Did TMZ just report the next big move for one of the most controversial and influential figures in U.S. politics? Well, given the way things have gone the last seven years, that seems about right.
The tabloid news org, citing sources close to Newsmax, said the fledgling far-right media company has offered Tucker Carlson control of its flagship cable channel's entire programming slate, should he sign on.
Newsmax responded Saturday to Next TV's inquiry for comment and confirmation with this statement: “We have not spoken with Tucker Carlson but Newsmax is always open to a conversation with incredible talent, including Tucker.”
Former Fox News heavy hitter Carlson seems to have lapsed into the wrong end of the cost-benefit ratio for Rupert Murdoch and Fox, which fired their biggest, most influential, most polarizing host last Monday following a steady stream of embarrassing leaks, expensive settlements and lost advertisers.
We heard the news 10 minutes after Carlson supposedly did, according to the Fox narrative. And we immediately wondered if Newsmax founder and CEO Chris Ruddy might make a play for an on-air presence that would undoubtedly bring vast amounts of viewership — and heat — to his relatively tiny conservative media business.
Say what you will about Carlson — and there’s a lot to say — but that would be a pretty compelling media story. The most polarizing figure in American media today, creating singlehandedly and overnight, the first real, serious threat to Fox News in the realm of right-wing news and propaganda.
Those of you who followed a few months ago Newsmax’s carriage battle with DirecTV will understand that the channel’s modest economics don't match up with Carlson’s likely salary demands. We've seen per-year compensation figures as low as $8 million for him and as high as over $40 million. Suffice it to say that Newsmax, at its current iteration, probably couldn't afford the $8 million.
And for his part, Carlson posted a mind-contorting tweet Wednesday night about “truth” in American media that has generated 77.6 million views so far — perhaps proving the tweeter’s whole purpose for the whole strange, opaque five-minute exercise, which seemed to be showing everyone he can generate an audience no matter where he goes.
Certainly, Carlson has options. According to this Puck News story posted Saturday, he might even have opportunities with Russian state media, which seems to admire his style.
But as they often say in Port Arthur, Texas, home to the legendary Janis Joplin, and Boca Raton, Florida, birthing ground for cross-platform media companies trying to make a dent in the conservative political media machine, “freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.”
From Glenn Beck to Bill O’Reilly to Megyn Kelly to Carlson, Fox chief Rupert Murdoch is said to be wary of hosts who think they’re bigger than the Fox News brand. But in the case of Carlson — at this strange point of inflection — he just might be. (The New York Times published a compelling column Saturday suggesting why Carlson just might be the first host to actually transcend the Fox News transom at this particularly dangerous moment in the American democratic experiment.)
Indeed, for a media conglomerate that just agreed to pay Dominion Voting a $787.5 million settlement, and still has to litigate against more lawsuits from other voting machine makers, not to mention harassment complaints from former female producers, Carlson might have become an unaffordable liability.
For the much smaller Newsmax, which is battling for distribution and could be wiped off the Coastal Floridian map by similar pending Category 5 libel lawsuits from the same voting-machine companies, living for today might be a sensible business model, regardless of what kind of liability it’s taking on.
As for Carlson, who seems to be testing the powers of his own audience spells, he just might be open to being offered Newsmax’s house broom and cauldron.
Notable is the transformational effect a Fox News crisis has on Newsmax, which seems to swing wildly from niche far-right channel, struggling to stay on the pay TV programming grid, to a serious player in the red-meat conservative media space.
It's eerily reminiscent of those post-January 6 weeks during which Fox vacillated on former President Donald Trump’s “Big Lie“ about the 2020 election, and viewers fled to Newsmax.
This week, the pendulum once again tilted toward the latter. Without Carlson around at 8 p.m. to stir his magic cauldron of division and resentment, Newsmax host Eric Bolling’s nightly show saw a 264% ratings uptick to 531,000 viewers.
But Bolling shouldn't get too excited. He could be just keeping the seat warm.
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Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. You can start living a healthier life with greater wealth and prosperity by following Daniel on Twitter today!