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Since the firing of Tucker Carlson, viewers have deserted Fox

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

You know, this week started with a divorce at Fox News. The network fired its biggest star, Tucker Carlson.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And the rest of the week has not gone any better. Viewers have deserted Fox, at least for now. And reporters have posted stories that the discovery of offensive private messages Carlson sent about colleagues may have been what pushed Fox to settle a major lawsuit.

INSKEEP: NPR's David Folkenflik joins us now.

David, good morning.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So what's it been like over there? I know you have many sources. What's it like over there now that Tucker Carlson is out?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, you don't even have to talk to sources to notice the biggest fallout. You've seen ratings basically fall off a cliff this week for those who have been substituting for him. It was down, you know, significant chunk. It's down almost 50% in the days since his departure. And you've seen the rise concomitantly of this much smaller right-wing rival, Newsmax. They are playing up the idea that Fox has fired Tucker Carlson because it's gone lib. It's gone woke. It's gone Democrat. And in some ways, you've seen - you know, former Fox host Eric Bolling on Newsmax has seen his ratings go up almost fivefold. All of this is, in a way, weirdly ironic because that dynamic is what led to the panic at Fox News after the 2020 elections that led to Fox being sued for defamation.

INSKEEP: That's true. And they were saying things like, we've got to respect the audience, meaning we have to listen to people who believe false claims of election fraud. I want to figure out how this story has evolved over the last several days. We knew at the beginning that Fox had lost this huge defamation suit. Then we knew that Carlson was ousted. It wasn't exactly clear what the connection was between the two or why. So what have you learned in the days since?

FOLKENFLIK: Sure. Well, I would say litigation focuses the mind. And first thing to remember is that Tucker Carlson has been and Fox have been sued for creating a sexist, misogynist and bigoted workplace. In the defamation lawsuit that was settled last week for three-quarters of a billion bucks, there are - messages emerged from Carlson to colleagues showing contempt for other colleagues and showing a sexist and bigoted outlook, according to three people I spoke with with some knowledge of his departure from Fox.

In addition, he had lost standing at the network. He had not only been contemptuous of colleagues but lost advertisers - so huge ratings but losing revenue because of the kinds of conspiracy theories he was wrapping his show with. And he - you know, Fox had publicly stood by him by things including a special he did called "Patriot Purge," standing up for people who had been part of the bloody siege of Congress on January 6. But at a certain point, it all was too much.

INSKEEP: Well, what does that tell you about the way that Fox operates?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, I think it tells you both about how Fox operates and how their controlling owners, the Murdochs, operate. They're with you until they're not, and that's true from the outset. You know, if you think of Glenn Beck, a figure who kind of got bigger than the network in his own mind, they ultimately dumped him and did fine. The ratings got better. Bill O'Reilly, a star from the outset, primetime at 8 o'clock, this same slot, you know, he was forced out in 2017 because of sexual harassment accusations that I must say he denies. Nonetheless, Fox paid a lot of money. He paid a lot of money to get out of it. They did great. They put in Tucker Carlson, even better ratings. So, you know, their belief is they'll regroup and come out fine, if not stronger.

INSKEEP: What's Carlson do next?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, we've seen this recent video that he posted a day or two ago in which he said only the truth tellers survived and said it's really a one-party state in America. The media won't post dissenting views. Of course, we live in one of the most divisive times you could imagine. I think Carlson is signaling he intends to be on his own platform, and we'll be hearing more from him soon.

INSKEEP: David, thanks so much.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's David Folkenflik. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.