Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
As a person who cares about America, I am thrilled to see Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show ending effective immediately. Hallelujah. The New York Times once said that “Carlson has constructed what may be the most racist show in the history of cable news.”
Few shows have worked harder at telling white Americans that they are an oppressed group and that everyone in the world is out to get them. According to Carlson, the country is falling apart because scary Black Lives Matter supporters are burning cities to the ground and critical race theory is being taught to kindergarteners and we’re letting trans kids use whatever bathroom they want and diseased immigrants are pouring across the border and the poor are using welfare to buy lobsters.
Carlson also gave critical assistance to Donald Trump and his ideas like the Big Lie even though Carlson could not stand him and knew he was bad for the GOP. In private texts that were released as part of the Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit, he said, “I hate him passionately … We’re all pretending we’ve got a lot to show for it, because admitting what a disaster it’s been is too tough to digest. But come on. There really isn’t an upside to Trump.” So Carlson was not only spreading racist ideas, but he was also spreading lies, and those two things — white victimhood and the alternate “facts” that shape the mindset of the right-wing bubble — are a crucial part of why the modern right wing is a mess of white fear and conspiracy theories. Carlson was not just another broadcaster. His primetime show, whatever it was called, was the most visible part of the cancerous mole that is the modern American right wing.
Carlson somehow brought together two important sides of the right wing — the wealthy side and the racist side. I mean, he seemed like he came from wealth because he did — his father married an heir to the Swanson frozen TV dinner fortune. Carlson always gave off this smarmy, dauphin air — he feels like the bully in a high school movie, someone straight out of the bowels of the most expensive private schools or perhaps like an Ivy League frat boy. The sort who wears his privilege on his sleeve and when he gets in trouble says, “Do you know who my father is?” When Carlson got on the air, he brought all of that and gave you richer-than-thou energy, which was perfect because the right is all about centering and serving the rich.
But he was also a great fit for the other side of the modern right because he loved saying things that were racist, homophobic or transphobic, so he tickled the white victimhood of the white masses. He mainstreamed the term “legacy Americans,” which had been almost exclusive to white nationalist publications, and he also mainstreamed a racist conspiracy theory called “the great replacement,” arguing that Democrats were deliberately importing voters from poor countries to replace current voters and keep themselves in power. He was bringing ideas from the most committed racists into the virtual town square and acting like they were reasonable ideas. White supremacists loved him. He said fascist things all the time. To have someone talk seriously about white supremacist ideas in front of millions of people every night was extremely dangerous.
Carlson was enragingly good at asking ridiculous questions and then falling back into that droopy dog face with his brow furrowed and his lips slightly open, a parody of “I’m listening.” Of course, he wasn’t really listening because he wasn’t really asking questions that he needed answers for. He was setting people up to spit their lines. It was all performance art — he spoke about politics, but it was a charade that used political news and ideas to stoke a sense of white outrage. Carlson lied all the time but according to Fox, viewers weren’t expected to believe what Carlson was saying.
In a 2020 lawsuit, a Trump-appointed U.S. district judge dismissed a slander lawsuit against Fox and Carlson by using one of the arguments of Fox’s lawyers. The judge concluded that the “general tenor of the show should then inform a viewer that [Carlson] is not stating actual facts about the topics he discusses and is instead engaging in exaggeration and non-literal commentary… Fox persuasively argues, that given Mr. Carlson’s reputation, any reasonable viewer ‘arrive[s] with an appropriate amount of skepticism’ about the statement he makes.” I’m sure many Fox viewers did not know they were supposed to not believe Carlson.
Some readers may not recall Swanson TV dinners. They were big back when I was growing up. They sat in the frozen section of every supermarket, ready for you to pop in the microwave for a few minutes, and bam, you had a whole dinner you could eat in front of the TV. It was crap food drowning in sodium, but millions of people ate them. Some readers also may not recall that Carlson was, in the early 2000s, on CNN on a show called “Crossfire” where he and lefty political strategist Paul Begala argued about politics in a way that was reductive, divisive and completely unhelpful to America. This went on for years, until one day in 2004, when they invited Jon Stewart, then the host of “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central, to come on their show. In an epic bit of TV history, Stewart came on the show and verbally spanked them. He said “You’re doing theater when you should be doing debate. What you do is not honest. What you do is partisan hackery.” At one heated moment, he said, “Stop hurting America.”
The show was canceled shortly after Stewart’s appearance, but the point here is not Stewart, it’s Carlson who, with his run at Fox, was, yet again, hurting America. This means, Tucker Carlson has been tied to one terrible, destructive part of America after another. And his words have been far more destructive to the collective American mind than Swanson TV dinners were to America’s collective health.
Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is also the author of seven books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U and the ebook The Ivy League Counterfeiter. Look out for his upcoming podcast Being Black In the 80s.
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