Why Fox News Won’t Let Go Of Tucker Carlson – Even After “Patriot Purge”


Fox News Host Tucker Carlson’s new three-part documentary On January 6, the insurgency began airing last week on Fox Nation, Fox’s subscription streaming service. The documentary drew condemnation from across the political spectrum for its untruths. NPR media reporter David Folkenflik, to name just one example, tagged it “quite dark and often without facts.” Its critics lambasted the documentary’s false claim that the insurgency was a “false flag” Where “honey potstaged by enemies of former President Donald Trump in national security agencies and the left-wing antifa group to smear Trump supporters.

The documentary drew condemnation from across the political spectrum for its untruths.

The documentary’s desire to peddle lies and inflammatory allegations, as well as Carlson’s treatment of Covid-19 vaccines (it has spread anti-vaccine lies – raise questions about Security and vaccine efficacy, welcome vaccine skeptics, claiming that efforts to vaccinate people or impose vaccines equates to “social control” and encourage people to challenge mandates) and race (he traffics white nationalist claims) prompted demands that Fox executives to master their star host or even fire him. Still, the high-profile release of Carlson’s documentary makes clear the network’s math: letting it do its job is good for the bottom line. And that’s what matters.

While Fox defines itself as a news network (and employs excellent journalists, like host Chris Wallace, presenter Bret Baier and reporter Jacqui Heinrich), it is first and foremost a business. Claims about journalistic responsibility, morality, or the public good matter much less than profit margins. And in a world of increasing competition, Carlson’s often-edged right-wing populism laden with conspiracies and lies is good for making money. Cynically, it makes sense for Fox to let Carlson doggedly pursue these claims – even if they are dangerous and untrue – as the network’s success is more about attracting a narrow slice of viewers who want precisely this style of content than it does. what anyone else might think.

Modern conservative media can be traced back to August 1, 1988, when Rush Limbaugh stormed the national airwaves, thus paving the way for a whole kind of programming. In the decades that followed, the conservative media almost always focused on the end result. The two most dominant players over decades in terms of audience share and reach – Limbaugh and Fox News – both benefited from their debuts as the only conservative options in their respective media (for Limbaugh, subscribed talk radio nationally and for Fox, cable news).

In 2021, however, no conservative media or host has that luxury due to the proliferation of right-wing media. While Fox News had the conservative cable market mostly to itself for its first 15+ years of airing, competitors have since jumped into the fray. In 2013, One America News Network debuted, and in 2014, Newsmax, a pre-existing conservative media platform, launched Newsmax TV. Other players have plunged into the digital video and streaming spaces, including BlazeTV, a Merger of Glenn Beck’s The Blaze and Mark Levin’s CRTV.

While these competitors may not measure up to Fox individually, the network would be foolish to ignore them. Many are growing fast and giving Tory and Republican viewers the content they want in 2021: Reddest Meat, and lots of it.

Following the 2020 elections, and Trump’s fury toward Fox News for correctly calling Arizona for Joe Biden on election night, Newsmax and OAN saw their peak audience as they continued to to question the election result During months after all traditional points of sale – and even Fox – had called the race. The audience peaks are directly due to the traffic of these conspiracy theories.

One end of October Politico / Morning Consult poll indicated that a total of 3 in 5 Republicans believe the election should definitely or probably be called off. A Reuters / Ipsos poll from March showed in the same way that about half of Republicans believed those gathered on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6 were “mostly peaceful and law-abiding Americans” and that the insurgency was “led by violent left-wing protesters trying to make Trump look bad.” As the media and conservative hosts, including those at Fox, continue to fuel these conspiracy theories, it helps promote and reinforce these views, making the demand for such content even more intense.

At one point, Fox News promoting and asserting these kinds of undemocratic views might have cost too much. But not in 2021.

At one point, Fox News promoting and asserting these kinds of undemocratic views might have cost too much. But not in 2021.

Carlson lost premier advertisers and generated less advertising revenue in last years thanks to his fanatical and scandal-prone rhetoric. But advertising revenue is only part of Fox’s profitability. Popular channels charge cable companies a fee for each subscriber in exchange for the ability to broadcast their programming. Fox News is able to charge businesses $ 1.72 per subscriber, according to a Variety report 2020. The result: According to the Financial Times report of 2020, Fox News made more of those fees in 2020 – $ 1.6 billion – than advertising – $ 1.2 billion. Recently published income information revealed an even more pronounced split.

This business model makes Carlson extremely valuable to Fox. In recent weeks it has generated either his best marks or his second marks (behind the round table “The Five”), attracting more 3.2 million viewers per night in the third quarter. Attracting more viewers allows Fox to charge cable companies more money and dissuades them from ever dropping out of the channel.

Additionally, as evidenced by the placement of the January 6 documentary on Fox Nation – part of a new contract Carlson has signed on to bring a video podcast three times a week and monthly specials to the streaming service – Fox is using its popularity to draw viewers to Fox Nation. A subscription platform, Fox Nation launched in November 2018 and charges $ 5.99 per month to subscribe. Again, popularity and passion count more than advertisers. As John Finley, an executive who oversaw the launch of the streaming service, admitted in a 2018 interview, Fox Nation doesn’t have to worry so much about advertising revenue, but the service is crucial to Fox’s long-term future, as it provides protection against wire cuts, which will reduce revenue from those charges. cable transport.

Thus, Carlson’s ability to deliver a large, dedicated audience to Fox’s platforms is more important than his penchant for angering opponents, berating journalists, or alienating advertisers.

This is doubly true after Fox sales 2019 from its film studio and regional sports networks, among other properties, to Disney. This move left Fox News and its brother Fox Business, Fox’s broadcast channel, its local stations and sports channels as the company’s main holdings. It also isolated Fox from potential boycott campaigns – perhaps targeted at 20th Century Fox movies or TV shows – that could have threatened the broader interests of the company if Carlson ignited enough non-Fox News viewers. .

When you step back and look at Fox’s situation, letting Carlson engage in the conspiracy makes a lot of sense. The network faces increased competition for far-right viewers at a time when the bottom line depends less on ad revenue – which would have suffered from Carlson’s antics – and more on subscription fees related to eyeball count than Fox and Fox Nation are able to attract. . Rein Carlson and risks alienating viewers who, unlike ten years ago, now have other options. While such a calculation is cynical for an alleged news network and could do great damage to American democracy, the conservative media remains, as always, focused on dollars and cents.


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