Tucker Carlson’s shocking exit from Fox News has media and political circles buzzing over where he might land.
Carlson, who amassed a large and loyal conservative following at Fox, is likely to be a highly sought-after talent in the weeks and months to come.
“Right now, he has every option in the world available to him,” said one conservative media executive who requested anonymity to speak candidly. “Very, very rarely does the biggest star in the business become a free agent without any taint on him from the perspective of potential employers.”
Carlson will come with some baggage.
The conservative and Fox News divorced a week after the network reached a $787.5 million settlement with Dominion Voting Systems to settle a defamation lawsuit. The suit stemmed from allegations that Carlson and other hosts knowingly amplified false information and conspiracy theories former President Trump and his allies touted about the company’s involvement in the 2020 election.
Carlson’s private communications unearthed in the discovery process of that litigation showed him badmouthing former President Trump and Fox leaders. He also remains a defendant in a separate lawsuit filed by an ex-producer at the network alleging a toxic work environment — allegations Fox denied.
“Abby Grossberg’s allegations in connection with the Dominion case are baseless and she had no bearing on the settlement,” Fox said in its most recent statement about the suit from the former producer. “We will vigorously defend Fox against all of her unmeritorious legal claims, which are riddled with false allegations against the network and our employees.”
Still, Carlson remains a force to be reckoned with in the national media who will be coveted by media organizations looking to boost their profile.
People close to Carlson have said he was shocked when he was informed by Fox News he was being taken off the air. Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal reported he will be paid out the remainder of his contract at Fox, giving Carlson ample time to consider his options before he makes his next career move.
Fox has said they mutually agreed to part ways with Carlson and have not commented on his departure beyond a statement thanking him for his contributions to the network and saying his final show was last week.
Carlson, 53, likewise has not publicly commented on his plans moving forward, but political insiders and observers say wherever he lands next is likely to be a lucrative and high-profile perch.
“Tucker can popularize an issue that nobody is even thinking about overnight,” said one leading national Republican strategist. “That’s what makes him so influential. Reach-wise, there’s a lot of people similar to him, but influence-wise, I don’t think there’s anyone like him.”
“I doubt Tucker knows exactly what he’s going to do next at this point,” the strategist added, noting his departure from Fox is still less than a week old. “I’m sure he’s getting plenty of offers, so if I was him, I certainly wouldn’t be making any rash decisions.”
The odds-on favorite for Tucker’s next gig will be hosting a permanent late-night talk show host slot this year, according to oddsmaker Bovada. Another option on the market is “Carlson to get a permanent Spotify Video podcast slot this year,” with 5-1 odds.
Carlson, who got his start at The Heritage Foundation and then the conservative Weekly Standard magazine, burst onto the cable news scene in 2001 with CNN’s wildly popular debate program “CrossFire,” which set the stage for much of the fire-breathing punditry across cable news today.
He joined Fox News in 2009 and launched The Daily Caller in 2010, turning the punchy website into a force within the conservative media ecosystem.
After a successful seven-year run at Fox, Carlson suddenly finds himself as the top free agent in a constantly changing digital and broadcast media landscape.
Some of Carlson’s antics close the door to some networks. At Fox, he offered incendiary commentary on the conspiratorial replacement theory and downplayed the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol as “mostly peaceful chaos.”
“I think the way you have to look at Carlson is he’s basically a showman,” said Bill Grueskin, a leading media analyst and professor of professional practice at The Columbia Journalism School.
“He has a shtick, and if he turns the dial on the shtick 10 degrees one way or the other and increases his audience, then he’ll just keep turning it more and more,” he said. “It’s almost like you have to view him through the prism of the entertainment industry rather than the news business.”
Several conservative media companies have reportedly ponied up big money for some of the biggest media brands and pundits on the right in recent years.
Donald Trump Jr. recently signed a seven-figure megadeal with conservative streamer Rumble, and podcaster Steven Crowder infamously sparred with right-wing media company The Daily Wire after a disagreement over a reported $50 million contract.
Carlson’s unexpected availability has the potential to change the trajectory of some media companies ahead of the 2024 election.
“There are some outlets out there that can really pay these days,” the conservative media executive said. “Tucker has positioned himself because of his ability to take controversy head-on and do it on the biggest platform. For the guy who had the most guts and was on the biggest stage, those two things have really combined to make him the biggest star in the space.”