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Relegation Zone

Tucker Carlson Is Fading Away

The former Fox News host has his own “network” now. But recapturing his Fox News relevance won’t be easy.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Not so long ago, the idea of a bespoke Tucker Carlson–run news network would be a terrifying proposition to many. During the period marked by Donald Trump’s exile from normal social media until Carlson’s late-April defenestration from Fox News, the prime-time host was arguably the most powerful person in right-wing media—and the person who did the most to fill the Trump-sized void in the zeitgeist.

Carlson was, as much as any figure on the right—not just within right-wing media circles, either—an agenda-setter. His programs were obsessed over. Critics would cut up his broadcasts to showcase the increasing racism, xenophobia, and absurdity of the right. His allies looked to him for cues on what culture-war bugaboos and obsessions should be front of mind when lobbying for media coverage and writing legislation.

Carlson was powerful and malevolent. He was also the person who best fit a prophecy made during Trump’s presidency—that one day a figure would rise up in the monstrous president’s image who was competent and smart, instead of endlessly self-defeating. Carlson did an incalculable level of damage with just one hour a night on weekdays. How much could he do with a whole network at his disposal?

On Monday, Carlson announced that he would be spearheading the creation of just such a network—the imaginatively named Tucker Carlson Network. “What’s true and what’s a lie? Sometimes it’s hard to know,” Carlson said in a video announcing the new venture and articulating his chief post-Fox narrative. “There’s so much deception. Big media companies won’t help. Their job is to manipulate you.”

Carlson, the implication goes, is something different: someone who will tell the truth, who is uncorruptible, who will stand up to woke corporate and political power. It’s a narrative not dissimilar to the one that Trump used to win the presidency in 2016: the former insider turned outsider, now ready to take on the system on your behalf.

As it turns out, however, Tucker Carlson is not Donald Trump. He may not even be Ben Shapiro. Less than a year after his exit from Fox News, Carlson still has a large following, but he lacks the power and influence he had when he still had his perch in the mainstream media. Without the imprimatur of Fox News, Carlson has become just another fish in a very crowded pond. Far from auguring a new moment in conservative media, this new streaming service only underlines just how far Carlson’s star has fallen since he he fell from Fox’s good graces.

It’s not entirely clear what the Tucker Carlson Network will look like. For now, the streaming service—which costs $9 a month, more than ad-supported subscriptions for Hulu, Disney+, and Netflix—will offer the show Carlson has been hosting on X (formerly Twitter), which has featured a fairly predictable slate of guests, including Trump, Steve Bannon, and Marjorie Taylor Greene; and more Carlson-centric hangers-on, such as kickboxer and accused sex trafficker Andrew Tate and weirdo Argentine President-elect Javier Milei. Aside from that, there will also be a podcast—the imaginatively titled “Tucker Carlson Podcast”—which promises to be … well, very similar to the show he has been hosting on X. The entire endeavor looks a lot like a Patreon launched by that one guy who’s always talking your ear off at the bar: He’s got hazy plans galore but nothing concrete. The business model seems to be: Tucker Carlson has fans, and those fans will give him money—provided they have some left over from all the other right-wing mediaverse subscriptions they’ve already gone in on.

Carlson has already raised $15 million from his more deep-pocketed friends to stand up his streaming service. On one level, that’s not very much money: It is $5 million less (reportedly) than Carlson’s annual salary at Fox News; the network spent more than $2 billion in operating expenses in the last quarter alone. Still, it’s also nothing to sniff at: Efforts like the Tucker Carlson Network pose relatively little risk as long as the project doesn’t become cumbersome. There will always be rich people who will back right-wing media projects that serve their larger goals, whether those be lowering taxes, imposing draconian immigration policies, or, in Carlson’s case, both. The bigger question is what kind of audience Carlson can command—and how he will compete with other right-wing stars in terms of influence now that he doesn’t have Fox News’s megaphone.

And this is where things get tricky. Carlson undoubtedly has enough fans to sustain a sizable personal income. But it’s become clear that his divorce from Fox News has diminished his influence—he’s still producing regular content, but he’s not the swashbuckling, agenda-setting figure he once was. On Fox, Carlson benefited from being the most extreme host on a powerful news network—and what he did there provoked others to cover his activities in full. He gained fame and notoriety for pushing Fox into darker, more conspiratorial corners than it had ever occupied before. While other hosts might use a dog whistle when talking about immigration or demographics, Carlson would go further, explicitly embracing odious ideas like the “great replacement theory.”

Outside of Fox, however, these detestable, fringe ideas are just littered all over the landscape. Carlson is no longer competing with Chris Hayes at MSNBC or positioning his ideas to compete against those of more establishment-leaning figures on his own network like Sean Hannity. Carlson is still, on some level, competing with Fox News—and the goofball duo of Greg Gutfeld and Jesse Watters who have supplanted him, both of whom replace Carlson’s smarmy portentousness with a more jovial noxiousness. But now he is also competing with Shapiro, Tim Pool, Matt Walsh, even Barstool Sports’ Dave Portnoy, all of whom have logged considerably more hours competing for the same audience without the benefit of a corporate media powerhouse amplifying their efforts. (That audience: angry divorced middle-aged men whose entire worldview is shaped by the fact that their children no longer speak to them.)

Carlson was radical on Fox, but in the milieu in which he finds himself now, he’s more mainstream and polished than all of these figures—a buttoned-up preppy among the punks. Carlson has, to adopt a line from the worst recent Batman movie, merely taken up the online culture wars. But his competition was born in them. Several months into his show on X, there is no evidence that Carlson is more prominent or influential than any of the right-wingers who’d already carved out their territory—a damning statement, given his importance less than a year ago. (Case in point: His most recent guests are Kid Rock and MMA chief Dana Gould. This isn’t quite the media equivalent of the end of Raging Bull, but it’s not so far off either.)

None of this is to say that Carlson has no shot at regaining his former influence. Twelve years ago, when a washed-up Carlson founded The Daily Caller—which too easily abandoned its hifalutin aspirations of creating high-quality journalism from a conservative point of view to become sub-tabloid trash—it would have been easy to write him off. But that site is still around, and Carlson succeeded in using it as a springboard to cable news dominance—and more power and influence than he had ever had before. Nevertheless, he’s a vastly diminished figure now. Nine months ago, his every word was studied and agonized over. Now he’s just another guy on the internet interviewing Kid Rock.