How Tucker Carlson Stoked White Fear to Conquer Cable
Category: News & PoliticsVia: john-russell • 3 weeks ago • 2 comments
This is a long article, almost the length of a short book. You'll have to have access to the New York Times to see all of it.
April 30, 2022
Tucker Carlson burst through the doors of Charlie Palmer Steak, enfolded in an entourage of producers and assistants, cellphone pressed to his ear. On the other end was Lachlan Murdoch, chairman of the Fox empire and his de facto boss.
Most of Fox’s Washington bureau, along with the cable network’s top executives, had gathered at the power-class steakhouse, a few blocks from the office, for their annual holiday party. Days earlier, Mr. Carlson had set off an uproar, claiming on air that mass immigration made America “poor and dirtier.” Blue-chip advertisers were fleeing. Within Fox, Mr. Carlson was widely viewed to have finally crossed some kind of line. Many wondered what price he might pay.
The answer became clear that night in December 2018: absolutely none.
When “Tucker Carlson Tonight” aired, Mr. Carlson doubled down, playing video of his earlier comments and citing a report from an Arizona government agency that said each illegal border crossing left up to eight pounds of litter in the desert. Afterward, on the way to the Christmas party, Mr. Carlson spoke directly with Mr. Murdoch, who praised his counterattack, according to a former Fox employee told of the exchange.
“We’re good,” Mr. Carlson said, grinning triumphantly, as he walked into the restaurant.
In the years since, Mr. Carlson has constructed what may be the most racist show in the history of cable news — and also, by some measures, the most successful. Though he frequently declares himself an enemy of prejudice — “We don’t judge them by group, and we don’t judge them on their race,” Mr. Carlson explained to an interviewer a few weeks before accusing impoverished immigrants of making America dirty — his show teaches loathing and fear. Night after night, hour by hour, Mr. Carlson warns his viewers that they inhabit a civilization under siege — by violent Black Lives Matter protesters in American cities, by diseased migrants from south of the border, by refugees importing alien cultures, and by tech companies and cultural elites who will silence them, or label them racist, if they complain. When refugees from Africa, numbering in the hundreds, began crossing into Texas from Mexico during the Trump administration, he warned that the continent’s high birthrates meant the new arrivals might soon “overwhelm our country and change it completely and forever.” Amid nationwide outrage over George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer, Mr. Carlson dismissed those protesting the killing as “criminal mobs.” Companies like Angie’s List and Papa John’s dropped their ads. The following month, “Tucker Carlson Tonight” became the highest-rated cable news show in history.
His encyclopedia of provocations has only expanded. Since the 2020 presidential election, Mr. Carlson has become the most visible and voluble defender of those who violently stormed the U.S. Capitol to keep Donald J. Trump in office, playing down the presence of white nationalists in the crowd and claiming the attack “barely rates as a footnote.” In February, as Western pundits and politicians lined up to condemn the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, for his impending invasion of Ukraine, Mr. Carlson invited his viewers to shift focus back to the true enemy at home. “Why do I hate Putin so much? Has Putin ever called me a racist?” Mr. Carlson asked. “Has he threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him?” He was roundly labeled an apologist and Putin cheerleader, only to press ahead with segments that parroted Russian talking points and promoted Kremlin propaganda about purported Ukrainian bioweapons labs.
Alchemizing media power into political influence, Mr. Carlson stands in a nativist American tradition that runs from Father Coughlin to Patrick J. Buchanan. Now Mr. Carlson’s on-air technique — gleefully courting blowback, then fashioning himself as his aggrieved viewers’ partner in victimhood — has helped position him, as much as anyone, to inherit the populist movement that grew up around Mr. Trump. At a moment when white backlash is the jet fuel of a Republican Party striving to return to power in Washington, he has become the pre-eminent champion of Americans who feel most threatened by the rising power of Black and brown citizens. To channel their fear into ratings, Mr. Carlson has adopted the rhetorical tropes and exotic fixations of white nationalists, who have watched gleefully from the fringes of public life as he popularizes their ideas. Mr. Carlson sometimes refers to “legacy Americans,” a dog-whistle term that, before he began using it on his show last fall, appeared almost exclusively in white nationalist outlets like The Daily Stormer, The New York Times found. He takes up story lines otherwise relegated to far-right or nativist websites like VDare: “Tucker Carlson Tonight” has featured a string of segments about the gruesome murders of white farmers in South Africa, which Mr. Carlson suggested were part of a concerted campaign by that country’s Black-led government. Last April, Mr. Carlson set off yet another uproar, borrowing from a racist conspiracy theory known as “the great replacement” to argue that Democrats were deliberately importing “more obedient voters from the third world” to “replace” the current electorate and keep themselves in power. But a Times analysis of 1,150 episodes of his show found that it was far from the first time Mr. Carlson had done so.
“Tucker is ultimately on our side,” Scott Greer, a former deputy editor at the Carlson-founded Daily Caller, who cut ties with the publication in 2018 after his past writings for a white nationalist site were unearthed, said on his podcast last spring. “He can get millions and millions of boomers to nod along with talking points that would have only been seen on VDare or American Renaissance a few years ago.”
But if Mr. Carlson has not always been truthful, he has been remarkably consistent. Almost from the beginning, “Tucker Carlson Tonight” has presented a dominant narrative, recasting American racism to present white Americans as an oppressed caste. The ruling class uses fentanyl and other opioids to addict and kill legacy Americans, anti-white racism to cast them as bigots, feminism to degrade their self-esteem, immigration to erode their political power. Republican elites, however improbably, help to import the voters Democrats require at the ballot box. The United States, Mr. Carlson tells his viewers, is “ruled by mercenaries who feel no long-term obligation to the people they rule.”
He leaves little doubt who these mercenaries are. Among the most frequent recurring characters on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” are Black politicians like the Democratic congresswomen Maxine Waters and Ilhan Omar and Vice President Kamala Harris, whom Mr. Carlson has portrayed, against the available evidence, as a kind of shadow president. He regularly disparages Black women as stupid or undeserving of their positions. “No one outside of her own neighborhood had ever heard of Kamala Harris before she showed up as Willie Brown’s girlfriend,” Mr. Carlson said last November, referring to Ms. Harris’s long-ago relationship with the California politician. “Then a few years later, she became Montel Williams’s girlfriend. Interesting.” When President Biden nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, Mr. Carlson demanded that the White House release her law school admissions test scores to prove she was qualified.
Seemingly every social ill is laid at the feet of immigrants and refugees — not just working-class unemployment, but rising home prices, out-of-wedlock births among native-born Americans, even the supposedly sorry state of his favorite Beltway fishing spots. With pastoral care, Mr. Carlson reassures his viewers. “It’s OK for you to say: ‘What is this?’ and ‘Maybe I don’t want to live in a country that looks nothing like the country I grew up in,’” Mr. Carlson told a guest in 2017. “Is that bigoted?”