How Tucker Carlson Reshaped Fox News and Became Trump’s Heir

Prime advertisers would never return to the show in force. But thanks in part to the large audiences he could provide to the advertisers who remained and the high prices Fox could charge them, Mr. Carlson’s advertising revenue began to recover. Every year since 2018, “Tucker Carlson Tonight” has brought in more annual ad revenue for Fox than any other show, according to iSpot estimates. Last May, after promoting the white supremacist ‘replacement’ theory, Mr Carlson had half as many advertisers as in December 2018 but brought in almost twice as much money.

As “Tucker Carlson Tonight” became more toxic to advertisers, it also began to feature fewer guests who disagreed with the host, and more guests who simply did. echoed or amplified Mr. Carlson’s own message. It wasn’t just that the Liberals didn’t want to debate him, although some have now refused to appear on the show, as Mr Carlson complained during a Fox appearance last summer ; Fox was learning that his audience didn’t necessarily like to hear the other side. “From my discussions with the Fox News bookers, what I take away is that they felt they weren’t doing debate segments anymore,” said Richard Goodstein, a Democratic lobbyist and campaign adviser. who appeared regularly on Mr. Carlson’s show until the summer of 2020. Across much of the Fox lineup, former employees said, producers increasingly relied on panels of pro-Trump conservatives competing to see who could speak out against Democrats more fervently — a ratings one former Fox employee called “the inflation of rage.” (One exception, perhaps, is “The Five,” a talk show featuring four conservative co-hosts and one left-leaning co-host, which has beaten Mr. Carlson in total viewership in recent months. .)

And as the announcers fled, Mr. Carlson’s opening monologue grew. Where once he spoke for only a few minutes, sometimes in a neutral mode of simple questioning, he now often opened the show with a long winder, addressing his audience as “you” and the objects of his fury as a shadowy ” they “. .” Evaluation data showed the monologues were a hit with viewers, according to a former and current Fox employee, and in 2020, Mr. Carlson regularly spoke directly to the camera for more than a quarter of the year. one hour show. Instead of less of Tucker, audiences got more.

His critics at Fox found themselves further sidelined: After an on-air spat with Mr. Carlson over the legality of Mr. Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukrainian officials, Shepard Smith was reportedly warned against criticism from his fellow host, and he left Fox in October 2019. Mr. Carlson’s ratings soared, buoyed by the increasingly heated and apocalyptic presidential campaign. One night in June 2020, after yet another commercial attack on Black Lives Matter protesters, Mr. Carlson addressed the issue directly. Ratings were more than mere ammunition in the cable news war, Mr. Carlson explained. They were proof that his viewers weren’t alone, proof that they were to the right. “Last night we did something that we don’t do very often: we spent the entire first block of the show on one topic,” he said. More people had watched the previous night’s show, he observed, than any other hour of prime time television that evening – more than the old evening news shows, more than any sitcom or sporting event. “Millions upon millions of Americans agree with you,” he said. “You are not crazy. Your opinions are not bad.

That month, another Fox employee complained to human resources that Mr. Carlson’s on-air statements contradicted Mr. Murdoch’s public pledge to “support our black colleagues” in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. In response, one executive cited the company’s need to enable “diverse voices and perspectives,” according to a person familiar with the exchange. At the end of the month, when Nielsen’s numbers came in, Fox sent out a triumphant press release: Mr. Carlson had posted the highest quarterly ratings of any cable news show in history. — breaking Mr. Hannity’s old record and helping make Fox the most-watched channel on all of basic cable.

In the end it was fox own political unit, bastion of traditional information gathering, which put an end to the increasingly wobbly balance of the network. Just before midnight on Election Day, hours before other networks and news consortia, Fox announced that Joseph R. Biden Jr. had won the swing state of Arizona. Mr. Trump immediately declared the result a “fraud”, but the following Saturday, as late votes rolled in, Mr. Biden won Pennsylvania, ending the presidential race.

Mr. Trump’s defeat was the ultimate glitch in Fox’s Trump narrative, a problem that could not so easily be sidestepped or covered up by his prime-time hosts. Disheartened Trump supporters began looking elsewhere for news, encouraged by anti-Fox tweets from Mr. Trump himself. In early December, conservative upstart network Newsmax, which had positioned itself as even more staunchly pro-Trump, scored its first ratings win over Fox. It was a minor crack in Fox’s cable dominance — fewer than 30,000 viewers in a single-night December ratings segment at 7 p.m. — but it sent Fox’s executive suites shaking. The network could ignore the complaints of some advertisers; losing the audience to a right-wing rival was another thing. That month, according to a former Fox executive, Rupert Murdoch delivered a message to the network’s chief executive, Ms. Scott: Clean house. (A Fox spokeswoman disputed that description.)

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