Tucker Carlson was fired from Fox News at the height of his powers. He was the face of the most-watched cable news show in the country, with an audience that included presidents, former presidents, hate-watching liberals, rank-and-file conservatives and every Republican lawmaker under the sun. He was even considered a potential presidential candidate.
Ten months on from his ignominious departure, none of those things are still true. Carlson is still producing the kind of content that led the New York Times to suggest that his Fox show “may be the most racist show in the history of cable news” — albeit for a different kind of audience on Elon Musk’s ‘X’ — but he does not command the same authority or attention.
That is, perhaps, until now. The far-right agitator announced on Tuesday that he would interview Russian president Vladimir Putin about the war in Ukraine, following years of heaping effusive praise on one of the world’s leading jailors of journalists.
Anyone not glued to the internet in the intervening time between his departure from Fox News and landing at the steps of the Kremlin may be wondering where Carlson has been all this time.
Here is a brief rundown.
Same content, but weirder
Tucker Carlson found success on Fox by going further than any of his predecessors beyond the bounds of acceptability. From his primetime perch, he spewed bigotry, parroted white nationalist talking points and promoted conspiracies and falsehoods from behind a facade of journalistic inquiry.
After many years at the top spot, he left Fox News in a cloud of scandal and lawsuits. The abrupt decision to fire its top-rated host was said to have come directly from Rupert Murdoch in April last year.
Fox News had been severely embarrassed by revelations in pre-trial court filings about its coverage in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential elections.
Carlson and fellow hosts Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham privately mocked regular guests including Donald Trump’s attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, while continuing to promote their lies and conspiracy theories to their audience.
Carlson called Mr Trump a “demonic force”, and said that hated the former president “passionately” in text messages to an unknown Fox employee two days before the 6 January riots, court documents showed.
It was perhaps inevitable that the most perennially online person at Fox News would end up spending all of his time on Twitter after his firing. Carlson was said to have received offers from far and wide — including from Russian state TV— before eventually settling on X. “Tucker on Twitter” features the same culture war topics that earned him notoriety at Fox, just much weirder.
His interview with Hungary’s nationalist prime minister Viktor Orbán would not have seemed out of place on Fox News. His interview with Larry Sinclair, however, succinctly titled ‘Larry Sinclair says he had a night of crack cocaine-fueled sex with Barack Obama, and that Obama came back for more the next day,’ suggested that the Fox News producers may have had some kind of restraining effect on Carlson.
His first appearance on X was a rambling 10-minute monologue in which he praised Vladimir Putin and declared that UFOs and extraterrestrial life are “actually real.”
Carlson first announced his plan to partner with Musk and X in a post in which he lashed out at other media outlets, calling them purveyors of “thinly disguised propaganda.” Carlson, who regularly promoted conspiracy theories and fake news on his Fox News show, added: “The news you consume is a lie, a lie of the stealthiest and most insidious kind.”
But no sooner had he posted his first episode than he heard from his former employers again in the form of a cease and desist letter. The letter, sent by Fox News general counsel Bernard Gugar to Carlson’s lawyers, claimed that the host "is in breach" of his contract agreement. It continued that Carlson is "prohibited from rendering services of any type whatsoever, whether ‘over the internet via streaming or similar distribution, or other digital distribution whether now known or hereafter devised.” That dispute is still ongoing.
Both Musk and Carlson seemed happy with their agreement. Musk, who himself has fallen down a rabbit hole of the same kind of conspiracy theories and right wing grievances propagated by Carlson, went so far as to claim that views for the show on X “now exceed the population of the United States.”
The number of views on Carlson’s videos would become a hotly debated topic. Carlson’s viewership at Fox News hovered around 3 million viewers, but it is unclear how many people actually watch his X videos because that data is not publicly available. The only metric available to the public is the number of times the post appeared in someone’s feed on the app or browser.
Carlson was still able to attract big names in his new home — most notably he interviewed Donald Trump on the night the former president skipped a primary debate. He also interviewed many subjects his Fox News audience may have struggled to recognise, such as the prolific right wing X user known as ‘Catturd.’
Going his own way
After a few months on X, Carlson was looking for a way to start his own subscription service. In December, he announced plans to launch a $9 per month streaming service. He announced the move in typical grandiose style with another video monologue apparently aimed at scaring the impressionable.
"What’s true and what’s a lie? Sometimes it’s hard to know. There’s so much deception," he said. "Big media companies won’t help. Their job is to manipulate you. The government? Please. When was the last time you believed a word they said? Probably before COVID.”
Carlson had explored the idea of launching the service on X, according to the Wall Street Journal, but the company could not build the infrastructure required in time.
In many ways, Carlson’s interview with Putin is a return to form. For years, Carlson expressed an affinity with the Russian leader. In 2022, after the Russian leader launched an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, Carlson wondered aloud why he should oppose the attempt to annex parts of Ukraine.
“It may be worth asking yourself, since it is getting pretty serious, what is this really about? Why do I hate Putin so much? Has Putin ever called me a racist? Has he threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him? These are fair questions, and the answer to all of them is: ‘No.’ Vladimir Putin didn’t do any of that,” he said on his Fox News show.
In announcing his interview on Tuesday, Carlson accused the Western media of engaging in “fawning pep sessions” with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, whom he has previously called a “dictator” and likened to a rat, while confidently asserting that “not a single Western journalist has bothered to interview the president of the other country involved in this conflict: Vladimir Putin”.
That claim was quickly corrected by the Kremlin.
“Mr Carlson is not correct. In fact, there’s no way he could know this,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday, adding that the president receives “numerous requests” for interviews from Western media, which are all denied because the Kremlin does not deem the media outlets impartial.
Additional reporting by Bevan Hurley