he sudden departure of Tucker Carlson from Fox News this week—the #1 most watched cable news host leaving the #1 most watched cable news network—has been both a celebratory moment and a head-scratcher for critics of the channel. Despite bringing in approximately three million nightly viewers, Carlson wasn’t even given the courtesy of a farewell broadcast.
To be clear, Carlson and Fox News parting ways is a huge net positive for the national discourse. Carlson wasn’t just a conservative: He frequently entertained white supremacist conspiracy theories like the so-called “Great Replacement” theory that posits that Jewish people and Democrats are intent on using immigrants and people of color to “replace” the white population. The perpetrator of the mass shooting in a Buffalo, New York grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood, who killed 10 people and injured three others, subscribed to this theory in his manifesto.
Carlson’s rhetoric has been roundly praised by the most vile elements of society, including neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer and white nationalist website VDare. Daily Stormer founder Andrew Anglin once referred to Tucker Carlson Tonight as “Daily Stormer: The show” and called Carlson “literally our greatest ally.” Former white nationalist Derek Black said Carlson was so popular with white nationalists specifically because he makes their arguments better than they do, and that “they’re trying to get some tips on how to advance it.” Despite virtually every major brand ceasing their advertising agreements on Carlson’s show, it continued to garner higher ratings than nearly every other news program on cable news. Tucker Carlson losing a national platform for broadcasting hate to millions is ultimately a very good thing for democracy.
However, it’s almost guaranteed Fox News will find a replacement who is just as bad if not worse than Carlson, just as Carlson replaced incendiary former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly. The network will continue charging forward on its current path if left alone. Luckily, the network is currently in a very vulnerable position that can be exploited by everyday, ordinary cable customers like us.
Carriage fees: Fox News’ bread and butter
While Fox News still makes a hefty amount from ad revenue, one lesser known source of its funds comes from cable companies themselves in what’s known as carriage fees. Even though the network only has a few million viewers, approximately 90 million cable customers fund Fox News with a few dollars from our monthly bill even if most of us never watch it. This amounts to roughly $1.8 billion per year for the network. For context, that’s more than twice the amount Fox News was recently forced to pay in the Dominion Voting Systems settlement (which the network can deduct from its 2023 taxes as a business expense).
Currently, Fox News is in the midst of negotiations with cable providers like Charter/Spectrum, Comcast/Xfinity, and Cox over new carriage fees. Nicholas Confessore of the New York Times recently suggested that Carlson’s departure may have been a gambit by the network to appease cable providers by offering up a sort of blood sacrifice to appease providers that may be waffling on whether or not to continue offering Fox News to customers in channel lineups.
“[T]hey often just deep-six somebody and see if that satisfies the desire for blood, so to speak. And then they move on, they test the waters,” Confessore said. “That’s how they got rid of Lou Dobbs. That’s how Trish Regan came off the air. And so I’m really curious to see if this is a measured approach to some larger problem or a specific response to something that Tucker did or said.”
It’s unclear as of yet whether or not Carlson’s exit will satisfy cable providers enough to pay Fox News’ carriage fees. However, a website called NoFoxFee.com, launched by media watchdog group Media Matters for America, makes it easy for customers to contact their cable provider either by phone or online to urge them to stop carrying Fox News. Cable providers are especially sensitive to customers’ voices during these negotiations, as they’re incentivized to keep customers happy in order to keep their business. Here’s what I wrote to Spectrum, my cable provider:
“Hi Spectrum, I’m a customer in Louisville, KY and just want to urge you to stop carrying Fox News, whose primetime hosts have been documented as having knowingly lied to their viewers, spreading disinformation, and betraying the public trust. I don’t want one cent of my cable bill paying for Fox’s carriage fees, and if you continue to carry them, I will take my business elsewhere.”
Should even just one cable provider decide to stop carrying the network, that would be a crushing blow to both Fox News’ financial stability and to its public credibility. Go to NoFoxFee.com and contact your provider. It could make a crucial difference in the ongoing negotiations.
Fox News’ still ongoing $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit
Even though the Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit disappointingly ended in a settlement for less than half of what Dominion asked for and spared Fox News the embarrassment of a public trial, voting software company Smartmatic is still in the midst of its $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit against the company. Smartmatic attorney J. Erik Connolly said in a public statement that his client was committed to both clearing its name and “holding Fox accountable for undermining democracy.”
It’s likely that Fox News will also move to settle with Smartmatic in order to avoid a potentially humiliating trial. However, following the news of the Dominion settlement, Connolly told CNN that his client is seeking to get more than Dominion, and that Smartmatic also wants an apology and even “a full retraction” from the network’s hosts, which is more than Dominion was able to get in its settlement agreement.
Fox News having its highly rated on-air personalities—and even possibly network owner Rupert Murdoch—take the stand in a public trial and admit to knowingly lying to their viewers, as leaked internal communications confirmed, would be a watershed moment for democracy. It would allow an opening for those of us who have lost friends and relatives to what journalist Luke O’Neil calls “Fox News brain cancer” to deprogram our loved ones and bring them back to reality. This sort of deprogramming may have saved Kansas City teen Ralph Yarl from being shot in the head by 84-year-old Andrew Lester, whose grandson said was “immersed in a 24-hour news cycle of fear and paranoia” that was constantly “blaring in his living room.”
Aside from the Smartmatic lawsuit, a separate lawsuit filed by former Fox News producer Abby Grossberg alleging that the network coerced her testimony in the Dominion lawsuit is still ongoing. Grossberg, who was head of booking for Tucker Carlson Tonight and who worked for Fox News host Maria Bartiromo prior to joining Carlson’s team, said Fox News lawyers pressured and intimidated her into not naming specific Fox News personalities in legal proceedings. Grossberg also alleged that she was repeatedly exposed to rampant sexism and misogyny while working on Carlson’s show, and is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
Fox News’ vulnerability in this current moment can’t be overstated. We have a finite window in which we can strike a potentially decisive blow to the network most chiefly responsible for inflaming the partisan divide and spreading disinformation to countless millions of people for decades. The end of Fox News would be a major victory for democracy both in the U.S. and around the world.