I don’t watch the FOX News Channel. Not terribly surprising, and say what you will about me sticking to my “bubble,” but I don’t. Simply put, I don’t think I’m part of its intended audience. Granted, just because I do not fit neatly into FOX’s target demographic doesn’t mean I can’t tune in, if for no other reason than to understand how people on the other side of the political aisle think. Plus, I suppose there’s also an odd sense of entertainment in what I presume is the network’s various personalities’ contortions to avoid talking about or to downplay the endless scandal that is the Trump administration’s ties to Russia, financial or not. All this aside, I don’t watch FOX News, and I doubt I will be tuning in anytime soon. And I, with great specificity, will be avoiding Tucker Carlson’s program.
Before I get to Carlson, let’s take a step back first and consider FOX News as a brand and a “news service.” I say “news service” in quotes because—let’s be honest—FOX News is a propaganda factory masquerading as a legitimate journalistic organization. I suppose the same could be said for other outlets—The New York Times and Washington Post are not without their centrist, corporatist biases, and CNN, Daily Kos, and Huffington Post have been derided at times for being Hillary Clinton apologists, which is essentially the same thing. That said, FOX News has taken the art of political spin on cable news to a new level. If you’ll recall, once upon a time, FOX News’s slogan was “Fair and Balanced.” They’ve since replaced that motto with “Most Watched, Most Trusted,” but on the side of being trustworthy, as with being fair and balanced, this much is dubious.
In recent memory, FOX News has helped fuel the paranoia over WMDs that led, in large part, to our involvement in Iraq; has advanced conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory about Barack Obama in an effort to delegitimize his presidency; and in the era of Trump, has maintained its ways of race-baiting and giving credence to stories that are based on faulty intelligence or are otherwise quickly debunked. That the dishonorable Judge Andrew Napolitano yet has a prominent voice on the network is perhaps no better symbol of its questionable commitment to journalistic ethics. For that matter, when the likes of Shepard Smith are coming to the defense of CNN’s standards and this is seen as a surprise, it is telling where FOX News fits in with the rest of its cable news brethren. (It also, not for nothing, speaks volumes about Donald Trump and his ongoing assault on the American free press.)
FOX News, as I’m sure you’ve heard, has been the subject of some interest lately, and mostly for the wrong reasons. The late Roger Ailes, founder and one-time CEO of FOX News, resigned prior to his death after numerous accusations of sexual harassment by former female FOX News personalities. Bill O’Reilly, one of the network’s more recognizable figures and one of the leading conservatives because of his platform, was ousted from his primetime slot as host of The O’Reilly Factor because of his own alleged acts of sexual harassment. And Sean Hannity lost advertisers because of his pursuit of conspiracy theories regarding the death of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, who some have suspected as being murdered for leaking DNC E-mails to WikiLeaks (the official explanation is that Rich was killed in a botched robbery). In short, it’s been a tumultuous time at FOX News recently, and with the kind of turnover in staff and executive leadership that only MSNBC could seem to rival, it’s no wonder that divisions within its ranks have become apparent, especially with a figure as divisive as Donald Trump in the White House.
Perhaps it is a sign of where we are as a country that much like how Trump became President Trump despite the apparent constant upheaval within his campaign, FOX News, despite the improprieties of its personnel and the second-rate journalism it peddles as unvarnished truth, has enjoyed a sizable run at the apex of the cable news hierarchy. FOX News has spent 28 weeks at the top of the charts, and in fact, a majority of Americans get their news from the #1 cable news outlet in all the land. MSNBC, on the strength of its predominantly anti-Trump coverage, has been the recent runner-up. CNN, the bastion of “fake news” that it is made out to be, is a comparative also-ran. Ainsley Earhardt, Bret Baier, Brian Kilmeade, Chris Wallace, Dana Perino, Greg Gutfeld, Jeanine Pirro, Juan Williams, Jesse Watters, Kimberly Guilfoyle, Martha McCallum, Neil Cavuto, Sean Hannity, Shepard Smith, Steve Doocy—FOX News has no shortage of white people, Juan Williams, and occasionally Geraldo Rivera to deliver unsubstantiated reports to the eyes and minds of its viewers. Which includes Mr. Trump, who apparently trusts this network more than his actual intelligence community.
And then there’s Tucker Carlson. He wasn’t included in that run of vaguely douche-y talking heads, but though he’s no less douche-y, he’s a special case (and last alphabetically by first name). Tucker McNear Carlson began a career in journalism serving on the editorial staff of the conservative publication Policy Review, as well as sharpening his skills as a reporter and journalist for various prominent magazines and newspapers. It was in 2001, though, that Carlson began his rise to cable news prominence when he became co-host of CNN’s Crossfire; you may recall his rather testy back-and-forth with Jon Stewart. After a few years at CNN, his contract wasn’t renewed—or he resigned, if you believe Tucker—and Carlson spent a spell at MSNBC with his namesake show Tucker. It got cancelled due to low ratings—or because MSNBC is run by a bunch of liberals, per Tucker. Eventually, though, Tucker Carlson found a home at the FOX News Channel, first appearing as a contributor to various programs, and later moving on to co-host the weekend edition of Fox and Friends. Just last year, he was given another marquee primetime hosting gig, taking the reins in November at Tucker Carlson Tonight. With Bill O’Reilly getting the boot, Carlson also assumed his time slot. He now owns an enviable time slot on basic cable’s most-watched news source. To this end, I commend him.
On his politics, however, I cannot commend him, a notion buoyed by the current political climate in the United States and abroad in which unabashed racists and white supremacists suddenly feel emboldened enough to spray swastikas on the sides of buildings and run for political office. Along these lines, Carlos Maza, a correspondent for the site Vox who produces video content related to journalism and the media in the Trump era, recently authored a piece on why white supremacists love Tucker Carlson. Yes, love. Presumably with hearts adorned with nooses and burning crosses. Before even getting to the whole white supremacist base angle thing, Maza acknowledges that Carlson enjoys the highest ratings of any primetime cable news program, so clearly he is resonating with American viewers, and ever tongue-in-cheek, Maza indicates Fox News executives probably adore him because he isn’t embroiled in any sexual harassment scandals. You know, that we know of.
But, yeah, about the whole white supremacist thing. Richard Spencer, one of the leading voices in the American white supremacist movement, regards Tucker more highly than his time slot predecessor because not only does he view Carlson as more intelligent than Bill O’Reilly, but he also conceives of him as more open-minded to white supremacist ideals. David Duke—and if you don’t know who David Duke is, please stop reading, Google it, do a spit-take, and then come back—is also a Tucker-phile. Even the American neo-Nazi and white supremacist publication The Daily Stormer identifies Carlson as “its greatest ally.” White supremacist views—on basic cable? Yea, verily, my friends. And as king of cable news, Tucker Carlson is thus a dangerous voice in this regard.
So, now that I’ve whetted your appetite with my whole preamble, why do white supremacists love Tucker Carlson so much, other than that he has exhibited a proclivity over the years for being a fancy dresser? As Carlos Maza explains in detail, while typical FOX News viewers may merely approve of Carlson because he, like other on-air personalities from his network, rails against the “liberal media” and political correctness, white supremacists dig TC because he portrays all immigration as detrimental to the fabric of American society—illegal or not. According to Maza, Carlson made it a priority in the first few months of Tucker Carlson Tonight to question how complete or valid the statistics are on legal immigrants committing crimes, and made out Mexicans, Muslims, and refugees/migrants—many of whom tend to be Hispanic/Latino or Muslim—to be a potential threat. Carlson relies on the myth that minorities within these groups commit violent crimes at a disproportionate rate to white citizens, when really, it is the other way around. To this end, he cherry-picks his way through data to form the conclusion that “foreigners” are coming to this country just to murder, rape, and steal from honest, hard-working “Americans,” or simply invites anti-immigrant extremists like Ann Coulter to, as Maza puts it, “do his dirty work for him.”
Wait—it gets worse. As Carlos Maza would have it, the worst part of Tucker Carlson’s enabling of white supremacist views, other than his over-the-top raising of his eyebrows whenever he agrees with a guest of the show, is how he openly rejects the merits of multiculturalism in the United States today, suggesting “Western culture” is superior to that of any culture belonging to whence these immigrants/refugees came, and that embracing multiculturalism is tantamount to teaching Americans to hate their own cultural identity. In other words, we are not all equal under the same sun, snowflake. As Carlson—and yes, David Duke and Richard Spencer—would submit, all forms of immigration to this country will lead to an erosion of this nation’s values and its ultimate fragmentation. As with Donald Trump, the depiction is of a critical moment in U.S. history when the future of its very existence is at stake, a fear-inducing, apocalyptic viewpoint. This all comes to a head in the creation of a space in Tucker Carlson Tonight in which everything that is “different” is associated with being bad or wrong. Teaching Spanish in schools is seen as a destructive force rather than a practical means of readying children for a bilingual state and a cultural bridge. Refugees and other people fleeing the degradation of their land due to climate change, poverty, and/or war are labeled “invaders” instead of those merely seeking a better life, or simply not trying to lose their life.
This kind of racist, xenophobic rhetoric enabled by Tucker Carlson and elaborated by the Ann Coulters and Katie Hopkinses of the world is dog-whistle politics—make no mistake about it. Concern for the changing face of our country and of its values is coded language for “the purity and sanctity of white blood is being defiled.” “Western culture” or “European culture” is that of the white, imperialistic majority, and therefore not of indigenous peoples or non-Christians. Pointing to the crimes of immigrants is another way of saying “they” should get out and/or stay out. What makes Carlson’s prominence all the more unsettling are the implications behind his success. For one, Tucker is able to plant the seeds of prejudice even when he is demonstrably wrong. Maza points to Carlson’s belaboring of the Rockville, MD rape case against two immigrant teenagers, a story which came to national attention when then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer referenced it. The charges eventually were dropped, but not after repeated mentions of the case by Carlson and his on-air guests, and with no apparent desire by TC to recant on his amateur pre-judgment of its merits, i.e. no accountability for his character assassination of these children based on xenophobic leanings. In addition, because he is neat and well-dressed, he makes white supremacist views seem that much more mainstream and palatable. Or, as Carlos Maza puts forth in closing, he makes white supremacists’ jobs that much easier.
For years, Tucker Carlson seemed like a political commentator who was kind of a dick and wore a bowtie—the latter of which only made him seem like more of a dick. He has since dispensed with the bowtie, but he’s still pretty much a dick, and what’s more, he’s got much more influence than he possessed during his formative years on CNN and MSNBC. I’ve already invoked the name of Donald Trump herein, comparing his tumultuous-but-ultimately-successful presidential campaign to the scandal-plagued-but-dominant-ratings-wise FOX News Channel. In a way, though, Trump is kind of like Carlson and vice-versa. Donald Trump, like Tucker Carlson, was largely seen as a dick, but you didn’t really think much about him beyond that in terms of political influence. Now he’s President, and his Tweets are regular news, just by virtue of him being the leader of the country. In both cases, despite not exhibiting a great deal of talent in their chosen professions, they have taken advantage of the opportunities presented to them. Again, this is an acknowledgment of their success, and not an endorsement of any intelligence or savvy. Carlson owes a certain debt of gratitude to Bill O’Reilly and his allegedly grope-y ways. Trump benefited from a muddled, weak Republican field and a Democratic Party nominee in Hillary Clinton who is just about as unlikable as he is.
Regardless of how neatly the Trump-Carlson comparison fits, both men are key cogs in a larger movement that seeks to define who is and who isn’t a “true” American, a distinction fed by fear, hate, and irrationality. Often, concordant with the emotions the racism and xenophobia of the alt-right and its ilk engender, the leaders of this movement paint a picture of the situation as a culture “war” and one for the fate of the United States of America. From the vantage point of the left, this is largely hyperbole, but though we shouldn’t consider the other side of the political spectrum the enemy, we shouldn’t undersell the threat represented by normalizing their behavior and rhetoric. As it must be said umpteen times in resistance, Donald Trump is not normal. His antics aren’t becoming of a President of the United States, and by this token, he probably would’ve been fired by now if the would-be CEO-as-President were actually running a business. (Mind you, he is still benefiting from the Trump Corporation’s operations, and that isn’t normal either.)
In his apparent beliefs, however, Trump is not alone, and these feelings of entitlement felt by his supporters and people like Tucker Carlson to regularly spout their outmoded and bigoted remarks should likewise not be accepted. If the white supremacists of America and of the world conceive of their campaign against immigration and multiculturalism as a war for the soul of their respective nation, they, by all indications, are fighting a losing battle. This doesn’t mean that we should take these trends for granted, though. Financial pressure has been levied against Donald Trump and Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity in terms of boycotting the Trump Family’s products and appealing to companies to withdraw their advertisements. The same should be effected with respect to Tucker Carlson, white supremacist darling, and anything less is a tacit approval of the hate he helps give a voice to and a blatant allegiance with revenue over morals.