Tucker Carlson's takeover and the dramatic decline of Twitter

Tucker Carlson being a marquee attraction can only hasten Twitter's descent

By Heather Digby Parton


Published May 10, 2023 9:36AM (EDT)

Elon Musk and Tucker Carlson | SpaceX Explosion (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Elon Musk and Tucker Carlson | SpaceX Explosion (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

On Monday, Variety reported that Fox News is experiencing a burst of new advertising sales in the hour formerly held by the recently fired Tucker Carlson. He had had the distinction of having cable news' top ratings for his time period while scaring away most respectable companies from buying time on his show. So it's possible that despite the ratings slump the primetime slot has been experiencing since his departure, the network won't actually suffer any more losses than they already did in their epic $787 million settlement with Dominion voting machines.

They may also be saving a few dollars if it turns out that Tucker Carlson's latest move results in his breaching the reported non-compete clause in his contract worth $25 million. He posted a video on Tuesday announcing that he's going to resume his show on Twitter as a way of striking a blow in favor of free speech against all the rest of the lying media. If you haven't seen it, here is the video reveal in all its glory:

Since we know that Carlson is interested in money more than anything else on Earth (I wrote about that here) it stands to reason that the second richest man in the world, who also happens to own Twitter, Elon Musk, must have offered him a bundle to give up 25 million dollars. However, after Carlson made his announcement, Musk tweeted:

On this platform, unlike the one-way street of broadcast, people are able to interact, critique and refute whatever is said. And, of course, anything misleading will get @CommunityNotes.

I also want to be clear that we have not signed a deal of any kind whatsoever. Tucker is subject to the same rules & rewards of all content creators. Rewards means subscriptions and advertising revenue share (coming soon), which is a function of how many people subscribe and the advertising views associated with the content.

I hope that many others, particularly from the left, also choose to be content creators on this platform.

Carlson's announcement came shortly after it was reported that he had filed suit against Fox for fraud and breach of contract, which Axios argues positions him "to argue that the non-compete provision in his contract is no longer valid — freeing him to launch his own competing show or media enterprise." Apparently, the belief is that he can make the case that Fox breached the contract before Carlson did when they failed to protect his good name as they supposedly promised to do. But be that as it may, considering his intense avariciousness, it seems unlikely that Carlson would make this big announcement without some assurance that he will be paid big bucks for using Twitter as the base for his future blatherings. 

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

Obviously, nobody really knows what's going on with Tucker Carlson in the wake of his firing. The endless speculation about just what it was that broke Rupert Murdoch's back runs the gamut of the geriatric patriarch being upset that his former fiance said Carlson was a messenger from God to Carlson sending racist and misogynistic emails to his firing being a secret condition of the Dominion settlement. (Both Fox and Dominion deny that.) None of it sounds particularly convincing and it's not clear that even Carlson knows the real reason.

He must be struggling emotionally a bit and it shows. After all, he has now officially been fired by every cable news network and according to Nicholas Confessore's in-depth profile of Carlson in the New York Times, the earlier firings left painful scars that led him to the almost desperate lurch to the extremist right he took once he landed his 8pm slot on the last network that would have him. Just this week there were more emails released in which Carlson whined about Trump's election lies and lamented "it's so sad. He's going to break some s***. He already is. Wish I knew where to run. But I'll die here." He didn't even get that dubious privilege.

The D-list right-wing news channels all want him of course. Newsmax has even offered to change its name to his. (The Tucker Network?) And there are half a dozen possibilities in the podcasting and streaming realm that do bring in serious cash. But Carlson reportedly doesn't want to do any of those things, at least not yet, and seems to be intrigued by the idea that Musk, the great entrepreneurial genius that he is, is going to create a new television experience on Twitter and nobody will ever be able to fire him again.

As Ben Smith at Semafor pointed out, however, that's easier said than done.

"Musk continues to race through discarded Twitter business models as he seeks to reinvent the platform," Smith notes, adding that he was involved in an earlier version of this at Buzzfeed and it showed promise but ultimately failed because the Twitter platform is just not conducive to this kind of engagement:

A former Twitter employee who worked on it told me today that the core issue with attempting to shift Twitter toward television is the contrast between the requirement that you sit still to watch a show and the basic Twitter experience of scrolling."It's doomscrolling versus doomstaying," the former Twitter employee said. The notion that Carlson could build a significant video business on Twitter, he said, was "stupid."

As far as Musk's dream is concerned, it might be reassuring that Musk says he wants "content creators" from the left to contribute, but his own political preferences are obvious and they are not just right-wing, they are downright conspiratorial, so I wouldn't get my hopes up for a "let a hundred tweets bloom" campaign to take off. His idea of free speech is to allow the worst people in the world to intimidate anyone they choose so the platform is unlikely to be more than yet another annex in the right-wing echo chamber before too long. Tucker Carlson being a marquee attraction can only hasten its descent.

Carlson's lawsuit and announcement sound an awful lot like someone else we know, the so-called "demonic destroyer" himself: Donald Trump. Filing angry lawsuits claiming that everyone is lying about everything and then taking to a social media platform to keep the brand alive until the next move is right out of old number 45's playbook. Trump, however, always had his next chapter planned out from the moment he launched his pathetic little cult channel. He knew he was going to run for president again. Tucker Carlson has said he has no intention of doing that and he's run out of real television networks so all he really has left is something like this.

And as new media journalist Kara Swisher quipped a couple of weeks ago when Carlson tweeted an earlier video from what she called his Wayne's World basement studio: "he looks astonishingly smaller now." Indeed he does. 

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

MORE FROM Heather Digby Parton

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Commentary Dominion Elon Musk Fox News Twitter