Why is Tucker Carlson leaving Fox News? Is it because of the Dominion suit?

Tucker Carlson broadcasting on Fox News
Photo by Jason Koerner/Getty Images

Television news was rocked by two departures Monday. Tucker Carlson is leaving Fox News, and Don Lemon was fired from CNN. 

In a statement, Fox News simply said that it was “parting ways” with Carlson and thanked the longtime host, who’s primetime news program “Tucker Carlson Tonight” was among the most-watched TV broadcasts since it first aired in November 2016, without further comment. 

Carlson’s exit comes nearly a week after the conservative-leaning news outlet’s parent company settled a defamation lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting Systems for $787.5 million. The Dominion lawsuit took aim at Fox, claiming it peddled falsehoods about the company’s voting technology in the wake of the 2020 presidential election, when former President Donald Trump promoted conspiracy theories about President Joe Biden’s victory. 

From a business standpoint, some Northeastern experts suggest that Carlson’s departure from the network is an attempt by Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch to right a ship that had strayed too far to the extreme right, embracing Trump’s conspiracy theories about the election and spreading misinformation in ways that imperiled the network by exposing it to liability.

“In a way this isn’t that much of a surprise,” Jonathan Kaufman, director of the School of Journalism, said about the Carlson news. “Carlson became … the symbol of embracing election denialism. I think what [his departure] represents, in a way, is a pulling away from the extreme edges.”

Kaufman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and editor who worked for Murdoch at the Wall Street Journal, suggested that election denialism “has hit a sort of high watermark” in right-leaning circles, and that those who continue to espouse such falsehoods will find themselves increasingly at the margins of conservative opinion. 

“The thing about Fox and Murdoch is that they are really driven by marketing,” Kaufman says. “Fox is basically only concerned about what readers and viewers want. But from a corporate point of view, Murdoch doesn’t like the idea of being captured and embraced by far-right conspiracy theorists and election denialism.”

Kaufman continues: “One of the things we learned from the Dominion revelations is that Murdoch wanted to move Fox News away from Trump after the [2020] election, and that he thought the audience would follow suit.”

But that’s not what happened, he says. Instead, conservative viewers—following instead the lead of many elected Republicans—began endorsing Trump’s conspiracy theories. Carlson’s firing could be Murdoch’s way of “toning things down.”  

Additional reporting suggests that Carlson’s firing was connected to a lawsuit brought against him and Fox Corporation. The Los Angeles Times reports that the decision to fire Carlson came from Murdoch himself, and was tied to a discrimination lawsuit filed by former producer Abby Grossberg, who worked on Carlson’s show. Lemon was fired in the wake of concerns about sexist comments he’s accused of making recently and over the years. 

Laurel Leff, a journalism professor at Northeastern, says it’s hard to imagine that Carlson’s departure is directly related to the Dominion settlement. “I don’t think they can chuck Carlson in any way that would limit their liability in future suits,” she says, referring to a second pending defamation case brought by another voting technology company Smartmatic.

“Usually they [Fox] went after politicians and other groups that weren’t inclined to file libel suits,” Leff says. “But Dominion had all the reason in the world to do that. They are a private entity—it really did affect their business.” 

Leff speculates that, moving forward, Fox will “do everything [it needs] to do to stay within libel laws, without necessarily becoming a more responsible news organization by adhering to the truth.”

Carlson isn’t the first high-profile Fox News personality to be abruptly pushed out by Murdoch. Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly were also ousted from the company in recent years following backlash and outrage tied to claims of sexual harassment.

“Money isn’t as important to [Murdoch] as influence,” Kaufman says. “He may have had to write a big check to Tucker Carlson on the way out, but I think what we’re seeing here is a first step in a larger effort to keep Fox relevant so that it can continue to exert influence over the Republican Party.”

Tanner Stening is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at t.stening@northeastern.edu. Follow him on Twitter @tstening90.