Fox News might be done with Tucker Carlson, but Tucker Carlson is surely not done with us.
After this year’s unspoken news-cycle rule that any big media event must occur within 48 hours of a new episode of HBO’s Succession – see the split between Rupert Murdoch and his almost-wife Ann Lesley Smith, or the settlement between Fox News and Dominion Voting Systems; really anything involving Murdoch, I guess – Fox News revealed Monday that it has “agreed to part ways” with Carlson, its marquee host.
“We thank him for his service to the network as a host and prior to that as a contributor,” Fox News said in a press release that was as cold as one of Kendall Roy’s ice-water baths.
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While the official note made no mention of the Dominion lawsuit or Tucker Carlson Tonight’s contribution to it, the message from Murdoch was obvious: Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me … um … I’ve lost count. But shame on you, Tucker!
The easiest way to describe Carlson is as “controversial.” As the Fox News heir to the ratings kingdom of Rush Limbaugh, Carlson was less a journalist than a headline-generating device, a kind of perpetual prime time meme machine that existed almost solely to fire up those on the furthest right of the political spectrum, and enrage those on the left.
But diminishing Carlson’s Fox News legacy to merely “controversial” is offering a disservice to the historical record. He was not so much a product of political and cultural malfeasance as one of its chief purveyors. He was a pox on the many systems that we all too often take for granted, and while it might seem easy, even pleasurable, to try to forget him, it will be immensely difficult to rid his poisonous influence off the Western psyche.
Also difficult: trying to highlight all the many lowlights from Carlson’s Fox News career, a seven-year stretch that has effectively helped turn a country against itself. The embarrassing episodes that immediately come to mind read like a dossier on American dysfunction.
There he was on-air, pushing the hideously racist “replacement theory” that Democrats are “trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World.” And there he was ranting about how immigrants would make the United States “poorer and dirtier.” There was much talk about the U.S. government funding “biolabs” in Ukraine, in what could be viewed as a bid to help legitimize Russia’s invasion.
Oh, and then there was the whole “stolen” election discourse that sparked the defamation suit from Dominion against Fox News in the first place, and whose flames were fanned on Carlson’s show to such an incendiary degree that you could almost see the host break out into an allegorical sweat night after night.
Carlson was as fond of name-calling (Congressman Adam Schiff is “clearly, demonstrably mentally ill”; journalist Lauren Duca is “vapid” and “nasty”) as he was of stoking Donald Trump’s ego. If the MAGA era was a waking nightmare whose effects are still being felt in every corner of Western culture – and not just in the U.S., as certain Canadian politicians’ tactics can currently attest – then there is a good argument to be made that Carlson was the lucid-dream fuel: toxic, pervasive and impossible to shake off.
On the news of Carlson and Fox’s split, there was no immediate word on what the man might do next, or rather which news outlet might have low enough standards to employ him. And while it would be comforting to think that this moment marks a turning point – that broadcast journalism can now simply radiate away whatever malignancy the man’s presence has caused on the profession – the current media landscape suggests that there is still a lot lower that he, and we, can all go.
Let’s see what happens, for instance, with Carlson’s coming “documentary” O, Canada, which seems to propose that the U.S. should invade Canada, Iraq-style.
But until the next time that he is inevitably, mercifully fired, though, let’s all agree to try our best to ignore the white noise of Tucker Carlson.