Where to begin with Tucker Carlson? From 2006 to 2011, the man spent an hour a week calling into radio shock jock host Bubba the Love Sponge — this being the not-too-distant past, when a grimy term of art like “shock jock” was still in common usage. That phrase feels carbon-dated now, as does the ease with which Carlson, who worked for MSNBC and Fox News during that five-year stretch, spouted views he surely thought were edgy if controversial and not — as a 2019 listener or reader would think — repugnant on every level.
Carlson’s misogynistic rants, published Sunday by Media Matters, were thick with vulgarities (his preferred epithets for female public figures: “cunty,” “a pig,” “the biggest white whores in America”), excerpts from his sexist dream journals — women, he pronounced, are “extremely primitive” and yearn for a man to tell them “to be quiet and kind of do what you’re told” — and some friendly suggestions for how to improve the justice system, for instance by eliminating rape shield laws. He also embarked on a long, thorough defense of statutory rape and child marriage. Warren Jeffs, who was convicted of two felony counts of child sexual assault and is currently serving a life sentence plus 20 years, was described by Carlson as someone who simply had “a different lifestyle that other people find creepy.”
Carlson was unrepentant — more on that in a minute — but would it stun you to discover there was more damning audio in that cache of Carlson recordings? Monday evening, Media Matters published another installment in what could turn out to be a series on the Fox host: clips of Carlson using white supremacist rhetoric and making multiple racist remarks.
A decade before Donald Trump won the 2016 election, Carlson was fantasizing about a presidential candidate “who’s going to protect the country against, you know, the Muslim lunatics who want to hurt us. [That’s] the only thing the Republicans have left.” Carlson’s fervor for defeating so-called “Islamic extremism” was so devout, he said, that if a Democrat came forward to say “it’s these lunatic Muslims who are behaving like animals, and I’m going to kill as many of them as I can if you elect me,” that Democrat “would be elected king.” Asked if what America needed was “a racist president,” Carlson hedged and then agreed. “You know, I think that you’re onto something. I mean, not someone who’s like a Klansman or anything, but someone who’s totally unbound by P.C. rules, who will just say whatever the hell he wants.”
According to Carlson, white men “deserve credit” for “creating civilization.” Iraq “isn’t worth invading” because its citizens are “semiliterate primitive monkeys” who “don’t use toilet paper or forks”; they should “just shut the fuck up and obey us.” Immigrants, he argued, better be “hot” or “really smart” because people who “come over and pick lettuce” aren’t going to “build a stronger country 20 years from now.”
In the spring of 2008, he anticipated Michelle Obama was “going to be a problem” for her husband — and speaking of her husband, “Everybody knows that Barack Obama would still be in the state Senate in Illinois if he were white.” Then again, Carlson isn’t even totally convinced Obama is black: “How is he black, for one thing? He has one white parent, one black parent… I mean, why isn’t he white?”
After the first batch of incendiary Bubba interview archives made the rounds Monday, Carlson wrote up a response on his Notes app that he disseminated via Twitter. He described his diatribes as “something naughty” he said “over a decade ago” (for everyone playing along at home, 2011 was eight years ago). He added that anyone who wants to debate him — literally no one has requested this — can do so on his show, which he would like to remind everyone airs each weeknight for an hour.
— Tucker Carlson (@TuckerCarlson) March 11, 2019
Listing all of Carlson’s priors would take a very, very long time, and this is time none of us can spare — rising tides, impending apocalypse — but to recap, his tenure at Fox has been a stream of fear-mongering punctuated by the departure of advertisers who, time and again, opt not to be associated with someone who (to cite a recent example) says immigrants make the United States “poorer, dirtier, and more divided.”
Fox has not yet issued a statement regarding these Carlson interviews. But this is a familiar song-and-dance for the network, whose hosts regularly get caught expressing on air something everybody figured they were already thinking but should know better than to say out loud: Laura Ingraham describing the cages in which children who’d been forcibly separated from their parents at the border as being “like summer camps”; Sean Hannity’s dismissal (later walked back) of the sexual misconduct allegations against Roy Moore. The then-Republican candidate for Senate in Alabama is best known to national readers for his reported sexual pursuit of several underage girls, one as young as fourteen.
Advertiser backlash is Fox’s equivalent of a hangover, something they bring on themselves and probably don’t enjoy, but know they can weather. Like a certain president they trust so much they feel no need to see his birth certificate or tax returns, Fox speaks exclusively to their base, a base that heeds neither the maneuvers of advertisers nor the reasoned criticism of other media outlets. Fox closed out 2018 as the highest-rated network on cable for the third year in a row, securing its largest prime-time audience in its 22-year history.
So while this is a time of heightened awareness around the treatment of women, a period of reckoning and reflection and even, in some extreme cases, honest-to-goodness accountability for sexist, violent language and conduct, it seems awfully unlikely that Fox will take Carlson to task, not just for expressing these views in the first place, but for refusing to convey any remorse or understanding about them now.
Odds are Fox will react in a similar vein as Carlson, by saying the comments in question were made ages ago and are no longer relevant. Maybe they will add that this is part of an elaborate smear campaign perpetuated by leftist media to trick viewers into ignoring the truth, which is only available for public consumption on Fox News and definitely nowhere else — so don’t touch that dial or open that newspaper!
At press time, Fox had yet to issue a formal comment on Carlson’s racist or sexist vitriol. But on Monday night’s episode of Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson said that Fox News is “behind” him, an assertion later confirmed by the Washington Post. Not that anyone should be surprised to learn that the house that Roger Ailes built is not especially bothered by misogyny, or that the network that brought you wall-to-wall caravan coverage is unfazed by Carlson’s racism.
Tucker Carlson tonight said that Fox News is 'behind' him, even though the network hadn't issued a statement saying as much. Just asked PR shop, and they confirmed.
— ErikWemple (@ErikWemple) March 12, 2019
Just last week, Margaret Sullivan — whose Washington Post column sometimes acts as a principal’s office for those in the journalism profession — essentially called for Fox to be expelled. She wrote that it was “high time” a nation inundated with misinformation see Fox for exactly what it is: “a propaganda network for a dishonest president and his allies” that traffics in “unrelenting alarmism.” Fox News is where you go for the day’s most outrageous conspiracy theories — from the birth of Barack Obama to the death of Seth Rich. These are presented as facts, or at least as not not facts, and therefore worthy of consideration.
Prompting Sullivan’s column was the announcement from the Democratic National Committee that Fox News Channel would be excluded from televising any of its debates during the 2019-2020 election cycle. In a statement, DNC Chairman Tom Perez cited a recent New Yorker article spelling out the ways Fox has acted as propaganda for President Trump and his administration, with the relationship between the two entities growing incestuous as Fox asymptotically approaches state TV status. “The network is not in a position to host a fair and neutral debate for our candidates,” Perez said.
If Carlson is looking to commiserate with someone who really gets what he’s going through, he need look no further than the White House.
President Trump’s public track record was excavated in similar fashion; he made about two dozen appearances on Howard Stern’s show, totaling 15 hours of recordings, during which he encouraged his host to refer to his daughter Ivanka as “a piece of ass.” That’s not event to mention the Access Hollywood tape, revealed to the public at a time so relatively innocent it still seemed like the sort of thing that would have derailed an already-problematic candidate’s presidential aspirations.
“When you’re a star, they let you do it,” Trump said at the time, in what turned out to be an accidental campaign promise that, so far, he’s kept.