There’s little hope that Fox News will change after Tucker Carlson’s ouster

Rupert Murdoch has discarded hosts before and kept right on going, S.E. Cupp writes.

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The news ticker at Fox News headquarters scrolls headlines before Special Counsel Robert Mueller makes a statement about the Russia investigation, May 2019 in New York City.

The news ticker at Fox News headquarters scrolls headlines in May 2019 in New York City.

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“[W]ill a network that has decided to recklessly traffic in and promote lies, junk science and unfounded conspiracy theories, and purposefully omit and distort the truth to keep its viewers rabidly tuned in, feel at all chastened by what can only be described as an unequivocal and unprecedented smackdown?”

That is the question I posed to readers of this column exactly one week ago, in the wake of a stunning $787.5 million settlement between Dominion Voting Systems and Fox News.

The lawsuit exposed an embarrassing and damaging behind-the-scenes look at the open disdain Fox executives and on-air talent had for former President Donald Trump, his election lie surrogates and even their own viewers, all while helping Trump spread his false narratives about the 2020 election and the Jan. 6 insurrection that followed.

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But, I argued, the lies and conspiracies were just too good for Fox to pass up. Their audience demanded them, and even with this rebuke it was unlikely Fox would change its business model, especially with another election on the horizon and Trump aiming to be on the ballot again.

It remains to be seen whether Fox will taper its amplification of the election lie and other sordid fake news, but one thing is clear: No one there is too big to fail.

The bombshell news that Fox had fired its top-rated prime time star Tucker Carlson sent shockwaves through the corridors of media and politics.

Fresh reporting is slowly revealing the possible reasons why — after all this time and so many controversies — Fox had finally had enough of Carlson’s antics.

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There were allegations of (and a pending lawsuit over) a sexist, misogynistic working environment.

There are reports Carlson was trash-talking Fox execs and leaking negative stories about them to other media outlets, as well as text messages revealed in the Dominion suit in which Carlson bad-mouths other reporters and anchors.

Fox was also allegedly growing increasingly annoyed by his coverage of the Jan. 6 insurrection. Carlson not only offered up baseless conspiracy theories about that day, he broadcast heavily-edited footage that left out all the violence to support his nonsensical assertion the rioters were merely there sightseeing. The family of fallen Police Officer Brian Sicknick released a scathing statement asking Fox and Carlson to stop lying about his death and the details of that day.

Most recently, Carlson was pushing the unfounded notion that Ray Epps, who attended the rally but didn’t enter the Capitol, was an FBI plant.

There are countless other controversies Fox endured in the Tucker Carlson era, from an exodus of advertisers over his white replacement theory to his near-constant propping up of dictators like Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad and Hungary’s Viktor Orban.

But none of this was a bridge too far … until it apparently was.

No one’s bigger than the Fox brand

One thing Fox News and anyone who’s ever worked there knows about its viewers is they are loyal to the brand, not the individual personalities — and no one, not even Carson, is bigger than the brand.

Remember Bill O’Reilly? He was a mega-star at Fox for years, practically synonymous with the network, until he was fired in 2017 for allegations of sexual harassment. Of course, Fox and O’Reilly had settled five other lawsuits totaling $13 million dating back to 2002, so the news giant was fine with that … until it wasn’t.

Other stars like Glenn Beck and Megyn Kelly left under far less sordid circumstances, with Beck leaving to start his own network and Kelly heading to a short-lived stint at NBC. But beloved as they were at Fox, viewers didn’t follow them out, and Fox has remained atop the ratings for more than two decades.

Other departures, from Greta Van Susteren to Shepard Smith — and even Fox’s own founding CEO Roger Ailes — did little to ding the network’s stronghold on its viewers. They will watch — and love — virtually anyone Fox puts in a broadcast chair.

That’s good news for Fox, not so good for Carlson, who is packing up and moving on from his third cable news network in 23 years.

Fox’s willingness to swap out talent — even talent as big as Carlson — when the cons of keeping them outweigh the pros is perhaps a cautionary tale to other ambitious would-be stars there. No one is untouchable.

However, that interchangeability is also cause for skepticism that much will change with Carlson’s ousting. From workplace scandals and sexism, to ugly lawsuits, to a history of trafficking in lies and conspiracies, Fox isn’t new to these controversies.

And it’s hardly a stretch to imagine someone like Jesse Watters quickly taking up Carlson’s mantle and continuing his legacy there. That is, until the next shiny object comes along.

S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN.

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