As Fox News finds itself beset by an internal crisis fueled by Dominion’s $1.6 billion defamation suit, long-simmering tensions between network CEO Suzanne Scott and star host Tucker Carlson have taken center stage.
Carlson, according to sources inside and outside the network who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, has for years been at odds with Scott, a 26-year Fox News veteran who ascended to the top of the network in the wake of a series of sexual harassment scandals that dethroned Roger Ailes.
Her efforts to maintain control of the network’s often divisive coverage have run up against Carlson’s penchant for courting controversy, his proud disregard for facts, and apparently unconditional backing from Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch, the top executives at Fox News parent company Fox Corporation.
“She’s not the biggest fan of what he does,” an industry source familiar with their relationship said. “But he gets viewers, and that’s why he has a direct relationship with Lachlan and Rupert.”
Carlson, in comments to Mediaite, denied there is any bad blood when asked about a power struggle between him and his boss.
“I strongly support Suzanne and have for a long time, and for what it’s worth, I also like her a lot personally,” he said. “I can’t remember a single conflict with her in seven years. The idea that there’s a ‘power struggle’ between us is absurd. I’m a talk show host. She’s the president of the network. I work for her. It’s pretty straightforward.”
Despite that vote of confidence in the CEO, sources inside and outside Fox News said Carlson operates in his own fiefdom at the network, unaccountable to leadership as he broadcasts his nightly show from his homes in Maine and Florida.
A spokesperson for the Murdochs denied Carlson enjoys any special treatment, calling claims otherwise “absolutely untrue.”
One source with knowledge of the inner workings at Fox pointed out that Carlson’s show has five editorial layers before reaching Scott, including Justin Wells, its senior executive producer, Ron Mitchell, a senior vice president, Meade Cooper, the executive who oversees primetime, Tom Lowell, who was just promoted to oversee all editorial, and Jay Wallace, Fox News president and executive editor.
Yet insiders told Mediaite that Scott and Wallace have no control over what Carlson does between 8 and 9 p.m., one of the most-watched hours in all of television.
“No one has control over Tucker,” one former Fox News veteran told me. “I don’t even know if the Murdochs do.”
That lack of editorial oversight was on display earlier this month when Carlson spent two nights of his prime time show airing bizarre commentary about the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, which he described as a mostly peaceful sightseeing trip by Trump supporters.
The segment angered members of Fox’s news division at the network who spoke with Mediaite, since it came as Fox was still under constant fire from damning revelations in the Dominion case.
The disapproval inside the network was apparent on air. As a series of Senate Republicans and the Capitol Police chief decried the spin as dishonest revisionism, none of Fox’s news programs covered the revelations that Carlson had presented as a bombshell of historic proportions.
The only segment came from Special Report with anchor Bret Baier, the most-watched news program on Fox. Chad Pergram, a respected congressional correspondent who was present at the Capitol during the attack, delivered a report rebuking some of Carlson’s claims while noting the searing criticism from lawmakers.
There was no top-down mandate to ignore the story, Fox News sources said. In fact, some programs were encouraged to cover it. But shows on the news side simply refused.
I asked Carlson what he made of the rest of the network mostly ignoring his commentary. “I didn’t see it. Not my division,” he said.
In a radio interview this week, following my conversation with Carlson, the Fox host said leadership had no involvement in his Jan. 6 coverage beyond legal vetting.
“Fox did not get involved,” Carlson said. “This was only my show. I don’t think any other show has played it. But Fox did not stop me from airing anything. They lawyered it up quite a bit to make sure we didn’t get sued.”
While Carlson’s coverage may pass muster with Fox’s lawyers, those guardrails have not kept false information off the air, nor have they protected the prime time host from serious legal threats.
Ray Epps, a former Marine who took part in the riot at the U.S. Capitol, sent a letter on Thursday demanding retractions and apologies from Carlson over his commentary suggesting Epps was a government provocateur. As the Times notes, “Letters seeking retractions and apologies are often sent when lawyers are preparing to file a defamation lawsuit.”
There has never been any evidence to support the conspiracy theory that the government orchestrated the riot. Nonetheless, the crackpot claim has been given ample time on the air of Carlson’s nightly prime time show as well in his widely-panned documentary on the Capitol riot.
The absence of Carlson’s Jan. 6 commentary from almost every other Fox News show was a dramatic on-air manifestation of the behind-the-scenes dynamic at the network — where Carlson has few allies.
Chaos, in many respects, has become Tucker Carlson’s brand. Sources said he has tried to foment it inside the network as well as outside. Throughout the years, he has worked to fortify his position at Fox News by ginning up internal conflict and leaking negative stories about the network to the press.
The controversial Fox News host has long had a reputation as an industry gossip who speaks regularly with the same community of mainstream media journalists he so often attacks on the air. That Carlson leaks incessantly to reporters is an open secret within Fox News.
“There is no doubt that Tucker spreads shit about hosts he doesn’t like to the press,” one source outside the network told me. “And leadership at Fox News knows it.”
That reputation has sparked internal conflict. When his cozy relationship with the Beltway press was exposed by Ben Smith in a column for the New York Times, Carlson’s Fox News colleague Mark Levin publicly scolded him for consorting with the enemy.
(Excerpt) Read more in: Mediaite