New York (AFP) – Conservative firebrand Tucker Carlson, host of Fox News’ most popular show, is leaving the network, it was announced Monday, days after the outlet paid a huge settlement to end a defamation case.
Carlson was the best-known personality on Fox’s presenting roster, hosting a prime-time evening show that resonated with the broadcaster’s substantial number of right-wing viewers.
A key figure in Republican politics, he often interviewed Donald Trump and has been widely criticized for his alleged lack of journalistic rigor and — to his critics — his stream of disinformation and racist and hate-filled rhetoric.
“Fox News Media and Tucker Carlson have agreed to part ways. We thank him for his service to the network as a host and prior to that as a contributor,” the network said in a statement, giving no reason for his departure.
The 53-year-old Carlson, who joined Fox in 2009, provided no immediate reaction.
Railing against everything from immigration policies to gun controls, “Tucker Carlson Tonight” pilloried liberal trends in modern America, appealing to viewers’ outrage and propelling the show to the heights of cable television.
Trump ally, or foe?
The $787.5-million defamation settlement last week meant that neither Fox Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch nor hosts such as Carlson would have to testify in what was expected to be an explosive trial.
But internal Fox News communications released ahead of the scheduled trial had suggested senior figures at the network were prepared to spread falsehoods about the election for fear of losing viewers to rivals.
In the messages, Carlson also said he couldn’t wait until he could “ignore Trump most nights,” adding: “I hate him passionately.”
Dominion, a voting technology company, sued Fox for airing false claims that its machines were used to steal the 2020 presidential election from Trump.
Carlson’s relationship with Trump appears to still be close, with the former president sitting for a friendly hour-long interview on the show on April 11 after being arraigned on criminal charges in New York.
Despite the criticism Carlson engendered, Fox News had previously backed him at all costs as he generated a welcome flood of controversy, media attention, viewers and advertising revenue.
The network’s lawyers argued in a 2020 slander lawsuit that viewers knew to treat material on his show with skepticism.
In contrast to the political influence he has wielded, Carlson lives far from the heart of the US government, in a rural corner of Maine, where he sometimes broadcasts his show.
He appeared relaxed and confident during his last appearance on Friday evening, and his sudden departure shocked Washington and Wall Street, with Fox News’ share price falling nearly four percent.
Carlson has long attracted reports that he would seek to enter politics but previously dismissed suggestions he had presidential ambitions, saying “I’m a talk show host; I enjoy it.”
Also on Monday, the rival CNN network sacked veteran presenter Don Lemon, who recently made remarks about women and aging that were seen as sexist.