Why Did Tucker Carlson Get Fired?

I suspect that Tucker was fired for the same reason that millions of people get fired — they irritated their boss.

If your boss doesn’t like you, it doesn’t matter how good you are at your job. You’re a dead man walking.

Brian Stelter’s book, Network of Lies: The Epic Saga of Fox News, Donald Trump, and the Battle for American Democracy, will be released Nov. 14. Vanity Fair published an excerpt Oct. 31:

When Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott called Tucker Carlson around 11:15 a.m. on Monday, April 24, and said, “We’re taking you off the air,” she didn’t give him a reason. To Carlson, cancellation was unthinkable. He was the highest-rated host across all of cable news—and he was suddenly sentenced to execution. It was like somebody canceling Taylor Swift mid-tour or removing Stranger Things from Netflix before anyone could stream the ending. It made no sense…

Though Carlson would later suggest his ouster was a “condition” of the Dominion suit, there’s no evidence to support that theory, and both parties deny it. According to my reporting, many factors contributed to the defenestration of Carlson, which ranks among the biggest bombshells in cable news history, not only because of what his exit meant for Fox, but also what it meant for the Republican Party…

Carlson was believed to have Trump-like hypnotic power over the GOP base. He was believed to be irreplaceable. But that impression was, in large part, a creation of Carlson’s. In truth, Carlson had alienated so many people, instigated so many internal and external scandals, fanned so many flames of ugliness, that his firing was inevitable. After all, he’d been fired from CNN and MSNBC earlier in his career. That’s why, at Fox, he puffed out his chest and pretended to be immune to attack. His long relationship with career vulnerability caused him to foster an image of untouchability. And it worked so well that even now, more than six months after his exit, people are wondering why it happened…

But some of Carlson’s staffers were not entirely shocked. They knew they pushed the envelope far past the point of a paper cut. “It was always going to end badly,” one Carlson producer said. “We knew we were burning too bright.” The royal we was something Carlson always used. He portrayed his production team—and only his team—as a force for good in the battle against the evils he presumed nightly. His entire show was about us versus them, and this approach extended to the rest of Fox, where Tucker Carlson Tonight had the appearance of a rogue unit. According to a Grossberg lawsuit, Carlson’s “bro-fest” environment was antagonistic toward other Fox shows…

I found that Carlson’s producers and writers were more loyal to him than to Fox as a network. They were a saboteur squad of true believers, regarding the mother ship as almost enemy territory, since as a Fortune 500 company, Fox Corp had policies in place promoting diversity and supporting transgender employees—the very types of things Carlson railed against on air. Of course, Carlson always genuflected to Fox in public, praising the network for letting him “say what we think is true.” But his expressions of gratitude to Fox didn’t fool management because they knew how he acted in private. Six years in prime time had reshaped Carlson, darkened his heart, driven him to the edge. He berated Fox News executives in New York. He belittled people (like me) who scrutinized him. In the view of some of his own colleagues, he became unglued…

While at Fox, Carlson always specified that he worked for the Murdochs, which was a way to elevate his standing and diminish what the org chart said: that his opinion show, like all the others, reported through executive vice president Meade Cooper to Scott, who was a rare female CEO in the male-dominated TV business. According to sources on the staff, Carlson shit-talked both women as well as his number one enemy within Fox News, the entrenched public relations boss Irena Briganti, whom he called a cunt….

Carlson’s internal critics, of whom there were many, viewed his treatment of the female executives as part and parcel with the misogyny displayed on his show. More than a dozen current and former Fox staffers brought this problem up to me, unprompted. “Tucker is very titillated by misogyny,” a host said. Some of the staffers theorized that his mother’s mistreatment—she abandoned the family when Carlson was six—engendered a negativity toward women….

Most Fox hosts didn’t know Lachlan personally, but Carlson did, and he made sure everyone else knew he did…

The Fox board retained Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, a notoriously powerful white-shoe law firm, to investigate Carlson and any other malign messages that might exist. “There were major concerns about liability,” an executive told me. Within a week, Carlson was out…

Yes, he was in the sights of the Fox board. Yes, he was under scrutiny for his “cunt” texts. Yes, his “white men fight” message made matters worse. Yes, his show’s climate was so hostile that Grossberg had standing to sue. But there was so much more:

Carlson repulsed large swaths of the company he worked for.
He created internal strife with his conspiratorial commentaries.
He exposed Fox to defamation suits from the likes of Ray Epps.
He offended key executives and seemed to take delight in doing so, to the point that managers believed he broke rules and norms just to show he could.
He strained friendships, as Rupert’s and Lachlan’s chums repeatedly complained to them about his poisonous rhetoric.
He triggered so many ad boycotts and turned off so many advertisers that his time slot was far less profitable for Fox than it should have been.
And he committed the cardinal Fox sin of acting like he was bigger than the network he was on.

It was a tale as old as TV. Stardom is a potent and often destructive drug. Icarus flew too close to the sun; he got his wings melted. Carlson flapped away, higher and higher, until one day the Murdochs just couldn’t tolerate his flapping anymore. “He got too big for his boots,” Rupert told at least one confidant.

I was just reading this 2005 classic, Corporate Confidential: 50 Secrets Your Company Doesn’t Want You to Know – and What to Do About Them, and much of its analysis applies to people like Carlson:

* Beware that you always stay on the correct side of these true agendas:
MOTIVATION 1 : Protection
If a company feels you are opening them up to any severe liability or inconvenience (even if it is justified), many will remove you as quickly as possible. When you put your own needs ahead of a company’s protection, you are red flagging yourself as someone who is not a team player and cannot be trusted. In today’s litigious society, many companies value protection above all else. Threatening a company’s sense of protection is the number one cause of job loss today.
MOTIVATION 3 : Open support
If your company feels, for whatever reason, that you do not openly support their policies, positions, or direction you will be out. Naysayers beware!

* Even if you have the best skills in the company, you will have no security, none of your needs will be met, and no doors will be opened to you unless you gain the trust of those at the top. Trust is based on the company’s perception of you. Whatever that perception is at this moment is actively determining your job security and value.

The trick to learning what your company’s opinions or perceptions are is to get a handle on what its hidden agendas are. It involves looking at what your company truly protects, rewards, and values, then holding up a mirror to yourself and evaluating your own actions in the workplace.

* Look at your actions through the eyes of an owner. Do you outwardly act like someone who supports the company policies and interests, no matter what you think on the inside? Do you openly behave and speak like someone with ownership and passion, or someone looking for more money in your paycheck? Look at your actions through the lens of the company values. How close in alignment do your actions seem when viewed from the outside?

* Because any legal complication for the company would affect you in a much more negative way than the temporary discomfort of resolving the issue on your own. These issues can cost huge amounts of money in legal consultations (even if it never goes to a formal legal forum), not to mention the wasted hours of high – level people who should be spending their time guiding the company toward success and not evaluating a situation between two employees. And if it does go to a formal court setting it could eat up all the profits for the company for that year, or even several years. A problem like that can take a company under. No one with a vested interest, or ownership, in an organization would even come close to risking it. And if you truly cared about the well – being of your company, neither would you.
That’s the mind-set you must acquire: high – level “ownership” of your company and its interests, not just the ownership of your personal interests and comfort levels. There’s a big difference.
Putting yourself and your personal interests before the company will label you as a traitor, not to be trusted, and not to be invested in.

* The closer you bring yourself into the appearance of alignment through your daily actions and choices, the more favorable the company’s opinions of you will be, and the more secure your job will be.

* Highly skilled employees, with seemingly great value to their organizations, are let go every day because they are perceived to be a potential risk and cannot be trusted.

* Companies value younger employees for their enthusiasm, passion, fresh thinking, energy, and relatively low cost…

* Companies value older employees for their experience, knowledge, professionalism, consistency, and levelheadedness. What scares companies about older employees is the potential for a lack of flexibility, stagnation in thinking, and health issues.

* Companies look at your appearance as a sign of the way you think. Dated clothing translates into dated thinking. Don’t wear glasses from the ’70s or clothes from ten years ago. No matter how good you are at your job, a dated appearance will give you an image of someone behind the times, someone who might keep the company from moving forward.

* There’s no right to free speech in the workplace… If you say anything against the company or its policies there very well could be retaliation.
Companies are not allowed to tread on your right to free speech, so they will never censor you or tell you to stop. But they also can’t have someone in their own company speaking out against their policies, work environment, or practices. Their interests are best served when their employees are openly supportive, not subversive.

* Employees feel it’s their right to speak out on a policy they disagree with, a boss who’s causing problems, or a situation that’s making them unhappy or less productive. It is your right, sure enough, but every time you voice a negative opinion you’re unknowingly creating a strong image as a “victim,” “unlucky,” and “unsuccessful.”

* Negativity is highly contagious. Companies know all too well that all it takes is one rotten apple to turn a group of happy employees into a mass of disgruntled workers seething with the seeming injustices of their situation.

* So who is this person with such tremendous power over your career? For better or worse, it is your boss. Without his or her support your career goes nowhere… The powers – that – be don’t take kindly to insubordination. They will expect you to get along with and support your boss no matter what your personal feelings are about him or her… It doesn’t matter if you like him or not. You have to respect him, if for no other reason than for his ability to propel or destroy your career. No one else has as much sole power to do so… In the eyes of the company, you are your boss’s opinion of you… Your job security lies solely in your boss’s hands… It’s just too tempting to remove any employees who have become a thorn in his side, those who are unsupportive or just generally unfriendly. Just too tempting. So, rather than skills, ability, or fairness, the decision can sometimes be based on whether or not the boss personally likes you.

You may think bosses come and go. But the truth is, their feelings about you will haunt you for the rest of your career. In references, lost opportunities, HR files, you name it… Things may not turn around even if he leaves because the first thing the new boss will do is ask the previous one who the troublemakers are and who to watch out for. And each time you interview for a job, your potential new employer will track down your previous bosses to get their opinion of you.

Pitting yourself against a boss is a losing battle because companies always side with their managers. They have to. A company will almost always take the manager’s word over yours. That’s just the way it works.

* You are there for the sole purpose of making your boss successful. It doesn’t matter that you don’t like her, didn’t pick her as your boss, or don’t agree with anything she does. If she doesn’t feel you’re providing the support she desires, she can and will retaliate. She has full authority to do whatever she needs to achieve the high – performance team she desires. If that means removing you, so be it.
All managers are in a precarious position, squeezed from both sides and operating in a glass house. They will react very strongly to someone they think might be trying to throw stones. They will retaliate, and the company will back them.

* Don’t challenge or threaten your gatekeeper — ever… Managers don’t like to be cornered, attacked, or accused — even in private.

* Employees think they’ve been hired for their smarts. Eager to show all they know, they blurt out their ideas and suggestions. They correct their bosses in meetings, offer up ways to make things better, and submit presentations on how procedures can be improved. How can this be a bad thing?
Because if it’s done before you’ve earned the right, it comes across as nothing more than criticism of the current workings of the company. Companies don’t want your smarts unless you’ve shown respect first.
It doesn’t matter if you have good intentions, voicing your opinion before earning the right will make your boss feel threatened and your company will see you as a disruptive force.

* Never take the spotlight away from your boss to show your smarts, and never believe you could do a better job.

* Gossip can take many forms and appears in virtually every area of the business world. All are detrimental to your career. Gossip falls under that sticky “right to free speech” issue, so no employer will tell you the damage it can do, but secret retaliation against gossiping is happening in our organizations every day.

* It doesn’t matter what you like to gossip about. Companies don’t like loose lips — of any kind.

* Whether fair or not, companies tend to judge guilt by association. This means, not only do you have to stay away from the behaviors companies distrust, you also have to stay away from other employees who indulge in them.
If the company sees that you spend time with those who spread negativity, they will assume you share those same views. You might refrain from gossip, but if you listen to what the gossiping crowd has to say, you will be associated with them. If one of your friends develops a bad relationship with a key person, you could be sidelined by association. That’s the way it works.

Fox News makes money meeting the needs of a particular niche. It does not make money when people such as Tucker trigger massive advertiser boycotts. Tucker’s words created headaches for its leaders, employees and advertisers. Many Fox executives knew that Tucker despised them so they were looking for an opportunity to let him go.

Glenn Beck, more than a decade before, got monster ratings for Fox News but was pushed out because he was too much trouble. In his 2014 book, The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News–and Divided a Country, updated in 2017, Gabriel Sherman wrote:

The most potent force in Fox’s reinvention of Obama was Glenn Beck, who debuted in the 5:00 p.m. time slot the day before Obama’s inauguration. Within weeks, he was pulling in more than two million viewers a day, a 50 percent increase. Only Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity put up better numbers, and that was in prime time, when the television audience was vastly larger. Although Ailes was often unsparing in his praise of hosts, he told Beck in one meeting, “You are probably the most uniquely talented person on television I’ve seen.”

When Ailes hired Beck, he imagined him hosting a conventional cable news talk show. “I see your show being more of a Jack Paar show,” he told him. “Jack delivered a monologue, but you also have guests and it has a variety component.” Beck had a different idea. He conceived his program an anti – television show — partly because Beck said he didn’t like television — which would feature Beck roaming his set in plain view of the cameramen and cables. There would be few guests. Instead, his studio was like a one – room prairie schoolhouse where he delivered daily sermon – like lectures before a chalkboard, on which he traced a web connecting his progressive enemies, George Soros central among them, though Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett was a supporting player. With the Dow plunging from its peak of 14,000 toward 6,000, Beck’s dire scenarios — FEMA concentration camps, societal collapse — were fears that became imaginable.
Beck broke the mold at Fox. Unlike most of the unknowns and has-beens Ailes recruited, Beck joined Fox at a time when he was well on his way to becoming a star. He was also a driven businessman. He founded his own company, Mercury Radio Arts (a play off Orson Welles’s radio broadcasts of the 1930s), and brought in executives to run it. In a break from Fox tradition, Beck had his own team of aggressive public relations counselors who had worked with Katie Couric and film mogul Harvey Weinstein.
But Beck’s show built on Ailes’s playbook, making the culture wars personal. He seemed to many to be Fox News’s id made visible, saying things — Obama is a racist, Nazi tactics are progressive tactics — dredged from the right – wing subconscious. Beck crossed lines that weren’t supposed to be crossed, even at Fox, and the presentation — childlike, angry, often tearful — was as remarkable as the content. Some at Fox were alarmed by Beck’s rhetoric but Ailes was fully on – board. Privately, Ailes said Beck was telling the truth. The day after Beck said on air that the president has a “deep-seated hatred for white people,” Ailes told his executives, “I think he’s right.” The only question was how to manage the fallout.

* But Ailes’s biggest stars — Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin — were burning hot — too hot — which posed new problems. Beck’s numbers were moving toward three million a day, a stunning achievement. “I’ve never seen anyone build an audience this fast,” Ailes told executives. The concern was that Beck was almost engulfing Fox itself. He did not follow Ailes’s directives, and some of Fox’s other big names seemed diminished by comparison — and were speaking up about it. Sean Hannity complained to Bill Shine about Beck. And it didn’t help matters that O’Reilly, who had become friends with Beck, scheduled him as a regular guest, a move that only annoyed Hannity further. In March, The Washington Post ran an article that reported on grievances Fox employees had about Beck’s inflammatory rhetoric and his self – promotion.

* [Ailes] was also losing his biggest star of the Obama era. On Monday afternoon, March 28, Ailes called Glenn Beck to his office to discuss his future at the network. He had spent the better part of the weekend in Garrison strategizing how to stage – manage Beck’s departure from Fox, which at that point was all but inevitable.

* The relationship had been strained since Beck joined Fox. In early 2009, Fox News executives denied a request from Beck’s production team to allow Beck’s head writer and close friend, Pat Gray, to accompany Beck to the Fox News studio for his daily program. At CNN, it had never been an issue for Gray to join Beck at the studio; in fact, Beck leased space for his entire staff at the Time Warner Center. Beck wrote an email to Ailes stressing that Gray was a key writer for the show and that his presence in the studio was important. Ailes responded that he did some checking and it was against the “policy” to give out a building pass. In private, Ailes expressed wariness about Beck’s staff. “I don’t want too many of his people here,” he told an executive.
Things took a turn for the worse as Beck gathered 300,000 of his devoted followers in front of the Lincoln Memorial for a “Restoring Honor” rally — scheduled for the August 2010 anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Fox executives showed little enthusiasm. “I’m going to D.C. in case something happens, and we have to react,” Bill Shine told a colleague the day before. “We’ll probably do a cut – in during the news.” In the end, Fox gave the event scant coverage; CNN actually seemed to cover it more.

* Beck could not understand why Ailes did not actively promote an event that drew so many potential Fox viewers. Brian Lewis was selling Ailes on the idea that Beck, who had graced the covers of Forbes, Time, and The New York Times Magazine, was amassing a power base independent of Fox. “Beck had his own PR apparatus and Brian resented that,” a colleague said, “so Brian one day explained to Roger during a meeting called on a completely other topic, that Glenn’s problem was that he felt he was bigger than Fox.” Ailes agreed: talent should never eclipse the brand. “From that day on, that was Roger’s theme with Glenn: he didn’t appreciate the platform Fox had given him and needed to be pushed out,” the colleague said.
Tensions continued to escalate when, a few days after the rally, Beck launched The Blaze, a conservative news website. Fox executives told Beck he couldn’t promote his new venture on air. At times, The Blaze undermined stories that Fox pushed, like its piece debunking conservative provocateur James O’Keefe’s NPR sting, which had received wall – to – wall coverage on the channel. After the New Year, the cold war turned hot. Beck’s company, Mercury Radio Arts, hired an executive from The Huffington Post to run The Blaze, and later poached Joel Cheatwood from Fox. The moves signaled Beck’s ambition to build a conservative media empire of his own — a clear encroachment on Ailes’s turf. Brian Lewis retaliated by having his department tell the entertainment news website Deadline Hollywood that Cheatwood had earned $700,000 a year at Fox, a low-ball figure that was designed to damage his earning potential at future jobs. “Joel lost Roger’s respect and trust a long time ago,” an unnamed unnamed Fox “insider” told the website. Reporters began highlighting that Beck’s ratings had been slipping and that progressive groups had orchestrated an advertising boycott of his show. But ratings for his time slot were still nearly double those from before he joined the network, and Fox simply shifted the advertising inventory to other programs.
On April 6, Fox and Beck announced the breakup. Both were careful to squelch the anonymous backbiting that had been going on for weeks in the press. Ailes did not want a public meltdown to alienate Beck’s legions of fans who had become loyal Fox viewers.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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