Is Tucker Too Toxic for Twitter? New CEO May Have to Decide

On his Fox News program, Tucker Carlson would often declare himself “the sworn enemy of lying, pomposity, smugness and group think.” So now he wants to launch a show on Twitter?

The social-media platform has given millions of people the ability to express themselves and communicate in ways they never could before, but it has also become a haven for bullying, tribalism and disinformation. Carlson may become part of the venue’s latest effort to keep traffic flowing even as many advertisers keep more than an arm’s length away.

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Figuring out how to handle Carlson could be one of the first challenges for Linda Yaccarino, who has been named Twitter’s new CEO. The former NBCUniversal ad-sales chief knows what it takes to line up blue-chip sponsorships at scale. But doing that on behalf of Carlson may be a mission impossible. His Fox News show suffered from a dearth of mainstream national advertisers, despite the show’s high ratings. After recent revelations about the host’s use of racist and misogynist language, disclosed in documents tied to Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation litigation against Fox News, Twitter’s new boss
would have to hunt far and wide for any traditional sponsors willing to associate Carlson with their brands.

Carlson proclaimed last week that he was launching a new program on Twitter, though whether doing so abides by the restrictions of a contract he has with Fox News remains to be seen. Carlson’s last pact with Fox News is said to last until at least late 2024. And he is likely subject to non-compete and non-disparagement clauses, according to two people familiar with newsroom contracts, if he wants to collect the millions he is likely to be owed. Much may hinge on the scope of those clauses. Does Carlson’s non-compete apply to all competitors? Just to cable-news outlets?

Bryan Freedman, an attorney representing the host, did not respond to an email seeking comment, but recently told the news outlet Axios: “The idea that anyone is going to silence Tucker and prevent him from speaking to his audience is beyond preposterous.” Fox News offered the comment it has made since Carlson’s exit was revealed in April: “Fox News Media and Tucker Carlson have agreed to part ways. We thank him for his service to the network as a host and prior to that as a contributor.” There is no agreement at present between the Fox News provocateur and Twitter, according to a tweet from owner Elon Musk.

A non-disparagement clause could explain why Carlson has not referred to Fox News directly in recent videos he has posted on Twitter. “At the most basic level, the news you consume is a lie,” he told followers in his most recent dispatch. “A lie of the stealthiest and most insidious kind.” No examples here.

Some Fox News personnel have created businesses of their own after departing the network. Glenn Beck was ousted from the Fox News late-afternoon schedule in 2011 amid concerns about advertiser protests and passing along conspiracy theories. He went on to build his own digital-media fiefdom. Longtime primetime host Bill O’Reilly departed Fox News in 2017 amid advertiser cancellations and claims of sexual harassment. The former anchor runs his own site, where he offers premium memberships, books and even signature polo shirts. Others have lined up gigs as anchors, analysts or scorched-earth commentators elsewhere, including Greta Van Susteren (MSNBC, Gray Television, Newsmax) and Megyn Kelly (her own Devil May Care Media and SiriusXM Radio).

What these personalities gain in control over their own content, they usually give up in influence. Fox News faces a bevy of rivals eager to dip their beaks into the company’s ad and distribution revenue. But Fox remains one of the biggest red-state media entities in the land, and once people leave, they tend to lose some part of its bullhorn.

In an era when technology is changing quickly, Carlson will no doubt have a chance to test new models. But he’s also likely to add to the chaotic churn that has become so much a part of Twitter under owner Elon Musk. The entrepreneur may have more ideas involving talent. He recently issued a tweet asking if former CNN anchor Don Lemon would like to try a new Twitter program as well.

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