Timing is everything. On the evening of Friday, April 21, I walked into the pre-reception of The Heritage Foundation’s 50th Anniversary Gala, hoping to see someone I knew in the sea of people arriving in black-tie attire.
Within less than two minutes, I spotted a familiar face — a face I knew from watching his nightly show, “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” on the Fox News Channel. Tucker Carlson was the evening’s keynote speaker.
I took a few steps to the side, distancing myself from the growing crowd arriving at the event. Next thing I knew, Tucker (and an accompaniment of men in suits I assumed were providing event security) was walking straight toward me.
Without hesitation, I took the opportunity to introduce myself. Tucker’s affable, high-spirited personality made the conversation fun yet also meaningful. We chatted briefly about my work and posed for a quick picture.
Then jokingly, as the moment called for, I asked Tucker when he was going to have me on his show. His response was to eagerly take my business card then stretch out his arms full length trying to decipher the tiny, light-colored print. With convivial laughter he exclaimed, “I can’t see this without my reading glasses!”
His laughter was contagious. Everything about the moment was light and fun and carefree. And, due to what would transpire a few days later, this interaction will be etched unforgettably in my mind.
As the gala got underway, there was great anticipation for Tucker’s address. From the moment he took the stage and started speaking, his energy, passion, and sincerity shined. His keynote was full of conviction, candor, and comedy. Countless powerful lines and important themes were shared as he recalled getting his career start as an intern at The Heritage Foundation fresh out of college, the collapse of leadership in government institutions and beyond, the First Amendment, the strong pull of the herd instinct, how the truth is contagious and powerful, and the call to include the country in our prayers.
At the conclusion of the address, the president of Heritage, Kevin Roberts, joined Tucker on stage for a conversation. The friendly banter between friends began with Roberts saying: “Oh man, the chance to interview Tucker Carlson. Do I have some questions? But because you made your first point seven times, we only have a few minutes.”
Laughter erupted. Playing off of the crowd, they continued to jest:
Carlson: Sorry. Well, that’s kind of a signature move for me.
Roberts: Yeah. Must be the elitist in you.
Carlson: Well, there’s a lot of that still.
Roberts: We’ve got time for two questions.
Roberts: But all seriousness, Tucker, thank you. What a great message.
Carlson: Oh, thank you. It was heartfelt.
Roberts: Things go south at Fox News, there’s always a job for you at Heritage.
Carlson: Well, you’ve saved me before; so, thank you.
Roberts: We do that for a lot of people, very happily. We’re not called “America’s Outpost” for nothing. Yeah, think about that.
The weekend came and went. Then on Monday morning, the most unexpected announcement was made. Harris Faulkner, the host of “The Faulkner Focus” on Fox News, was assigned to break the news: “Fox News Media and Tucker Carlson have mutually agreed to part ways. Tucker’s last show was this past Friday.”
I, along with Roberts and multitudes of Fox viewers, was stunned as this was entirely unexpected. It’s possible and even probable that I was the last person to ask Tucker to have me on “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” Roberts, without question, was the first to offer Tucker a job post-Fox. Of course, both of us were joking with the esteemed communicator, not knowing of the pending reality to come Monday morning.
Roberts took to his Twitter instantly on Monday to reaffirm his words:
I’ve said it before and I will say it again, Tucker Carlson is a fearless American who is unafraid to challenge the Washington regime, ask tough questions, and hold the ruling elite accountable. Tucker, Heritage will always be a home for you.Dr. Kevin Roberts, President of The Heritage Foundation
The shocking announcement rapidly spread as news does due to the power of the web and social media. The conservative Right, and even the liberal Left, were talking about Tucker’s seemingly outright ousting from Fox. Yet Tucker was silent all day Monday. Then Tuesday came and went without a word.
It wasn’t until Wednesday evening that Tucker surfaced. He posted a two-minute and 16-second video to his Twitter account. While his account has 6.6 million followers, the video had upwards of 20 million views within the first 24 hours — and nearly 80 million views by this publication the following Tuesday.
Instead of attacking Fox News Media, Tucker talked about the important debates that are needed, and he spoke about truth:
The other thing you notice when you take a little bit of time off is how unbelievably stupid most of the debates you see on television are. They are completely irrelevant. In five years, we won’t even remember that we had them. Trust me as someone who has participated.
And yet, at the same time, this is the amazing thing: The undeniably big topics, the ones that will define our future, get virtually no discussion at all — war, civil liberties, emerging science, demographic change, corporate power, natural resources. When was the last time you heard a legitimate debate about any of those issues? It’s been a long time. Debates like that are not permitted in American media.Tucker Carlson
Tucker continued with a critical point he similarly drove home during his keynote address with Heritage: “When honest people say what is true calmly and without embarrassment, they become powerful … True things prevail.”
He concluded with the words, “There is hope. See you soon.”
To date, Fox News Media has failed to provide its loyal viewers any rationale for the removal of its No. 1 TV host whose show often ranked as the most-watched primetime show on cable.
The ramifications for Fox News have been significant. “Tucker Carlson Tonight” drew an average 3.3 million viewers on a given Monday. This is compared to CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” show, which attracted a mere 728,000 viewers on Monday in the same 8:00 p.m. Eastern time slot.
The day of the announcement, Tucker’s former time slot on the Fox News Channel experienced a sharp 21% decline in viewership. Likely, many of those viewers tuned in simply in hopes of learning more about the unexpected boot of their beloved host.
In time, details will likely surface, but one thing is certain: Fox, on its own accord, lost a superstar TV personality and will pay the price, not just in viewership but in its pocketbook. Fox Corporation’s stocks nosedived more than 5% on the day of the announcement, equating to a $1 billion loss in market capitalization.
Tucker, on the other hand, will no doubt rally, as his follower base is impressively strong and his unwavering commitment and unique ability to communicate truth courageously with clarity, conviction, candor, and comedy will continue.
My conversation with Tucker — and the timing of it — will not soon be forgotten.
Roberts’ concluding words to the more than 2,400 gala guests unknowingly also would apply to the evening’s keynote speaker, Tucker Carlson: “Don’t you ever doubt that when the chips are down, we’re going to be there charging the hill with you. God bless you.”