The biggest story that Fox never covered was the one it broke Monday with a four-sentence statement that said “Fox News Media and Tucker Carlson have agreed to part ways.”

The meaning couldn’t be clearer, but the terse announcement was still so incomprehensible that I first thought it was some sort of prank. It was as if Premiere Networks had, 10 years ago, suddenly announced they were parting ways with Rush Limbaugh.

We talk of banks and businesses being too big too fail, but Carlson seemed to fit that category, too. He was the rating king for the king of ratings, the marquee star on the network that has dominated cable news for almost as long as there has been cable news.

There is no one face of Fox, which has a deep bench of beloved personalities including Sean Hannity, Dana Perino, Shannon Bream, Steve Doocy, Laura Ingraham and Greg Gutfeld. And Fox has been known to take risks, as when the network signed Caitlyn Jenner as a contributor one year ago.

But in “parting ways” with Carlson, which was clearly a euphemism for “firing” its biggest star, Fox is playing a high-stakes game, one that could ultimately cost it more than its $787.5 million settlement with Dominion Voting Machines. Who do Fox viewers value more? Rupert Murdoch and the Fox brand or Tucker Carlson? The network is about to find out.

Initially, the fallout favored Carlson, who had semi-serious job offers right away from Glenn Beck and the Daily Wire. Fox, meanwhile, saw its stock fall 5% at one point Monday (by the closing bell it was down 3%) and saw #DoneWithFox trend on Twitter as its news anchors focused on the evacuation of Americans from Sudan.

Beck, whose show on Fox ended in 2011, said Monday, “Letting him walk out the door, wow. ... Never seen anything like it,” noting that Carlson had a sit-down interview with Elon Musk last week.

Carlson had also gotten the first interview with Donald Trump since the former president’s indictment — an especially impressive “get” since only a month earlier, emails released in court records revealed that Carlson had said he hated Trump and couldn’t wait to stop talking about him.

Donald Trump Jr. on Monday called Carlson a thought leader and a “once-in-a-generation type talent” and told podcaster Charlie Kirk that Carlson’s departure “changes things permanently.”

Others, however, pointed out that when people like Beck, Bill O’Reilly and Megyn Kelly left Fox, they had smaller platforms. Reporter Scott Nover wrote on Twitter that it would be hard for Carlson “to maintain his star power.” That is more true for someone like Dan Bongino, who said last week he was leaving Fox because they couldn’t agree on contract terms, but much less so for Carlson, who was well-known in conservative circles before he even joined Fox. (Also, Beck and Kelly still have large and devoted audiences, now on their own terms.)

Bongino’s Saturday-night show on Fox was called “Unfiltered” — and it’s worth noting that one of Carlson’s earliest ventures was called “Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered.” It’s hard to imagine today’s combative, sardonic Carlson on PBS, but that’s where he was from 2004-2005, while, at the same time, he was the conservative on CNN’s iconic “Crossfire.” He then worked for MSNBC for three years before joining Fox.

Carlson has been a friendly (and movie-star handsome) face in the home of conservatives for almost as long as Fox has been around. He’s someone that fans will readily follow elsewhere.

In some ways, his loss is an even bigger challenge to the network than the Dominion lawsuit or the downfall of Roger Ailes, who was ousted over sexual harassment allegations. That’s because, for the first time, Carlson’s departure pits Fox viewers against Fox. It is another ill-timed schism among conservatives at a time when conservatism desperately needs unity.

Of course, the story isn’t even a day old yet, and there’s much more likely to come out. For now, the Los Angeles Times is reporting that Carlson was ousted by “Fox Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch with input from board members and other Fox Corp. executives.” The Wall Street Journal said that Carlson learned of the decision 10 minutes before it was made public.

Related
Perspective: What’s with all the Democrats watching Fox News?
Fox News defamation suit ends in settlement right before trial

At the start of the “Fox News Tonight,” the replacement show now in Carlson’s time slot, Fox personality Brian Kilmeade repeated the “agreed to part ways” line and said “I am great friends with Tucker and always will be” before moving on to the news.

While on one hand, it’s understandable that Fox — like any business — would want to cut loose an employee that had done harm, both financially and reputationally, to the company.

On the other hand, Fox is not any business. It has tremendous power to advance both conservative policies and personalities, and today’s news is not good for anyone involved — not Carlson, not Fox, and most of all, not for the millions of viewers who enjoyed his show —many of them, ironically, Democrats. (Nielsen reported last year that in one survey, “Tucker Carlson Tonight” was the top cable news show among both Republicans and Democrats aged 25-54.)

If Trump and Carlson could mend fences, at least enough for show, it’s curious that Murdoch and Carlson could not do as much for the sake of Team Conservatism. Then again, Carlson is a man who once said, in a profile published in Columbia Journalism Review, “I have all kinds of problems with authority and being told what to do. I was not suited for that kind of work.”

In that light, it’s surprising that he lasted at Fox as long as he did. Get ready for “Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered” again. The audience is waiting. And maybe “President Tucker Carlson,” an idea floated in Politico in 2020, isn’t as far-fetched as it once seemed.