Why would Fox News fire its most popular host? On average, one million additional people tuned into Tucker Carlson every night than to the Fox programs before and after his show. He drew four times as many viewers as the 8PM show on CNN, Anderson Cooper 360°. He was the leading draw on Fox’s streaming service, and there is no rising star at the network expected to take his seat.
It wasn’t a lack of success that pushed out Carlson, so we are left to speculate why Fox fired their lead anchor. It could have been a battle of egos between Carlson and the Murdochs. Carlson may have threatened to run programming that they disfavored regarding the tapes from January 6, the recent settlement with Dominion, or the coverage of Donald Trump.
Any of these explanations would indicate that ego triumphed over financial sense in the boardroom. Carlson is a revenue driver, and the company’s stock tanked after the announcement on Monday.
But what if there was a rational economic explanation for his firing? What if the people who own Fox have far more interest in neutering criticism of their other economic holdings than they do in the success of Fox’s television department?
Last Wednesday, Carlson opened his show with an attack on the pharmaceutical industry’s manipulation of the news media.
“Sometimes you wonder just how filthy and dishonest our news media are,” Carlson started. “Ask yourself, is any news organization you know of so corrupt that it’s willing to hurt you on behalf of its biggest advertisers?”
Carlson then attacked the news media for taking “hundreds of millions of dollars from Big Pharma companies” and promoting “their sketchy products on the air and as they did that, they maligned anyone who was skeptical of those products.”
Five days later, Carlson was fired. Perhaps, his stardom was not large enough to overcome the issue that he described.
Beyond MyPillow, Fox News’ largest advertisers include GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Novartis, and BlackRock.
Vanguard is the largest institutional owner of Fox Corporation, holding a 6.9 percent stake in the company. BlackRock owns an additional 4.7 percent.
Vanguard and BlackRock are the two largest owners of Pfizer. Combined, they own over 15 percent of the company.
Vanguard and BlackRock are the two largest owners of Johnson & Johnson. Combined, they own over 14 percent of the company.
Vanguard and BlackRock are the second and third largest owners of Moderna. Combined, they own over 13 percent of the company.
Perhaps, you may be noticing a trend.
Vanguard and BlackRock’s holdings in Fox amount to less than $750 million. Their investments in Johnson & Johnson, Eli Lilly, Pfizer, and Merck amount to over $225 billion.
When Carlson attacked the pharmaceutical industry, he was attacking the same funds that owned his network. But those investments in Big Pharma were 300 times larger than their equity in Fox. Carlson may have stepped on a landmine, speaking the unspeakable against the intertwined economic interests of the world’s most powerful companies.
As pharmaceutical companies took over public policy during Covid, they dedicated significantly more money to advertising and marketing than research and development (R&D).
In 2020, Pfizer spent $12 billion on sales and marketing and $9 billion on R&D. That year, Johnson & Johnson devoted $22 billion to sales and marketing and $12 billion to R&D.
The industry’s efforts were rewarded. Billions of dollars in advertising resulted in millions of Americans tuning into programming sponsored by Pfizer. The press promoted their products and seldom mentioned Big Pharma’s history of unjust enrichment, fraud, and criminal pleas.
Upon the release of Pfizer’s 2022 annual report, CEO Albert Bourla stressed the importance of customers’ “positive perception” of the pharmaceutical giant.
“2022 was a record-breaking year for Pfizer, not only in terms of revenue and earnings per share, which were the highest in our long history,” Bourla noted. “But more importantly, in terms of the percentage of patients who have a positive perception of Pfizer and the work we do.”
Carlson committed the media sin of attacking that positive perception, and it may have caused his firing. Regardless, the facts demonstrate a chilling indication that legacy media remains beholden to Big Pharma, and their programming requires the approval of the figures that they are supposed to hold accountable.
Here is his broadcast five days before he was fired.