The biggest mystery in cable news – what the heck happened with Fox News and Tucker Carlson? – may still be an open case, but we can rule out at least one possible suspect: Dominion Voting Systems’ mega-settlement with the network.
The Denver-based company, which last week settled its $1.6 billion defamation case against Fox News for $787.5 million, did not have any influence on Fox and Carlson’s decision to part ways, people with knowledge of the situation told TheWrap. Dominion has already collected its payout from Fox News and had no comment on Monday’s development.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the decision to fire Carlson was Fox Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch’s and was instead related to a discrimination lawsuit filed by former Fox News producer Abby Grossberg. She says she was subject to sexist and antisemitic jokes while working as the lead booker for Carlson, and claims the network was setting her up to take the fall in the Dominion case.
A person with knowledge of Carlson’s thinking says not even he knows at this point exactly why the show was axed, and noted that the host, who works from his home in Maine, and Grossberg, who worked out of Fox’s facilities in New York, had never met in person and were not personally familiar.
Grossberg’s lawyer said in a statement to Semafor that there’s an “undeniable” connection between Carlson getting the boot and Grossberg’s lawsuit. Parisis G. Filippatos told the outlet he was made aware reports that mention Grossberg, saying: “No comments on those reports other than to say that timing is a matter of physics, and such is undeniable.”
The Washington Post, meanwhile, reported separately that it was Carlson’s statements about Fox News leadership and editorial direction around its 2020 election reporting that helped do him in.
Carlson was a centerpiece of Dominion’s defamation suit, but his role was less as a provocateur and more as one of the dissenting voices internally disparaging the network for indulging the 2020 election conspiracy theories of Donald Trump and supporters Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell. While other hosts like Lou Dobbs were openly “endorsing” lies about electronic voting machines, Carlson was more dubious in his on-air comments, noting that there was no evidence of voter fraud.
But behind the scenes, Carlson was clearly furious that his network continued to pursue the stolen-election narrative, according to text messages that Dominion submitted as evidence. That was an important piece of Dominion’s defamation-case puzzle, as they positioned Carlson and other Fox News leadership’s distaste for the reporting as proof of “actual malice” – or knowingly spreading defamatory statements, the legal standard set by New York Times v. Sullivan in 1964.
Legal settlements can contain all sorts of non-monetary stipulations; for instance, it was clear when Fox and Dominion announced their settlement – just as a jury had been seated – that Fox was compelled to halfheartedly concede that it had made “false statements” in its reporting.
It could turn out that the Dominion case, as well as another pending from Smartmatic, made Rupert Murdoch & Co. decide that it’s time for a tone shift at Fox News, and Carlson would certainly be one place to start. But disrupting his status as the host of Fox’s prime news hour, and the highest-rated show in cable television, was not even on Dominion’s radar, people with knowledge of the negotiations tell TheWrap.
Fox announced Carlson’s departure Monday morning, and so far no one has given a reason. But it seems clear that the move came as a surprise to Carlson himself, who signed off his Friday show saying “We’ll be back Monday … see you then.”
Sharon Waxman contributed reporting to this story.