Dropping Anchors at Fox News and CNN

From the New York Times DealBook with Andrew Ross Sorkin:

Fox News’s firing of Tucker Carlson, the most popular prime-time host in cable news, sent shockwaves through the media and political spheres yesterday. Few had thought that repercussions from Fox’s $788 million defamation settlement with Dominion Voting Systems would reach Carlson, who commanded a following of millions and has the ear of Donald Trump.

But Fox and Rupert Murdoch, who are used to courting controversy and legal settlements as the costs of doing business, may be betting that getting rid of Carlson is the smarter financial move.

The impact on Fox is undeniable. Since gaining his prime-time show in 2017, Carlson became the brightest star in the Fox News orbit, with “Tucker Carlson Tonight” averaging over 3 million viewers every night.

While the show doesn’t feature top-tier advertisers, many of whom recoiled from his frequent controversies, his formidable audience numbers would have helped Fox News in forthcoming negotiations with cable providers over fees they pay to carry its network. (Shares in Fox Corporation fell 3 percent yesterday — more than they did after the company settled with Dominion last week.)

Carlson’s contract, worth $20 million a year, is expected to be paid out.

His dismissal was swift. Lachlan Murdoch, the C.E.O. of Fox Corporation, with the blessing of his father, conferred with the Fox News chief Suzanne Scott on Friday about dismissing Carlson, and the host was reportedly notified just 10 minutes before the announcement went out.

Carlson may have become too hot to handle:

The Dominion lawsuit unearthed private comments by Carlson in which he often profanely disparaged colleagues, sources and, perhaps crucially, his bosses.

A former producer is suing Fox News after accusing Carlson of overseeing a hostile and discriminatory work environment.

And the Murdochs have reportedly grown tired of trying to corral a controversial host who proudly says he can’t be controlled.

Then again, Semafor’s Max Tani notes that the firing of Carlson is only the latest sudden and seemingly erratic move by Murdoch. And others are wondering whether there’s some bigger shoe to drop.

The Murdochs clearly hope that Carlson is replaceable. That’s been true before when Fox ousted big names like Bill O’Reilly. But the outpouring of support for the host from Trump and conservatives suggests that it’s not a given this time. It’s unclear where Carlson will go next — rival outlets like Newsmax beckon, as do striking out on his own and getting into politics.

Carlson wasn’t the only media star shown the door yesterday. CNN ousted the anchor Don Lemon, hours after he appeared on air. (Among the reasons: Some guests didn’t want to appear on air with him after he drew criticism for sexist comments, and internal CNN research showed that his popularity with audiences was declining.)

Lemon didn’t take the news well — “I am stunned,” he tweeted — and has hired the same lawyer as Carlson to negotiate his exit.

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