How Tucker Carlson Reshaped Fox News and Became Trump’s Heir
In early June 2020, Mr Carlson told his audience that the Black Lives Matter protests were “definitely not about black lives” and to “remember that when they come looking for you”. The following evening, as Fox’s PR team insisted that Mr. Carlson’s comment was deformed, Mr. Carlson leaned over. “The crowd came looking for us – irony of ironies,” he told Fox viewers. “They’ve spent the last 24 hours trying to force the show off for good. They won’t, thankfully. We work for one of the last brave companies in America, and they’re not intimidated.
Off camera, Mr. Carlson could be less defiant. In a conversation that spring with Eric Owens, one of his former employees at The Daily Caller, he worried that the controversy surrounding his show had made it difficult for his children to get jobs and internships; he feared that his youngest children would not go to college. “It’s not fair that this affects my family and literally affects the future of my children,” Mr Carlson said, according to Mr Owens.
But it’s less clear whether the attacks significantly affected Fox’s bottom line: To make up for lost publicity, Fox turned “Tucker Carlson Tonight” into a promotional engine for the network itself. He replaced runaway sponsors with a torrent of internal promotions, leveraging Mr Carlson’s popularity to drive viewers to other, more advertiser-friendly deals. In early 2019, about a fifth of all the show’s ad “impressions” came from in-house ads, according to data from analytics firm iSpot.tv. That summer, as Fox pushed back on criticism of Mr Carlson’s “hoax” comments, the proportion soared to more than a third. (A Fox spokeswoman said the actual proportions were lower, but declined to provide specific numbers.) “Fox is basically a huge loyalty brand,” said Jason Damata, chief executive of Fabric Media, a firm media consultancy. “He’s the hook.”
Other advertising slots were taken by direct-to-consumer brands that didn’t care about Mr. Carlson’s bad publicity or saw that they could use his intensity to sell their products. Beginning in January 2019, MyPillow, a Fox advertiser whose chief executive, Mike Lindell, is a leading proponent of Mr. Trump’s stolen election lie, began running more than $1 million worth of ads on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” every month. Fox seemed to be using MyPillow to cushion Mr. Carlson: As other ads dried up, the company’s ads soared. (In total, until December 2021, Mr. Lindell had purchased advertising that would have cost $91 million at advertised rates; discounts likely lowered that amount.)
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, even though some were now refusing to appear on the show, like 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.” (An exception, perhaps, is “The Five,” a panel featuring four conservative co-hosts and an rotating co-host of the left, who beat Mr. Carlson in the total number of viewers these last 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 one”. 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.