Breitbart | by Matthew Boyle | April 27, 2023
Fox News is trying to sideline former Tucker Carlson Tonight host Tucker Carlson through the 2024 election, multiple sources familiar with the matter told Breitbart News.
Carlson’s current contract runs through December 2024, and as of now three sources familiar with the matter told Breitbart News that executives at the network are trying to keep Carlson on contract and not release him until after the 2024 election. The shocking decision to cancel Carlson’s top-rated weeknight program came just days after the network shut down its top-rated weekend program with host Dan Bongino. What follows here is an insider account from people actually in the know after Breitbart News spent the past several days interviewing key players in the personnel matters at Fox News, asking what really happened.
Two things are clear from speaking to people who actually know what’s happening on the inside: First, the official narrative from the network is untrue. Second, and perhaps more importantly, many of the leaks and speculation that have poured out in the past couple days since the bombshell news of Carlson’s show getting canceled was announced are also simply untrue.
Nobody would speak on the record, for a number of reasons. First off, Fox News and the broader Murdoch empire are known for their ruthlessness against anyone who speaks the truth about what is actually happening there. Network spokeswoman Irena Briganti is believed to use outlets also owned by the Murdochs like the New York Post and Wall Street Journal to plant pieces that reflect poorly on foes of News Corporation.
Secondly, both Carlson and Bongino are technically still under contract by the network. Bongino’s contract runs through the end of April and Carlson’s through the 2024 general election. Both are, sources say, trying to negotiate exit packages—and even after they formally have those agreements in place, there will be non-disparagement clauses that prevent them from ever speaking the truth about this.
In response to requests for comment on this story, Fox News spokespersons just reissued to Breitbart News the same public statements that the network issued when announcing Carlson’s and Bongino’s departures.
“FOX News Media and Tucker Carlson have agreed to part ways,” the Fox News statement on Carlson reads. We thank him for his service to the network as a host and prior to that as a contributor.”
“We thank Dan for his contributions and wish him success in his future endeavors,” the Fox News statement on Bongino reads.
The brazen power play by the Murdoch family—at the helm of which is elderly patriarch Rupert Murdoch, but rising in power are his sons Lachlan and James Murdoch—is like a scene out of the hit HBO show Succession.
They wiped out their biggest shows both on weekends and on weekdays to show the rest of the staff who’s the real boss, but in effect insiders say they have created a crisis that is quickly burgeoning out of control. In Succession, an aging media mogul, Logan Roy, navigates major business decisions for his sprawling empire while his children aggressively use whatever leverage they have to manipulate goings-on to advance their own positions. While Rupert Murdoch is said to hate the show, its plot is actually very close to what is happening in real life at Fox Corporation—Fox News’s parent company—as the adult children of Rupert Murdoch make moves in their bid to succeed their father.
“As of right now, the plan remains the same: pay out Carlson’s contract and keep him on the sidelines through the 2024 elections,” one source close to Fox News senior executives told Breitbart News. “They knew they would take a beating for this, but everyone — and I mean everyone — is pretty rattled. They weren’t expecting the blowback to be this bad. Hate to say it, but it’s clear that Rupert has lost a step or two.”
That is objectively true: The “blowback” has been severe this week, as evidenced by a steep drop in Fox News ratings in the 8:00 p.m. ET hour day over day:
In fact, replacement host Brian Kilmeade lost to MSNBC in all ratings–and lost to CNN and MSNBC in the key demographic–on Wednesday night.
Multiple other sources told Breitbart News this detail about Carlson’s contract. “He’s still not fired, you know that right?” another Fox News source said about Carlson. “His contract is still ongoing.”
A third source close to Carlson also said it, noting that the Murdochs may end up trying to hold Carlson in his contract through the next presidential election to effectively silence him and keep him from becoming serious competition to them, whatever he ends up doing.
Former Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly also reported that detail on her show on Thursday, saying that Carlson and Fox News are negotiating his exit and that while his show is canceled and he has been kicked out of his company email address, his contract is still in effect, which keeps him from doing something else.
The Murdoch family has owned Fox News since its inception, and with it they wield immeasurable power over the American populace. They technically control what shows up in news programming on the television screens of millions of Americans, but whether and when they exercise that control has varied over their decades of running it. Much like the Roy family in Succession, there are lots of times when the Murdochs have seemed either oblivious or indifferent—or both—to what exactly is appearing on their network. But there are occasions throughout its history when something rises to the level, on a business decision level, where they have felt the need to intervene and change things. For instance, during the 2016 presidential election, they ousted longtime and founding network head Roger Ailes, who a short time later passed away—and right now, they are stepping in to wipe out two major shows, thereby sending a message to everyone else that they are in fact the bosses.
Since Ailes’ ouster, though, the Murdochs have been on a long stream of indifference, mostly, at Fox News. Tucker Carlson Tonight first went on the air in November 2016, and the show aired until this week at 8:00 p.m. every weeknight. Carlson regularly was edgy in his content, questioning establishment Republicans—the Murdochs’ friends in the donor class in other words—and hammering things like a desire by some for endless war.
The tradeoff for the Murdochs was, despite the disruption that Carlson brought to their social circles, he was a ratings machine and represented in the truest possible way a ratings boomtown for the network. Carlson’s first show was less than a week after Donald Trump’s shocking victory in the 2016 presidential election, and having someone more ideological aligned with Trump in primetime—though Carlson did regularly disagree with Trump even though they shared skepticisms of many powers-that-be—helped the network that had tried just a year earlier to destroy Trump’s 2016 campaign rehabilitate its image with the right.
If the 2016 election was one “inflection point” for Fox News, as one insider told Breitbart News, the 2020 election was another one. Fox’s decision to call Arizona for now-President Joe Biden days ahead of everyone else really infuriated the “Make America Great Again,” or MAGA, base and Fox News was reeling again and needed an intervention to stop the bleeding among its audience.
“Post-2020, when Fox was really hurting, there was sort of a shift to the right by Fox to cover their flank,” one former Fox News staffer told Breitbart News. “It’s why they brought in Bongino. They gave Jesse 7:00 p.m. They got Tucker to do the Fox Nation shows. They replaced Shannon Bream’s 11:00 p.m. show with Greg Gutfeld’s show. They generally became more conservative as a network.”
In so doing, with the hard push to the right that began when Trump won in 2016 and essentially accelerated post-2020 because of network moves to undercut him when Biden won, there was what amounted to a Wild West-like environment at Fox News where management—in other words, the Murdochs and their agents—receded and the hosts and talent did what they wanted.
“In [Carlson’s] hour he did whatever he wanted to do in that hour,” one network insider told Breitbart News. “That made it unique and made it poignant television because you didn’t know what topic would be discussed and how it would be discussed.”
But everything changed with the Dominion settlement. When Fox News settled for nearly $800 million with the company, the staggering sum of the settlement—and the amount of other suits barreling down the pike against Fox News from Smartmatic and from former producer Abby Grossberg—the Murdochs were rattled, per these network sources. Multiple sources familiar with the matter told Breitbart News that Carlson never actually met Grossberg in person during her months as a producer for his show, something others have reported already.
Several sources familiar with the matter said that they quickly moved to reestablish control over their media empire and by ousting Bongino and Carlson they sent a message internally to everyone else that they best remember who’s in charge.
“It’s like when in your first day in prison you find the biggest, baddest, meanest dude in the yard and beat the living shit out of him,” another network insider told Breitbart News. “From that day forward, everyone knows not to fuck with you. That’s what the Murdochs just did by getting rid of Tucker and Dan—anyone who would have challenged their vision for the direction of this company has learned that if you f@%* around you will find out something not so good for yourself.”
Another Fox News source confirmed this sentiment, noting that even though Carlson is not to blame for the issues that led to the settlement—they said others were, mostly, responsible for it—the message is clear. “At the core of that is hosts doing what they want without much oversight,” this source said. “That sort of happened in the post-Ailes area. People forget that Fox used to be much more centrist because it used to be top-down.”
“This change at Fox makes it more fundamentally top-down driven,” this person added. “Only recently did Fox try and reflect grassroots conservatism more. I think we’re going to see a reversion to the Fox of the past, where it’s fewer segments attacking Mitch McConnell and generally dumbed down.”
What’s truly interesting is just how much blowback Fox is getting from its audience for canceling Carlson’s and Bongino’s shows—something that the brass, including the Murdochs, seem to not have calculated clearly ahead of time. In fact, the ratings crashed in primetime this week and Carlson’s own video released on Twitter on Wednesday evening in its first hour post-publication got more views online than the network’s 8:00 p.m. hour—his old time slot—got in total ratings. For now, the Murdochs think they are above it all and that this too shall pass.
“As the Dominion thing got uglier, and particularly the Grossberg thing, which is getting uglier by the minute, the Murdochs just want a clean slate,” a fourth network insider told Breitbart News. “The election is coming up next year, and they think they’re going to get their viewers back anyway because there’s nowhere else to go.”
Another interesting detail about all of this is how quickly the Murdochs shifted gears. While Bongino has been classy in his public comments about everything—his Rumble video announcing the end of his time at Fox News got well over a million views—the truth of the matter is far more complicated and as one person said “bizarre.”
A source intricately familiar with Bongino’s contract negotiations told Breitbart News that for months Fox News tried to get him to re-up his current deal. Negotiations were failing for a long time because Bongino did not like doing the show on Saturdays, and did not like working six days a week. While Bongino had his battles with Fox News management over a number of things—them editing his interview with Trump, for instance, was a sore spot—he got along well with everyone there and just was not sure he wanted to take Fox News up on the offer to renew the show due to the scheduling problems.
Negotiations were ongoing for a while, and Fox News were the ones pursuing Bongino, this source said: “There was a lot of back and forth and there was never a hint they didn’t want to renew the show, ever.”
“As a matter of fact, they made multiple repeated offers to renew the show—it was never in question,” the source added.
So, what’s mind-boggling to network insiders is that Bongino appeared to come to an agreement weeks ago on a renewal. “There’s not two versions of this—this is the only version,” the source with intricate knowledge of Bongino’s discussions with Fox News added. “This is what happened.”
“He honestly did it because he just really felt bad,” this source said. “He’s been there for years and he’s got friends there.”
Then Fox News settled with Dominion—and promptly, management at the network called Bongino saying they “changed their minds—they’re not interested.”
Bongino went on his own show on Rumble the next day and announced his departure from Fox—Fox had wanted him to go on air and do one last show, which he did not want to do and said he would just announce it on his show. “Fox was a little worried he was going to flame them,” this source said, but Bongino did not—and instead aired a very classy announcement telling his fans his show was ending and publicly downplaying any disagreements with the network.
A few days after that, on Monday morning of this week, Fox News cut Carlson and the picture came much more into focus as to what exactly was going on.
Bongino and Carlson, one source said, “were considered the two most likely to say ‘fuck you’ to management,” a network insider said, adding that Bongino “gave zero fucks, and Tucker gave even less fucks.”
One network source told Breitbart News that the Bongino and Carlson ousters “are so obviously tied together that anyone can see it clearly.”
“After the Dominion settlement, there was clearly a meeting at the network—I don’t know if it was a board meeting or just the Murdochs, but someone made a decision—and said these two are the biggest threats to the network and they don’t listen to anyone,” the source said. “Neither one of them were controllable, and they were just doing their own thing. They were developing such a profile that it became problems for them. They just decided on Wednesday to cut bait.”
Every network source that Breitbart News spoke to made clear they do not think this is an effort by Fox News management or the Murdoch family to try to stop Trump in the 2024 GOP primary. They also downplayed the idea, floated by some like Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman, that this had to do with Carlson’s Christianity.
“That’s just fabricated and totally made up,” one source said. “I don’t think it’s about MAGA stuff either.”
“It’s not about religion. It’s not about the MAGA stuff,” that source added. “It’s that the two of them did not listen to anybody. They did their own thing and their own shit, and Fox has a brand. The brand is ‘You will rep our company, shut the fuck up, and do what we tell you.’ That’s why they love Kilmeade and these people because that’s what they do.”
While the Murdochs clearly do not like Trump, a second person added, Trump’s strong performance in the polls for now means going against him would be akin to rocking the boat—and basically what the Carlson and Bongino moves signal is a move by the Murdochs away from anything edgy, and that includes slamming the brakes on any efforts to try to significantly shake up the 2024 GOP primary.
“I think this has less to do with Trump and DeSantis and more to do with people like Mitch McConnell and John Thune,” this source said. “The change in the programming will be that if there’s some sort of controversial bill moving on Capitol Hill, Tucker would often use his show to try to kill it. That sort of stuff won’t be going on anymore. I just think the network and the programming will be dumber, rah rah Republicans. Milquetoast content. It’s a reversion to what Fox was. The Tucker era at Fox was a deviation from the norm at Fox.”