Tucker Carlson White Supremacist Messaging
The face of Fox News is not the bow-tied buffoon from his "Crossfire" days.
When Tucker Carlson debuted as a CNN talking head in 2000, I thought he was an intellectual lightweight and wondered how he got to be the co-host of the network’s “Crossfire,” sitting in a seat that had previously been held but much more senior journalists. By the time the network fired Carlson in January 2005, I had long since given up on the show. Regardless, my opinion of him remained unchained: he was a partisan hack and a lightweight.
Carlson never went away, of course. He appeared on PBS of all places (2004-2005) before moving on to MSNBC (2005-2008) and his present home at Fox News (2009-present). He founded the Daily Caller in 2010 and continued, in my estimation, to be a joke.
Something clearly changed in the Trump era, though. He got his own prime time show on November 14, 2016, just after Trump’s election, replacing Greta Van Susteren at 7pm in the lineup. Just weeks later, on January 9, 2017, he replaced Megyn Kelly in the more prestigious 9pm slot and then replaced Bill O’Reilly in the 8pm slot on April 19, 2017. So, in less than five months, he went from some dude that appeared on Fox shows to being its biggest star.
Somewhere along the way, he went from a hackish Rush Limbaugh wannabe to something far darker. Whether his newfound power allowed him the freedom to be who he always was or he is simply tapping into the zeitgeist, I have no way of knowing.
While I’ve been vaguely aware of all this, I honestly hadn’t paid it all that much attention because Carlson has been around for so long and my views of him were formed two decades ago.
We’ve seen reports such as Esquire‘s March 2021 piece “John Oliver Breaks Down Tucker Carlson’s Decades of White Supremacist Messaging” (obviously, based on Oliver’s HBO show which I drifted away from years ago for a variety of reasons) and Rolling Stone‘s September 2021 report “Quiz: Can You Tell the Difference Between Tucker Carlson and an Admitted White Supremacist?“
Here’s the Oliver segment:
The New York Times is later to the party but appears to have gone all in, with multiple features in today’s edition and indications that more pieces are forthcoming. The main story is headlined “How Tucker Carlson Stoked White Fear to Conquer Cable.”
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.”
There’s a whole lot more but I’ll let you read it for yourselves.
That Fox, which originally resisted Trump but has subsequently gone all-in and marginalized or outright shed more reasonable voices is something that I’ve commented on here quite a bit. But the degree to which the one-time bowtied goofball has been unabashedly pushing white nationalism is something that I hadn’t fully appreciated.