Tucker Carlson is greatly replaceable

Figures in partisan media are ultimately interchangeable

Tucker Carlson is greatly replaceable
Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust / Unsplash

The most racist man in primetime television is out of a job. That's a good thing for now, but it won't be hard to replace him.

Fox News announced Monday that it axed Tucker Carlson, stating that Friday's episode of his show was the last and thanking Carlson for the years he spent promoting all kinds of conspiracy theories and hateful talking points to the network's viewers.

It's hard to imagine another cable news figure in my lifetime who has wrought the kind of damage Carlson has in cheerleading for the radicalization of today's Republican Party--and that's to say nothing of his fawning for authoritarian figures around the globe.

Carlson was able to effectively roleplay as a working man's "populist" voice, duping even some of the stupider people in left-wing media. (The idea that a multimillionaire working at one of the largest corporate news organizations in the world was a genuine champion for the little guy is a testament to the potential of human imagination.)

The simpler truth was that Carlson's producers scoured far-right internet subcultures by day and loaded derivative rants into the teleprompter by night, creating an illusion of cultural acumen to other internet-poisoned people and offering exciting new things to audiences who otherwise hear the same old talking points ad nauseam.

Carlson used this positioning to function as a bridge between vitriolic online discourse and an aging but powerful Fox News audience that still needs men in suits to help them understand why things like taking shoes off an M&M mascot are active threats to the white Western world, exactly.

No other media figure was as efficient at escorting unsavory political figures and ideologies to the forefront of GOP influence. For that, the online far-right is now mourning. As my pal Michael Hayden noted in his newsletter, it's not just Carlson's voice that's gone from Fox News primetime; it's theirs, too.

In all this, it can be tempting to think that Carlson is irreplaceable. But figures in partisan media are ultimately interchangeable, even when they exist as leaders in the pack.

Partisan media ecosystems reward furtherance of ideological goals, not skill or talent. In such an arrangement, fame is conceived by marriages of conveniences rather than merit. Some people call this dynamic "wingnut welfare." It's how a talentless hack like Benny Johnson can make six-figures showing your grandparents Trump graphics and saying "wowie that's a spicy meme-o," or whatever it is he does.

Carlson knew how to be useful and convenient to ideological goals of GOP-aligned powers, which made him successful in the ecosystem he inhabited. But without his coveted primetime slot on Fox News, he will be dramatically less powerful.

Someone else will inevitably pick up what Carlson fumbled and continue to charge it forward, and probably soon. In time, that person will be as effective as Carlson, whether they mimic his formula or trial something else entirely. It might not happen immediately, and it might not happen on Fox News, but as I write this newsletter I promise you someone out there is plotting their next big move.

In the coming days, a lot of focus will be rightfully directed toward Fox News and Tucker Carlson. But it's also important we also consider the environment that figures and networks like these exist in. Carlson was certainly a kingpin, but he didn't act alone.

Another Carlson-esque person will rise because that is precisely what partisan media environments demand. In fact, his replacement is probably already here, lurking in plain sight.