Tucker Carlson’s Depressing Realization
The fired propagandist has had an epiphany about bullshit.
MEDIAite (“Tucker Carlson Drops First Video After Fox News Ouster“):
Tucker Carlson released a video on Wednesday addressing his firing from Fox News several days prior.
During the video, which was published to Carlson’s Twitter account, the former Fox News host said he realized after stepping “outside the noise for a few days” how “unbelievably stupid most of the debates you see on television are,” arguing that they were “completely irrelevant” and “mean nothing.”
“In five years we won’t even remember that we had them,” he said, adding, “Trust me as someone who has participated.”
Carlson went on to criticize cable news for ignoring the “undeniably big topics” which will “define our future,” such as “war, civil liberties, emerging science, demographic change, corporate power” and “natural resources,” and claimed that “debates like that are not permitted in American media.”
“Both political parties and their donors have reached consensus on what benefits them and they actively collude to shut down any conversation about it. Suddenly the United States looks very much like a one party state,” Carlson suggested, before saying that while it was a “depressing realization,” it would not be permanent as the “current orthodoxies” would not last.
This is rich coming from Carlson, of course, given his leading role in all of this. And, of course, this is pretty much what Jon Stewart famously proclaimed almost two decades ago now as a guest on the Carlson co-hosted Crossfire.
Writing at The Atlantic, Tom Nichols proclaims “Tucker Carlson Is the Emblem of GOP Cynicism.”
Carlson joined this attention-seeking conservative generation and tried on various personas. At one point, he had a show on MSNBC that was canceled after a year. I never saw it. I do remember Carlson as the co-host of Crossfire; I didn’t think he did a very good job representing thoughtful conservatives, and he ended up getting pantsed live on national television by Jon Stewart. He was soon let go from CNN.
When Carlson got his own show on Fox News in 2016, however, I noticed.
This new Tucker Carlson decided to throw off the pretense of intellectualism. (According to The New York Times, he was “determined to avoid his fate at CNN and MSNBC.”) He understood what Fox viewers wanted, and he took the old Tucker—the one who claimed to care about truth and journalistic responsibility—and drove him to a farm upstate where he could run free with the other journalists. The guy who returned alone in his car to the studio in Manhattan was a stone-cold, cynical demagogue. By God, no one was going to fire that guy.
What concerned me was not that Carlson was selling political fentanyl; that’s Fox’s business model. It was that Carlson, unlike many people in his audience, knew better. He jammed the needle right into the arms of the Fox audience, spewing populist nonsense while running away from his own hyper-privileged background.
Every night, Carlson encouraged American citizens to join him in his angry nihilism, telling his fans that America and its institutions were hopelessly corrupt, and that they were essentially living in a failed state. He and his fellow Fox hosts, meanwhile, presented themselves as the guardians of the real America, crowing in ostensible solidarity with an audience that, as we would later learn from the Dominion lawsuit, they regarded with both contempt and fear.
An especially hateful aspect of Carlson’s rants is that they often targeted the institutions and norms—colleges, the U.S. military, capitalism itself—that help so many Americans get a chance at a better life. No matter the issue, Carlson was able to find some resentful, angry, us-versus-them angle, tacking effortlessly from sounding like a pompous theocrat one day to a founding member of Code Pink the next. If you were trying to undermine a nation and dissolve its hopes for the future, you could hardly design a better vehicle than Tucker Carlson Tonight.
I would also commend to your attention an October 2022 essay by Jon Askonas at something called The New Atlantis titled “How Stewart Made Tucker.” It’s too long to do justice by excerpting but is a thoughtful look at how Stewart and his Daily Show staff revolutionized the infotainment industry by its pioneering use of video clips and associated technologies. It’s worth your time to read in full but this point stood out to me:
What had created a culture of “just talking on TV without any accountability,” as one Daily Show writer put it, was not only the sheer volume and speed of the news. It was this true fact that will sound insane to anyone under the age of thirty: People on television reasonably assumed that no one would hear what they had said ever again.
As essayist Chuck Klosterman records in The Nineties: A Book, the key characteristic of twentieth-century media was its ephemerality. You experienced it in real time and internalized what was important and what it felt like. Then you moved on. “It was a decade of seeing absolutely everything before never seeing it again.”
And so, if you were a pundit or a commentator or a “spin doctor” PR flak, you could say whatever suited your needs at the moment, or even lie with impunity — as long as your lie did not become its own pseudo-event. Your lasting impact was whatever stuck in viewers’ heads and hearts. And if you changed your tune in the months or years afterwards, who would remember?
Against spin and vacuity in political journalism, Jon Stewart harnessed the past as a weapon. It was The Daily Show, more than any other factor, that began the disciplining of American political culture with perfect digital memory.
There was something to this accountability, of course. Politicians and pundits could no longer get away with dishonestly saying something different to different audiences. But it had the real downside of forcing that foolish consistency that heretofore been the hobgoblin of little minds. That’s actually a problem for those doing their best to be honorable, as changing one’s mind as one learned new information or gained other perspectives would now be derided as hypocrisy or worse.
Like Nichols, I’ve seen the different personas of Carlson over the last quarter century or so from a lightweight George Will wannabe to a lightweight Rush Limbaugh clone to arguably the most powerful white nationalist demagogue not named Donald Trump. I don’t think Stewart is to blame for that, of course, but it may well be that the pressure to present a consistent brand exacerbated the awfulness.