Why Tucker Carlson is too big for Fox News to cancel

  • Tucker Carlson went viral Monday night, telling his viewers to call the cops on people.
  • Carlson’s anti-mask segment is a new call to action for him, according to Fox observers.
  • He’s now “hoping that his audience doesn’t take him too seriously,” Erik Wemple told Insider.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Can a cable news host amass such a large influence among conservatives that he becomes too big to cancel?

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson has generated massive controversies before — losing as many as 70 advertisers in less than a year — but his Monday night segment on how parents forcing their children to wear masks in public should be reported for “child abuse” seemed to result in a new level of criticism for the host.

The network is betting big on Carlson and his crusade against “cancel culture” as a catchall term, adding two streaming shows to his portfolio this year as part of a new deal with the network where he reportedly makes $10 million per year.

His 8 p.m. show is the network’s most watched, and the host owns the record for the highest viewership of any cable news show in US history.

Carlson has weathered waves of ad boycotts and outrage from various constituencies, mainly over segments promoting — either implicitly or explicitly — white supremacist ideologies such as “white replacement theory,” which he embraced in plain terms on-air earlier this month.

What’s new this time is his call to action from his millions of viewers.

Too big to cancel 

According to the latest Fox News earning report, revenue from cable fees more than doubled that from advertising, which explains, in part at least, why the successive ad boycotts have not resulted in the network canning Carlson’s primetime show. 

Unlike advertising revenue, cable fees are more guaranteed and split among channels carried by providers like Comcast or Spectrum. Those proceeds for Fox come from cable subscribers regardless of whether they ever tune in.

While cable fees continue to fall as more Americans cut the cord, Carlson is at the center of the network’s streaming strategy with his new talk show “Tucker Carlson Today” and longform documentary series “Tucker Carlson Orignals,” both of which are behind a paywall on the FOX Nation app.

Perhaps most importantly, Carlson still has the support of the Murdoch family, which founded and controls Fox News.

Lachlan Murdoch, the son of Fox News founder Rupert Murdoch and CEO of the Fox Corporation, recently defended Carlson against the Anti Defamation League’s call for the network to fire the opinion host after the white replacement theory segment, arguing that Carlson was not endorsing the ideology because he dismissed it in an aside.

Carlson paid homage to the Murdochs when he interviewed Piers Morgan on “Tucker Carlson Today.”

“The only reason we are having this conversation is because the Murdoch family, which controls Fox, is standing up in the face of the mob, and they haven’t bowed,” Carlson said. “I mean that’s literally the only reason that I still have my job, and we’re having this conversation.”

Although Carlson has been able to avoid any significant consequences, those below him have not enjoyed the same immunity.

In July 2020, Carlson’s top writer, Blake Neff, resigned after CNN reported that he posted racist and sexist remarks anonymously on an online forum. One of Neff’s less vulgar threads was titled “Urban business idea: He Didn’t Do Muffin!”

Several of Neff’s posts on white supremacy echoed Carlson’s monologues verbatim, particularly around the notion of “when the mob comes for you.”

Neff also posted “Easter eggs” on the forum, teasing insights into Carlson’s show in a venue where the Fox host had plenty of fans.

When Insider reached out to Fox News for comment, a network spokesperson would not say whether Carlson cleared any of the language in the mask segment with the network’s legal team, nor would they confirm who his current lead writer is or whether he even has one now.

From ‘escalation in nightly rhetoric’ to ‘active measures’

“This particular entreaty – to call [child protective service] organizations when people spot kids wearing masks – appears to be something of an escalation in his nightly rhetoric,” Erik Wemple, a longtime Fox observer and columnist for the Washington Post, told Insider in an email.

“In the past, Carlson has been generous with emotional directives – telling people they should be afraid, they should be mad, they should be outraged about this-or-that development in the public sphere,” Wemple continued. “But specific calls to ring up the authorities for things that are clearly legal? I don’t recall a lot of that activity.”

Fox News lawyers have previously argued that no “reasonable viewer” would ever take Carlson seriously because he is offering entertainment by delivering opinions “using hyperbole for effect.”

While that argument was delivered in a courtroom during a defamation case, the practical implications of Carlson telling three to four million live viewers to go call the cops on people are serious, according to Asha Rangappa, a Yale Law School lecturer and former dean.

“In this case, what he is trying to do — we’ve already seen how he and others have conditioned people to cognitively see mask wearing, vaccines, as dangerous, and to impact their own behavior by not doing those things — but what he’s now doing is channeling his propaganda to condition them to engage in anti-social behavior against their own neighbors, their fellow citizens, their kids’ schools, he mentions that,” Rangappa said on CNN Tuesday afternoon.

“And I think that this should be very troubling,” she continued. “When foreign countries do it to us, we call it ‘active measures.'”

No matter the initial reactions to all of his past controversies, Carlson has been able to distance himself from any real world consequences tied to his show, even as advertisers head for the exits.

For Wemple, the assumption that “Tucker Carlson Tonight” viewers don’t take him seriously will be tested in this instance.

“At this point, Carlson is doubtless hoping that his audience doesn’t take him too seriously,” Wemple said. “We’ll see.”

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