Tucker Carlson’s New Venture Targets Younger, More Online Audience

tucker carlson new era

On Christmas Eve, former Fox News host Tucker Carlson released a “surprise” collaboration with disgraced actor Kevin Spacey. During the interview, Spacey, who earlier this year was acquitted on charges of sexual assault brought against him by several young men, embodied his House of Cards character Frank Underwood and delivered the annual holiday message he’s continued to produce despite having been out of the role since 2017. 

At one point, Spacey turned to the camera and, in a callback to the fourth-wall-breaking style of his Netflix character, told the audience that while he loved the trappings of a traditional white Christmas, “the truth is I love nothing better on this day than to do a line of blow, drink a whiskey and coke, hit a reindeer with my car, and wish you all the naughtiest Christmas ever.”

Later in the conversation, Carlson asked Spacey if their interaction was “like, an episode, or is it real?”

If Spacey and Carlson have anything in common, it’s getting fired from premiere roles and being relegated to social media as their primary vehicle for exposure. While it was Spacey playing a fictional character, Carlson’s query vocalized a question that many aghast observers of the former Fox host’s career have posed over the years: How much of what Carlson does and says represents his true nature? How much of it is a business strategy? Does the insincerity of the man even matter when his fans take his every word as gospel? 

Since his sudden firing from Fox News in April, Carlson’s content style has made a curious shift. In the months since his ouster, Carlson — still a high-profile purveyor of white nationalism and conspiracy theories — has been working to rebuild his audience, redefine his brand, and make inroads in a changing digital right-wing media landscape. The result is an unmoored, former TV giant forced to compete with well-established conservative influencers for a younger, more online, and male demographic — and making really weird content choices to prove his bona fides as an independent content creator.  

Earlier this month, the Nelk Boys gifted Tucker Carlson the “world’s largest” Zyn canister. If that sentence is completely incomprehensible to you, you’re probably not a regular consumer of right-wing content, prank YouTubers, or nicotine. 

The stunt, which went viral within right-wing social media circles, exemplifies the image Carlson is now trying to present. To break it down: The Nelk Boys are a YouTube-based entertainment group that is popular among young conservatives. Their content features a lot of pranks, viral stunts, and interviews with some of the internet’s biggest (and most controversial) figures. The group’s ties to the MAGA universe exploded after they met former President Donald Trump at a UFC event in 2020. Zyn is a brand of oral nicotine pouches.

Cringeworthy interviews with Spacey and collabs with vloggers exemplify this newest iteration of Carlson’s persona. Why is the man who dedicated virtually every night of his broadcast at Fox to fear-mongering about the great replacement conspiracy now squealing like a child on Christmas over the zillennial version of dip? Ever the opportunist, Carlson sees the need to shift his audience away from the geriatrics who couldn’t figure out how to sign up for Fox Nation. By contrast, The Nelk Boys are popular among young men, digitally savvy, and just close enough to the reactionary fringes of right-wing influence to represent an opportunity.

On Dec. 11, Carlson announced that he would be launching his own subscription-based streaming service, the “Tucker Carlson Network” (TCN). The network did not respond to Rolling Stone’s request for comment. 

For TCN’s launch, Carlson hired trucks bearing the slogan “CORPORATE MEDIA IS DEAD” to park outside the headquarters of major national newspapers and cable news channels. While the stunt targeted mostly liberal publications and companies, nowhere is corporate media more dead than in the minds of conservatives. A YouGov survey published in May found that Republicans are generally more distrustful of prominent media outlets, even well-known conservative ones, than Democrats and Independents. Coincidentally, Carlson is considered one of the most trusted media figures among Republicans. Running parallel to this is the growing number of Americans who primarily consume news through social media and individual influencers, as well as a growing body of data showing that Gen Z men are becoming more conservative than past generations. 

It’s in this evolving space where Carlson will attempt to reassert his status as a titan of conservative thought. He is no longer on TV, so viewers have to intentionally seek him out and pay a $9 monthly subscription for his streaming service. For that to work, Carlson must compete with the slew of existing right-wing podcasts, streaming shows, and influencers already dominating the space he once lorded over from afar. This means abandoning the already fragile restraints he’d been subjected to at Fox, leaning into the most extreme iterations of his dogma, and making direct contact with segments of the right’s fever swamps in a way he’s never done before. 

Carlson’s departure from Fox exiled him to a hastily produced X (formerly Twitter) show filmed in the remnants of his home studio, stripped of all high-end equipment typical of America’s most popular cable news network. At his old gig, Carlson enjoyed a privileged position within the world of television. His 8 p.m. primetime hour, which he had held from 2017 to 2023, guaranteed his messaging would be beamed to millions of American homes every weeknight. Fox largely catered to older viewers, but his show and its racist-staffed writers’ room acted as an assignment desk for large swaths of conservative media and lawmakers, and that provided more than just ratings. Carlson and his fellow host Sean Hannity often seemed to speak directly to the Trump White House and lawmakers in Congress. A segment on Tucker Carlson Tonight could catapult a local conservative grievance into a story of national interest; a callout during his monologue could inundate his target with death threats. 

Fox’s break with Carlson was shocking mostly because of how indulgent the network had been towards its leading man’s descent into white nationalism and the regular havoc he wrought on its relationship with advertisers. He sat comfortably upstream of an ecosystem of engagement-rabid upstarts willing to translate his network television-approved vitriol into explicit, uncensored terms for the masses. Now, unrestrained by even the low bar of Fox News’ standards, Carlson has let loose. 

His roster of guests is a mix of explicitly reactionary political activists and politicians, conservative-adjacent cultural figures, and an ever-expanding chorus of men with a victim complex. In early December, he did one of the only things he was directly banned from at Fox: interviewing Sandy Hook truther Alex Jones. Carlson, who’d once said that Jones and his conspiracy theories freaked him out, lavished praise over the InfoWars host for the “precision” of his most outlandish theories, including his claims about 9/11. At one point, Carlson suggested that “every able-bodied man with a black rifle” should assemble at the southern border to “save the country” from the scourge of immigration. 

The Nelk Boys, Zyns, Alex Jones, UFOs, asking Trump about Jeffrey Epstein, brofest interviews with alleged sex trafficker Andrew Tate, and even entertaining the notion that the Earth may be flat are all moments that speak to Carlson’s embrace of online, memeified reactionary spaces as a business strategy. It’s less restrained, weirder, and somehow even more chronically online than ever before. It’s an embrace of a persona he had only trotted out episodically while employed by Fox News, the guy who would produce sporadic content on cattle mutilations and testicle tanning.

It’s also an overt effort by Carlson to build connections with a younger conservative culture that had previously only consumed his Fox content through viral online outtakes. Some of the content promotes direct interaction between himself and his fans. On Ask Tucker, a newly launched show on TCN, Carlson accepts viewers’ questions and offers his thoughts. Topics in episode one include advice on apologizing to the father of the bride at a wedding after getting drunk and arguing with him about Trump, and what to do if your daughter’s best friend starts an OnlyFans account. 

Even if the collective impression of it all feels a bit experimental, it’s not unexpected. In fact, Carlson is joining a long line of disgraced former Fox News personalities who’ve attempted to rebuild their reach and influence through independent ventures. Glenn Beck’s outfit at The Blaze is by far the largest such venture, and Bill O’Reilly remains prominent within the world of conservative radio, but neither of them have achieved the heights of reach and influence they enjoyed as a Fox News host. 


Carlson may have undertaken this venture during the best and worst of times. Corporate media may not be dead, but it is undeniable that there is an ongoing, drastic rewiring of the media landscape taking place. There has never been a greater abundance of content, or more competition to stand out within the fray. But as algorithms like TikTok’s become unnervingly specific to individual tastes, and users — particularly young ones — increasingly rely on social media as a curated search engine, as well as to receive and digest news and commentary, the opportunities to build a community around a single personality are unlimited. 

Carlson thinks he can go the distance. In his quest to complete his transformation from cable television sophist to cutting-edge right-wing digital content creator, what Carlson has managed to do is produce a version of himself that will be more extreme, more bizarre, more niche, and possibly more in tune with the new media ecosystem that will soon dominate political news consumption. 

Source link: https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/tucker-carlson-network-younger-audience-kevin-spacey-nelk-boys-1234936451/

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