Reilly or Glenn Beck were able to manage after their own firings.
When was the last time you heard about Bill O’Reilly or Glenn Beck?
Tucker Carlson is a more hated and less trusted figure among Republican power-brokers than either of those two names. He bullied a great many media and political figures alike, so the only favors he will be able to call in at this point are from people like Ruddy: people so far down the ladder that they’re willing to grovel even to infamous asshole Tucker Carlson, if it’ll mean five more bucks in their pockets. Tucker’s in for some hard times ahead.
He could save himself the trouble, of course, and live the rest of his life on the luxury that a half-lifetime of television appearances has been able to provide. He could just shut up, for God’s sake, and leave America be. But Tucker Carlson is not made for that. He was willing to rebrand himself from a bowtie-wearing preppy to a neo-Nazi-adjacent extremist solely for the sake of getting himself on television; not being an important shouter is, for him, the worst of all possible fates. He’s going to kick and scream and pout and tell tales and demand special treatment and God help his poor family; he’ll probably prop them up as an audience in the dining room, ranting on and on and only allowing them to eat between “commercial breaks.”
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Dimitri of WarTranslated has been doing the essential work of translating hours of Russian and Ukrainian video and audio during the invasion of Ukraine. He joins Markos and Kerry from London to talk about how he began this work by sifting through various sources. He is one of the only people translating information for English-speaking audiences. Dimitri’s followed the war since the beginning and has watched the evolution of the language and dispatches as the war has progressed.