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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 “keep in mind that after they come for you.” The subsequent evening, as Fox’s public relations team insisted Mr. Carlson’s comment was being mischaracterized, Mr. Carlson leaned in. “The mob got here for us — irony of ironies,” he told Fox viewers. “They spent the last 24 hours attempting to force the exhibit the air for good. They won’t achieve that, thankfully. We work for one in all the last brave corporations in America, they usually’re not intimidated.”

Off-camera, Mr. Carlson may very well be less defiant. In a conversation that spring with Eric Owens, one in all his former employees at The Day by day Caller, he nervous that the controversy over his show had made it difficult for his children to get jobs and internships; he nervous that his younger children wouldn’t get into college. “It’s not right for this to affect my family, and literally affect my children’s future,” Mr. Carlson said, in response to Mr. Owens.

However it’s less clear whether the attacks significantly affected Fox’s bottom line: To compensate for the lost promoting, Fox turned “Tucker Carlson Tonight” right into a promotional engine for the network itself. It replaced the fleeing sponsors with a torrent of in-house promos, leveraging Mr. Carlson’s popularity to drive viewers to other, more advertiser-friendly offerings. By early 2019, roughly a fifth of all promoting “impressions” on the show were from in-house ads, in response to data from the analytics company iSpot.television. That summer, as Fox fended off criticism of Mr. Carlson’s “hoax” comments, the proportion climbed to greater than a 3rd. (A Fox spokeswoman said the actual proportions were lower, but declined to offer specific figures.) “Fox is essentially an infinite loyalty brand,” said Jason Damata, the chief executive officer of Fabric Media, a media consultancy. “He’s the hook.”

Other promoting slots were taken by direct-to-consumer brands that either didn’t care about Mr. Carlson’s bad publicity or saw that they might use his intensity to sell their products. Starting in January 2019, MyPillow, a Fox advertiser whose chief executive, Mike Lindell, is a serious promoter of Mr. Trump’s stolen-election lie, began airing greater than $1 million value of ads on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” every month. Fox gave the impression to be using MyPillow to cushion Mr. Carlson: As other promoting dried up, the corporate’s ads spiked. (All told, through December 2021, Mr. Lindell had bought promoting that will have cost $91 million at publicized rates; discounts probably made that sum lower.)

Blue-chip advertisers would never return to the show in force. But thanks partially to the massive audiences he could provide for those advertisers who remained, and the premium prices Fox could charge them, Mr. Carlson’s ad revenue began to recuperate. Every 12 months since 2018, “Tucker Carlson Tonight” has brought more annual ad revenue to Fox than some other show, in response to estimates by iSpot. Last May, after promoting the white supremacist “substitute” 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 featuring fewer guests who disagreed with the host, and more guests who simply echoed or amplified Mr. Carlson’s own message. It wasn’t just that liberals didn’t wish to debate him, though some now refused to seem on the show, as Mr. Carlson complained during a Fox appearance last summer; Fox was learning that its audience didn’t necessarily like hearing from the opposite side. “From my discussions with Fox News bookers, my takeaway is that they’ve made the judgment that they simply don’t do debate segments anymore,” said Richard Goodstein, a Democratic lobbyist and campaign adviser who appeared repeatedly on Mr. Carlson’s show until the summer of 2020. Across much of the Fox lineup, former employees said, producers were relying increasingly more on panels of pro-Trump conservatives competing to see who could denounce Democrats more fervently — a rankings gambit one former Fox worker called “rage inflation.” (One exception, perhaps, is “The Five,” a panel show featuring 4 conservative co-hosts and one rotating co-host from the left, which has beaten Mr. Carlson in total viewers in some recent months.)

And as advertisers fled, Mr. Carlson’s opening monologue grew. Where once he spoke for under a number of minutes, sometimes in a neutral just-asking-questions mode, he now often opened the show with a lengthy stemwinder, addressing his audience as “you” and the objects of his fury as a shadowy “they.” Rankings data showed that the monologues were a success with viewers, in response to one former and one current Fox worker, and by 2020, Mr. Carlson repeatedly spoke on to the camera for greater than quarter of the hourlong show. As an alternative of less Tucker, the audience got more.

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