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Why Fox News Is Going to Get Worse—a Lot Worse

Let whatever hope you have that the cable channel will be chastened die. On Planet Murdoch, there is no shame.

Leonardo Munoz/Getty Images
A billboard near Fox News headquarters on April 17, in New York City

What’s next at the Fox News Channel? I don’t know, but my bet is this: Whoever ultimately replaces Tucker Carlson will be worse, as David Graham argued at The Atlantic Monday. He or she will be more trolly, more racist, more pro-Putin, and just all-around more outrageous than Carlson.

It’s important for liberals to understand this. Normal people, when something embarrassing happens, feel shame. Fox just settled a massive lawsuit during which shocking revelations were aired, revelations that would have destroyed a real news organization, but they didn’t destroy Fox because nobody expects Fox to adhere to the normal standards of a real news organization. It faces another, bigger lawsuit from Smartmatic, which is suing for $2.7 billion. “Dominion’s litigation exposed some of the misconduct and damage caused by Fox’s disinformation campaign. Smartmatic will expose the rest,” vows lawyer Erik Connolly. A third lawsuit by former Fox News exec Abby Grossberg promises to reveal some appalling-sounding behavior on the part of Carlson and his staff.

If you think any of this will force Fox to moderate, you are on some distant planet. Yes, Fox fired Carlson. But he wasn’t scuppered out of shame or principle. It was because of—well, we don’t really know yet—but it apparently had something to do with insubordination, mixed with some worry about the Grossberg allegations. But that doesn’t mean Carlson was fired because he crossed some moral line that Fox execs couldn’t tolerate. I mean, come on. This is the guy who promoted “great replacement theory.” The only lines Carlson crossed were the ones Rupert Murdoch cares about: He dissed execs, and he cost the network money—perhaps more tomorrow.

But rest assured, Fox will get worse because that is all Fox has done over the past two decades. They feel zero shame. No, more than that—they actively reject shame. Shame is for sissies. Shame is for liberals. This is true of the entire right, by the way. Go look up what 1960s Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas did to force his resignation. If you compare it to what we now know Clarence Thomas has done, it will seem like a joke. But shame existed back then, and Fortas was shamed into resigning for the good of the court. The only thing Thomas is going to do is write or join opinions outlawing gay marriage and other things America strongly supports, while continuing to vacation at Harlan Crow’s estates, smoke his cigars, and get five-minute standing ovations at Federalist Society dinners from all the people who agree that shame is for girly-men.

Fox will get worse because Fox is the unchained id of the American right, and there exists no superego (the self-critical conscience) on the right to check it. This is very important for non-righties to understand. Every important political movement in U.S. history, every movement that really sought political power, has been, to some extent, self-policing and self-regulating. The labor movement tossed out the Communists (for the most part). The Civil Rights Movement rejected violence. Even the New Right of the early 1960s banished the blatant antisemites. They had some shame, and they cared about mainstream credibility. But now Fox doesn’t have to care about mainstream credibility. It despises mainstream credibility. All it has to care about is its viewers, and to its viewers, mainstream credibility is right up there on the desirability meter with syphilis.

Fox will get worse because the logic of the market in which Fox operates demands that it will get worse. They have to keep pushing the boundary. They have to keep shocking. They have to keep working their viewers into a state of outrage, and doing that requires getting more and more extreme and fanatical with each passing year. So the person who replaces Carlson will be more shocking than Carlson. He will go places even Carlson wouldn’t go. And if Murdoch is smart, he’ll be Black. Or he will be a she. Or maybe a Black she. Which one is still alive, Diamond or Silk? Maybe her. Or Candace Owens. That would be a very Murdochian move, if he’s still on his game at his advanced age.

And Carlson? He’ll get worse too. Because now, he’s in a position he loves. He’s a martyr. He can go around saying that Murdoch and the cowards at Fox sacrificed him on the altar of mainstream respectability, and his audience will eat it up like hyenas tearing into a wildebeest carcass.

It’s hard to say for certain what his next move will be. Start a streaming network of his own? Join One America News, to compete with Fox? Run for president? Run for Senate from Maine? No one’s mentioned that, that I’ve seen, but that’s where he hangs out, and Angus King is up next year. But of course, then Carlson would have to be a senator, and that’s an actual job.

Whatever he decides to do, this about it will be true: He will be more outrageous than he was at Fox News. There is no logic by which these people “moderate” their views. That is normal Earth logic, where gravity works the same way it always has. That is not the logic of today’s hell-with-the-lid-off right. On whatever planet they reside, Earth logic holds no sway. Remember: What would make you and me feel shame merely inspires them to steer into their reprobate skid.

This is who they are. And as long as there are seventysomething white people who are basically decent and apolitical but can be converted into frothing reactionaries—which is to say, for a long time—they’ll keep doing it.