April 24 (Reuters) – Fox News Media and its top-rated host Tucker Carlson have agreed to part ways, less than a week after the Fox Corp (FOXA.O) media company settled for $787.5 million a defamation lawsuit in which Carlson played a starring role.

The outspoken Carlson embraced conservative issues and delivered his views with a style that made his prime-time show, “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” the highest-rated cable news program in the key 25-to-54 age demographic on the most-watched U.S. cable news network. Shares of Fox closed 2.9% lower on the news, which the company announced on Monday.

Dominion Voting Systems alleged in its lawsuit that Carlson allowed debunked election-fraud claims about the voting-technology firm to air on his show, while casting doubts on the plausibility of those claims in private messages that emerged in legal filings.

Carlson is also key to additional legal battles facing Fox, including a lawsuit filed by his former head of booking Abby Grossberg, who said Fox coerced her testimony in the Dominion case.

Grossberg last month accused network lawyers of pressuring her to provide misleading testimony and said Fox exposed her and others to rampant sexism and misogyny. Fox fired Grossberg, saying her legal claims were “riddled with false allegations against Fox and our employees.”

Carlson’s next move and the reason for his departure are unclear.

“We thank him for his service to the network as a host and prior to that as a contributor,” Fox News said in a statement. While the departure leaves Fox without one of its biggest stars, advertisers have fled Carlson’s show as he has embraced controversy.

U.S. Representative Thomas Massie, a Republican from Kentucky, said Fox would suffer from Carlson’s departure. “@TuckerCarlson leaving Fox News. He was the boldest they had! This is a big loss for Fox,” he wrote on Twitter.

CLAIMS OF MANIPULATION

In the immediate weeks after Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 election, smaller, more conservative rivals to Fox such as Newsmax gained viewers as they questioned election results. Dominion alleged that Fox staff, ranging from Carlson and members of the newsroom to the board of directors, knew the statements about Dominion were false but continued to air them to avoid losing more viewers.

“For a while Fox News has been moving to become establishment media and Tucker Carlson’s removal is a big milestone in that effort,” Newsmax Chief Executive Christopher Ruddy said in a statement.

In deeply conservative West Texas, some Fox viewers expressed shock and anger at Carlson’s removal.

“My wife and I were just talking about this, and we think it’s a real bummer they took him off air, because he’s a true conservative voice,” said Mark Gudelman, a 67-year-old retiree who was shopping in a Dollar General store in little Shallowater, Texas.

Four people in Shallowater who said they were conservative but would not give their full names told Reuters they stopped watching Fox after the perceived betrayal of Trump in 2020. They said they now preferred what they considered to be even more truly conservative outlets, such as Newsmax or One America News.

Dominion is also suing Newsmax and One America News for similar debunked claims about vote rigging.

Carlson’s last program was April 21, the company said in the statement. It said that “Fox News Tonight” will air live at 8 p.m. EDT starting on Monday as an interim show helmed by rotating Fox News personalities until a new host is named.

After the announcement of Carlson’s departure from Fox News, a Trump spokesperson tweeted: “Fox News is controlled opposition.” Trump gave an interview to Carlson earlier this month that aired on Fox.

Republican U.S. Representative Lauren Boebert, who has been a staunch Trump supporter, was quick to back Carlson. “I stand with Tucker Carlson!” she tweeted shortly after the news broke.

Carlson joined Fox News as a contributor in 2009 and became a co-host of “Fox & Friends Weekend” in 2012. He began hosting his prime-time show in November 2016. In 2021 Fox announced a multiyear deal with Carlson to provide content for its Fox Nation streaming service.

Reporting by Akriti Sharma in Bengaluru

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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