All the times Fox News hosts went on "vacation": A Salon investigation

Tucker Carlson's "pre-planned vacation" wasn't the first sudden disappearance of a Fox News personality

Published July 16, 2020 5:30AM (EDT)

Advertisements featuring Fox News personalities, including Bret Baier, Martha MacCallum, Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity, adorn the front of the News Corporation building, (Getty Images/Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Advertisements featuring Fox News personalities, including Bret Baier, Martha MacCallum, Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity, adorn the front of the News Corporation building, (Getty Images/Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Alex Brady, Malaya Nordyke and Serena Tara contributed to this report.

Fox News personality and frozen food heir-apparent Tucker McNear Swanson Carlson drew eye-rolls Monday when he told viewers that he was embarking on a "pre-planned vacation," widely understood to be a euphemism for a network timeout.

His respite, however, was uncannily timed to an onslaught of criticism after CNN revealed that the show's longtime top writer had been secretly posting vile and hateful comments on the internet for years. It also comes on the heels of a marked escalation in Carlson's own race-baiting rhetoric, which Carlson pushed far enough to draw accusations of hate speech.

Although Carlson has also been in some senses riding high, turning in the highest cable news ratings in history and drawing speculation about his possible political ambitions, he's also currently the subject of an IRS criminal complaint and an ongoing high-profile defamation lawsuit against his network.

Following the announcement, Salon took up an intrepid investigation into other Fox News personalities who have taken conspicuously timed "vacations" over the years. Here's what we found.

Laura Ingraham

In March 2018, the primetime host told her audience she'd be taking a family vacation.

"I'll be off next week for Easter break with my kids," she said. A Fox News spokesperson told several outlets the vacation was indeed pre-planned.

However, it was suspiciously close — within days, even — to a storm of controversy that Ingraham generated when she mocked the academic record of David Hogg, an outspoken teenage gun control advocate who had just one month earlier survived the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead.

"David Hogg Rejected By Four Colleges To Which He Had Applied and whines about it. (Dinged by UCLA with a 4.1 GPA... totally unpredictable given acceptance rates," Ingraham had tweeted.

Her show quickly hemorrhaged advertisers after Hogg and others organized a boycott, and she eventually offered an apology. In response, Hogg told her she should apologize to more people.

Shepard Smith

The same month as Ingraham, March 2018, Smith also took a week-long "pre-planned" vacation. Smith was just coming off an intra-network spat with Ingraham and primetime personality Sean Hannity, precipitated by Smith's remarks to Time magazine that opinion hosts on his network "don't have rules" and are there "strictly to be entertaining."

In response, Hannity called Smith "clueless" about the opinion side of news. Ingraham said his statements were "inconsiderate and inaccurate."

Hannity has claimed multiple times in recent years that he is not a journalist.

For instance, when asked about possible professional conflicts from his friendship with Trump in 2016, Hannity told the New York Times: "I never claimed to be a journalist."

"I'm not a journalist," Hannity tweeted that same year. "I'm a talk host."

And in a 2017 Times interview, Hannity said: "I'm a journalist, but I'm an advocacy journalist, or an opinion journalist."

Just before departing, Smith told colleague Chris Wallace during on-air banter, that everything would be "peachy-keen" on his return.

"Going to take a one-week vacation that was previously planned, and be back in a week, and everything will be peachy-keen and hunky-dory," he said. "I can't wait."

"That's what they always say: Previously planned and one-week vacation," Wallace replied.

Smith eventually departed Fox News in 2019 after a public dust-up with Tucker Carlson. The network sided with Carlson.

Megyn Kelly

Kelly took a spring break vacation in 2016 following conflicts with then-candidate Donald Trump, who had made a string of sexist and aggressive comments targeting the network anchor.

Though the network said that the vacation was not related to Trump, soon after her return she had changed her approach, giving Trump a mawkishly soft interview.

Kelly also took a brief leave at NBC after wondering aloud why it shouldn't be OK for white people to wear blackface for Halloween.

Sean Hannity

Hannity was sent on a Memorial Day break in 2017 after he continued to promote conspiracy theories about the 2016 murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, despite emotional pleas from the Rich family that he stop.

The Rich family hired a private investigator, and the network was forced to retract its news story about the allegations. Hannity, however, soldiered on, at one point allegedly seeking and receiving a go-ahead from Trump, until the spectacle became so heinous that half a dozen advertisers pulled up stakes.

The seriousness of the moment did not seem to register with Hannity, who appeared to take glee in teasing his critics, writing in a since-deleted tweet:

Uh oh My ANNUAL Memorial Day long weekend starts NOW. Destroy Trump/Conservative media breathless coverage starts! Did Hannity do last show?

Fox released a statement saying that the vacation was just for Memorial Day and he would be back the next Tuesday. "Those who suggest otherwise are going to look foolish," the statement said.

He was.

Jesse Watters

The co-host of weeknight talk show "The Five" and Saturday's "Watters' World" announced he was taking a family vacation in April 2017 after making an off-color comment about senior White House adviser and presidential daughter Ivanka Trump.

Watters was responding to video of Ivanka being booed while participating in a panel in Berlin about female entrepreneurship. First, he defended her.

"It's funny, the left says they really respect women, and then when given an opportunity to respect a woman like that, they boo and hiss," he said.

But he added, smirking: "So I don't really get what's going on here, but I really liked how she was speaking into that microphone."

Watters denied that the remark was sexual.

"During the break we were commenting on Ivanka's voice and how it was low and steady and resonates like a smooth jazz radio DJ," he said in a statement. "This was in no way a joke about anything else."

In that same statement he announced a two-day vacation from the air.

"I'm going to be taking a vacation with my family, so I'm not going to be here tomorrow and Friday," he said. "But I'll be back on Monday, so try not to miss me too much."

A Fox News spokeswoman did not respond when the New York Times inquired whether the vacation was pre-planned.

Bill O'Reilly

Just a couple of weeks before Watters took his 2017 vacation, Bill O'Reilly, coincidentally something of a mentor to Watters, announced that he too would take a vacation.

The announcement came after the New York Times revealed that O'Reilly had a long, dark history of alleged sexual harassment targeting female colleagues at the network.

Amid the scorching backlash, the host said he would take two weeks off and return to the network. But he didn't get the chance: Fox quickly forced him out when more than 50 advertisers told the network they were pulling their buys.

However, Fox gave O'Reilly a fat $25 million goodbye kiss, which O'Reilly literally used to go on vacation. He was soon spotted in Rome, the Associated Press reported.

Fox News had settled with at least half a dozen women who accused O'Reilly of sexual misconduct, dating back to 2002. Over the years, the women received hush money payouts from the network or Bill O'Reilly totaling $13 million, about half of what the network paid their abuser a few weeks before his 2017 vacation.

Gretchen Carlson

Carlson had wrestled for a long time with whether she should come forward with accusations of serial sexual harassment at the hands of network chief Roger Ailes. In June 2015 the network informed her that her contract would not be renewed, and she went on vacation from June 27 through July 4.

Two days after she returned, Carlson filed her earth-shattering sexual harassment lawsuit against Ailes, kicking off the #metoo era and heralding the arrival of a long-overdue reckoning for the network.

By Roger Sollenberger

Roger Sollenberger was a staff writer at Salon (2020-21). Follow him on Twitter @SollenbergerRC.

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