TGIF to one and all. I’m on a reporting trip in Texas, so I searched long and hard for a replacement this week and settled on someone special, someone who spends her days above the fray. I said, “It’s time to get back in the muck with us.” Yes, TGIF brought to you by Bari Weiss. . .
It’s me. And I’ve gotta tell you guys: I feel a little bit like little Marco or Jeb! showing up to a Trump rally. I know who you’re here for. I know you come for that pure, grade-A, straight-to-your-veins hit and I am but a low-energy, ersatz placebo. So bear with me as I try to do my best imitation of my inimitable wife. . .
Okay, it was a big week. Let’s get to it.
→ Tucker Carlson meets Logan Roy: For those who have somehow never tuned in to Succession, don’t bother. Succession just came to you.
CNN’s Don Lemon—a guy we had fun watching get soaked on New Year’s Eve but apparently wasn’t such a blast to work with—announced his departure after 17 years at the network via Twitter screenshot. Jeff Shell, CEO of NBCUniversal, is out after a sexual relationship with anchor Haley Gamble. Superstar pollster Nate Silver, founder of FiveThirtyEight, is out at ABC News, now owned by Disney. Dawn Davis, the Bon Appétit editor, who took over for Adam Rapoport, who had stepped down in the summer of 2020, has resigned. There are more, but you get the drift.
But the story that will be remembered from this week is that Tucker Carlson, by many measures the most successful cable anchor on TV and maybe ever, was fired from Fox News.
The story the press is running with is simple: he was too big of a liability. As one insider put it to me earlier this week: “They looked at Tucker after Dominion”—Fox settled with the voting company for $787.5 million days ahead of canning Carlson—“and they saw legal liabilities till the end of time.”
Smartmatic’s $2.7 billion lawsuit against Fox (they’ve said they expect more than Dominion received) is around the bend. Then there is Abby Grossberg, who until recently was the head booker on Tucker’s show. She too is suing Fox, claiming Carlson’s show was a hostile and discriminatory work environment, and is currently doing the rounds on MSNBC. And all week the stories about Tucker’s private messages—according to WSJ, Carlson “called a senior Fox News executive the c-word”—have dribbled out.
The simplest explanation is usually the right one, so maybe that’s all there is to it. It’s definitely what Fox brass wants the public to think.
But on behalf of our beloved TGIFers, who need the dish, I called around to several NewsCorp insiders and conservative machers close to the network. Here are the three additional theories that emerged.
The Sell Theory: Yes, Fox Corp stock dropped upon news of Tucker’s exit, but the network stands to make more money without him on prime time. Tucker’s beloved by his audience, but ad-wise he’s in MyPillow Guy territory. Fox without Tucker will become far more advertiser-friendly. This theory becomes stronger when you look at who else was ousted recently: Dan Bongino and Lara Trump.
But according to this view of the situation, it’s not just about making Fox brand-safe for advertisers. It’s about making Fox brand-safe for a potential buyer.
Gabriel Sherman, longtime chronicler of the real-life Roys, floated this idea in his recent Vanity Fair piece about the Murdoch succession plan. Some think “James would opt to sell Fox News to a private equity firm just so he could be rid of a toxic asset,” he wrote of what might happen if the more liberal brother takes over the empire. This week, Sherman reported that this runs right along the lines of what Tucker himself thinks about his ouster: “Carlson has told people he believes his controversial show is being taken off the air because the Murdoch children intend to sell Fox News at some point.”
The Too-Big-For-Fox Theory: If the average Fox viewer is an elder in a La-Z-Boy with the Fox logo screen-burned into the corner of their sets, Tucker’s reach stretched well beyond that set: He is the most online host by a long shot—and some say that was the problem.
As one source close to the network told me: “The online people thought they controlled Fox because they believed that Tucker controlled Fox and that they controlled Tucker. So, by proxy, they believed they controlled the network. And to that, Rupert said: fuck you.” In other words, Tucker got too big and perhaps too powerful to control. And firing Tucker was a way of communicating a very clear message: the network is bigger than the host.
The “Horse’s Head” Theory: It feels like ancient history now, but scour your memory of the Before Times (back when Bill O’Reilly was on prime time) and recall the phone-hacking scandal at Murdoch’s News of the World. The story was about as hideous as it gets: a tabloid spied on everyone from the Royal family and celebs to victims of the July 2005 London bombings and relatives of a murdered schoolgirl. By the end of the affair, all of the top people at the company were out or demoted.
But then Rupert Murdoch shuttered the whole paper. “Shut a whole newspaper? It seemed crazy. But it drew a line under it. And I think Tucker is the same. It’s like a horse’s head in the bed for all the other hosts over there,” a News Corp insider told me.
→ As for what I think . . . Tucker thinks supporting Ukraine is the foreign policy equivalent of putting pronouns in your bio. I think supporting Ukraine is as morally obvious as rooting for America over China. Tucker spoke of “the replacement of legacy Americans with more obedient people from faraway countries.” I think the idea of “legacy Americans” is reprehensible—every single one of us came from somewhere else—and that immigrants are the backbone of America. It goes on and on and on. He drove me nuts.
But you couldn’t deny how important he was (and is). Nellie and I watched his monologues not quite nightly but often the next day on YouTube—a ritual that started in 2020 when he was showing real footage sans the “mostly peaceful” chyrons of what was going on in cities that summer. He also openly questioned and mocked the irrational parts of the Covid lockdown—two things other network news hosts couldn’t or wouldn’t do. He was one of the only people on TV who made his viewers aware of the new military-industrial complex: the alliance between Big Tech and the government. And he consistently featured important journalists who do not fit a neat political box—people like Batya Ungar-Sargon, Abigail Shrier, and Aaron Sibarium.
I don’t know where he will go next, though the two-minute video he posted to Twitter Wednesday evening at 8 p.m., sharp went instantly viral. And untangling him from the (yes) moderating force of Fox News might mean he spins out into some conspiracy wormhole. Regardless, I have no doubt he’ll find an enormous audience. We’ll be watching.
→ Maybe that catalytic converter shouldn’t dress so suggestively: L.A. City Councilwoman Nithya Raman came right out and said it: is it really stealing if it’s just begging to be stolen?
Raman, who I once sat next to at a very strange dinner, voted against a motion that would make it illegal to possess a catalytic converter that isn’t, you know, yours. In an incredible feat of logic, Raman blamed the car manufacturers rather than the thieves.
“I think one of the things that really infuriates me is that we have a company, Toyota, that makes the Prius, that essentially has a device on their cars which is super easy to remove.” She added that Toyota should “manufacture a car that is not so easy to be stolen.” While we’re at it, we might as well make houses that aren’t so break-in-able, and kids that aren’t so kidnap-able! (Toddlers are very easy to carry, for example.)
→ No, you’re inciting violence: Everyone is accusing each other of inciting violence in Montana this week. Democrat Zooey Zephyr—the first openly transgender woman elected to Montana’s legislature—was barred by her Republican colleagues (the vote was 68–32) from speaking in the House chamber for the rest of the legislative session (about a week). Why? Zephyr said that her colleagues, who backed a measure to ban gender-affirming care for minors, would have “blood on their hands.” Her colleagues thought the phrase was a little harsh.
Sue Vinton, the Republican who sponsored the resolution against Zephyr, said it was Zephyr who would have blood on her hands by encouraging “the continuation of the disruption of this body, placing legislators, staff and even our pages at the risk of harm.” Phew.
This is America. Zephyr was democratically elected and has a right to be heard. And the Republicans supporting this measure make one wonder whether their party is really the party of free speech, as opposed to the party of the trigger warning. The video of baton-wielding police officers hustling Zephyr’s supporters out of the gallery while they scream “Let her speak!” did not help matters.
Do I think Zephyr is wrong when she suggests that such laws are part of an attempt to “eradicate” trans Americans? I do. Do I think the legislative process—and, more broadly, free speech—is much bigger, and much more important, than one legislator and all the other legislators who don’t like her combined? I do.
→ “Free speech lets me know my enemy”: We generally cringe at the word ally, but if The Free Press has one, surely it’s FIRE, the free speech advocacy organization that I first encountered when I was a college student. (They defended me, and I will never forget it.
Half of our staff went to their gala last week—it looked like a prom for debate captains, which is to say, I wish I had been there—and all of them raved about the keynote given by Killer Mike of Run the Jewels. Sharing the whole thing here for those who need to remember that the best way to combat speech you hate is with speech of your own.
→ Only old people have sex now: When I was a young person, we did crazy things. We played music on little plastic discs. We bought books at a big store called Barnes & Noble. And we had sex. Regularly. Which apparently is not a thing anymore. Between 2009 and 2018, the number of teenagers reporting no sexual activity—and this includes single people and those in relationships—went from 28.8 percent to 44.2 percent among young men and from 49.5 percent to 74 percent of young women, according to the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior. But the youngs have all kinds of other new fads. . .
→ Like being bisexual even if you are entirely straight: Eric Kaufmann has done the dirty and fascinating work of figuring out that the share of young people who are bisexual—specifically, the girls—aren’t really wearing Birkenstocks to formal events, if you know what I mean. Writes Eric: “the GSS shows that the share of bisexual women with exclusively male partners in the previous 5 years increased from 13% in 2008-10 to 55% in 2018-21.” I don’t care how sensitive your boyfriend is, and how much he loves listening to Ani DiFranco with you. That doesn’t count.
→ Or making bank with feet pics: Remember Danielle Bregoli? Okay, neither did I. But remember that girl who went instantly viral when she appeared on Dr. Phil and said, “Cash me ousside?” Still nothing? (Google it, she’s iconic). Rolling Stone reported this week that Bregoli, otherwise known as Bhad Bhabie, made $70 million posting to OnlyFans. And I thought it was a mistake not to become a lawyer.
→ Steven Spielberg phones home: At an event sponsored by Time magazine this week, the director weighed in on the philistinism that’s become normal in the world of publishing, TV, and movies. “No film should be revised based on the lenses we now are either voluntarily or being forced to peer through,” he said. Spielberg was asked specifically about posthumous edits made to Roald Dahl’s work (no one seems to mind that Dahl was a notorious antisemite, but the idea that fictional characters in kids’ books are called “fat” has caused a firestorm).
Here’s Spielberg: “Nobody should ever attempt to take the chocolate out of ‘Willy Wonka.’ Ever. And they shouldn’t take the chocolate or the vanilla or any other flavor out of anything that has been written.” More: “For me, it is sacrosanct. It’s our history, it’s our cultural heritage. I do not believe in censorship that way.” He had me at Hook.
→ Boots on the ground: Gavin Newsom is calling in the National Guard and the California Highway Patrol to help crack down on the open-air drug market in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco. The cynical read of this move is that Newsom wants to run for president, and he doesn’t have a shot in hell if San Francisco continues to look like Night of the Living Dead in broad daylight. But who cares if his motivations are craven? Anyone who has walked in the Tenderloin and seen the human misery in those streets can only pray that Newsom’s move alleviates it. Send in the troops.
→ Maybe Chicago can follow suit: Another week, another pointless death and basically nonexistent punishment. Two teenagers, 14 and 17, stole a car and crashed into a pickup truck carrying a family. The mother and two daughters were hospitalized for their injuries, while the baby, six-month-old Christian Uvidia, was killed in the crash. And somehow the teenagers were each charged only with one misdemeanor count of criminal trespassing.
The news out of the Windy City for the past few weeks has been grim. Hundreds of teens recently rioted downtown, smashing cars and attacking people. Walmart has announced it is closing half of its stores in the city.
→ Defending Randi Weingarten (you read that right): We never thought we’d defend the teachers union chief in these pages, but thanks to Marjorie Taylor Greene, a woman who makes Donald Trump look genteel, here we are. The Republican attacked Weingarten for not being a “real mother” because she is a stepmom. No clever take here, just to say: it takes a special kind of talent to make Randi Weingarten sympathetic. Watch it here.
→ Merit, now a Dangerous Idea™: It says a lot about our current moment that a paper defending merit in science has just been published in the Journal of Controversial Ideas.
The paper is authored by 29 scientists, including two Nobel Laureates and some courageous people whose names will be familiar to readers of TFP: Anna Krylov, Dorian Abbot, Glenn Loury, Judea Pearl, John McWhorter, Luana Maroja, and others. It pushes back against the increasingly popular idea of judging scientific theories on identity politics and the “lived experience” of the scientist, as opposed to the actual science.
This paper’s authors—hardly a group of unknowns—say they first tried to publish the paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). But the journal’s editors reportedly advised them to remove the word “merit” from the title of the paper, which is simply titled: In Defense of Merit in Science. According to the journal’s editorial board, “This concept of merit. . . has been widely and legitimately attacked as hollow.”
We urge you to read the whole paper here.
→ From The Free Press to. . . Congress? Back when The Free Press was just a lil ol’ newsletter called Common Sense, we ran a powerful letter from a New York City dad named Andrew Gutmann, who pulled his daughter out of Brearley, her tony private school, because of a “cowardly and appalling lack of leadership” among school administrators who had succumbed to an “anti-intellectual, illiberal mob.” Every line of the letter was like that. And Gutmann didn’t just send it to the school administration. He sent it to every family at Brearley.
Now Gutmann’s running for Congress in—where else?—Florida, where he and his family now live. Curious to see how he fares against Lois Frankel, the Democratic incumbent who’s been in the seat for six terms. Speaking of Florida. . .