I have to talk about Tucker Carlson today, which is a shame. There are eleventy billion more important things popping off right now. India is literally on fire from all the bodies that are burning, thanks to COVID deaths; mass shootings are as common as birdsong this spring; and the giant segment of congressional Republicans who tried to overthrow the government are now pretending it never happened, and might actually get away with it. Even absent all that, I can’t recall a day in my life when Carlson rose to the level of immediately required attention. Alas, the day has arrived.
Before we begin, however, I would ask you to take a few minutes and watch then-Daily Show host Jon Stewart obliterate Carlson on Crossfire in 2004. For those who don’t recall or never saw it, Crossfire was Carlson’s old CNN show, along with Paul Begala, that was canceled almost immediately after Stewart’s appearance. Stewart is generally credited for being responsible for the show’s demise, though Carlson claimed he had quit months before, so there.
Watch it, and keep 2021 Carlson close in mind when you do.
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“It’s not so much that it’s bad, as it’s hurting America,” said Stewart of Carlson and Crossfire as the show opened. “So I wanted to come here today and say: Stop. Here’s just what I wanted to tell you guys. Stop, stop, stop, stop hurting America.”
It only gets better from there. Peak television, that (rivaled only perhaps by comedian Bill Burr’s 12-minute foul-mouthed defenestration of the entire city of Philadelphia, but I digress). Carlson snagged an MSNBC show after Stewart burned Crossfire to the ground, but that was likewise canceled — along with his signature bow tie — a few short years later. After that, Carlson banged around on Dancing With the Stars for a bit (he was the first contestant canceled in season three, thus keeping the streak alive), before finally landing in 2009 on the always-available right-wing lifeboat for irrelevant conservatives: Fox News.
Flash forward 12 years, and my, how things have changed. Back during his CNN and MSNBC days, Carlson always came off as a frat boy two drinks past the minimum who knows just enough karate to get his ass kicked. He put the time in, said all the right terrible things, pushed all the right terrible lies, and was finally given a show of his own.
Now, in the gilded cocoon of his own niche on Fox, Carlson has the freedom to say basically anything without having to worry about a co-host or an audience to shut him down. A network that harbors the likes of Sean Hannity and “Judge” Jeanine Pirro isn’t about to censor Tucker’s boyish charm (shudder).
Every so often, however, he will blow past the low-water mark of his last garbage commentary — like, say, his oft-repeated championing of white nationalist themes… oh, wait, that was just two weeks ago! — and find a whole new bottom of the barrel.
Which brings us to our current estate. Earlier this week, which by the way saw a significant loosening of mask guidelines for vaccinated people by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Carlson took his brain for a long walk off a short pier. “Not even Tony Fauci still pretends that masks are medically necessary,” he lied straight into the camera. “Instead, masks are purely a sign of political obedience, like Kim Il Sung pins in Pyongyang.”
Yep, it’s George Orwell meets Scrubs up in here. Why, the loyalty oath is printed right there on the inside of my hate-mask so I can whisper the words to the words as I plot the death of God while fondling avocados in the supermarket. Oh, P.S., a PBS report from 2/12: “Dr. Anthony Fauci says people will need to wear masks ‘for several, several months’ to avoid the coronavirus as vaccinations are rolled out.”
“It’s our job to brush them back and restore the society we were born in,” Carlson went on to say of the “neurotics” wearing masks in public. “So the next time you see someone in a mask on the sidewalk or on the bike path, do not hesitate. Ask politely but firmly, ‘Would you please take off your mask. Science shows there is no reason for you to be wearing it. Your mask is making me uncomfortable.”
Your mask is making me uncomfortable. This, from a mouthpiece of the party that promulgated the slur “snowflakes” to denigrate people with, you know, actual feelings. We know how welcome those are in the Trumpiverse. Whither comes such sensitivity, Tucker?
“As for forcing children to wear masks outside, that should be illegal,” he raged. “Your response when you see children wearing masks as they play should be no different from seeing someone beating a kid at Walmart: Call the police immediately; contact child protective services. Keep calling until someone arrives. What you’re looking at is abuse. It’s child abuse, and you’re morally obligated to attempt to prevent it.”
When it happens — and it will — the video of some Tucker fan calling the cops about a mother at a playground with a masked child will go viral at warp speed. THAT PERSON’S CHILD IS WEARING A MASK AND IT MAKES ME UNCOMFORTABLE I WANT TO SPEAK TO THE MANAGER. Hey Karen! Your husband Ken/Chad/Terry is on the internet!
As with those who have been fully vaccinated, the CDC has also released guidelines for children participating in summer camp or other group activities. Per The Washington Post: “Campers and staff members should be placed in small groups, or cohorts, to minimize exposure to other people, the CDC said. While in the cohorts, kids should stay at least three feet away from their peers and should wear masks at all times, except while eating, swimming and sleeping. When not masked, or with people outside their cohorts, campers should keep a six-foot distance. Whenever possible, camp activities should happen outside. Campers should avoid indoor sports and games that involve close contact. Disinfect. Frequently.” (Emphasis added.)
Pro tip to Tuckerworld: Among my favorite activities is bringing my 8-year-old daughter to Robin Hood Park so she can frolic with other kids on the playground after a year of effective isolation. It is medicine for the both of us. She wears a mask around the other kids because I cannot be sure if the parents of those kids are being safe in their own sphere, and as my daughter loves to visit her Nana, this precaution has felt wise and safe.
The new CDC guidelines on masks outdoors — again, for vaccinated people — may motivate me to change this habit. I have not yet decided, and it is my decision to make. If some Carlson devotee decides to take a run at me over my daughter’s mask because they are uncomfortable bearing witness to my child abuse, they will be invited to shove themselves up their own arse with such velocity that they quite simply disappear into themselves, like a dying star.
Look, Tucker Carlson is a television clown. After his pet president got his butt kicked in November, and after a segment of his viewers sacked the Capitol in January, Carlson made the calculated business decision to be as far out there as he can be, and he has been rewarded with a noteworthy viewership from the Fox News crowd. The network is still trying to decide how to act post-Trump, they aren’t landing any punches against President Biden worth noting (Dr. Seuss? Hamburgers? Jeez…), and so Carlson is painting the walls of his studio with blood in an attempt to invite the rest of the network to follow him into the darkness.
The so-called “culture war” Carlson is “fighting” is a giant fundraising scam the GOP has been running on its base to amazingly lucrative effect. Fox has been at the vanguard of that phenomenon for decades, and today’s GOP politicians — absent things like, y’know, policy to run on — are following suit so they have cash on hand for the next campaign. Carlson is angling to become the avatar of this scam, because it pays really well.
“The GOP highlights culture-war issues to shake down rank-and-file donors while cutting taxes to please wealthy donors,” conservative columnist Max Boot noted recently. “Republicans have won the presidential popular vote only once since 1988, but they can’t afford to broaden their appeal by embracing a more populist economic agenda or by toning down the divisive social messages because either move would jeopardize the flow of fundraising. The right-wing money machine has become the tail wagging the Republican elephant.”
If that were all there was to this, I would not have bothered giving a day of my life to some yowler on a propaganda network. The problem is, whatever Carlson and the GOP’s financial motives may be, their words have an actual flesh-and-blood effect on the GOP base that believes everything it hears if it comes from the right television station.
Pundits talk about a “divided” nation, but that division is being violently exacerbated by people like Carlson, who take the basic medical necessity of masks in a pandemic and turn it into a reason to accost parents in the park… because they are uncomfortable.
That’s the thing about a mob: It’s comfortable to be within it, even empowering. Everyone within knows that everyone else around them thinks and feels the same way, and they move as one like a wheeling flock of birds. Elements of the pack show the pack they belong to the pack by incanting the acceptable words and thoughts. Carlson’s audience is a mob writ large, bound together online and made braver with company, and he incants the words of bonding on a nightly schedule.
These are frightened people who see their supremacy slipping away. Science as represented by masks, the very idea of sharing cultural influence with “others,” all of this scares them and makes them angry, so they find solace in the rank ignorance of the devoted ranks. Every time Carlson rings a bell like this, they feel stronger, even as their pockets get picked while Fox’s ratings rise.
Look, Tucker Carlson is the living embodiment of low-hanging fruit in the media orchard. Jumping up and down on him is the equivalent of a child mastering “Chopsticks” on a toy piano. I feel dirty even writing his name.
This is actually important, however. Watching Carlson wind himself up into a frothing rage over the Chauvin verdict compels one to believe he means it. Whether or not he does, he is, like the rest of the conservative universe, pandering to the bleakest elements of our society and counting coppers as quickly as he can while trying to get a handle on what comes next. Overt racism is the wave to catch on the right these days, and Carlson is right there carving the curl as best he can.
A great many of the people who watch him do believe what he says, and we saw what they are capable of in January. Until this spigot of raw sewage is properly challenged, the poison will continue to seep into the body politic. There’s a sucker born every minute, it has been said. Tucker Carlson is out to collect them all.
Were I offered the chance, I would repeat to Carlson the words of Jon Stewart from 17 long years ago: Stop, stop, stop, stop hurting America. Amazingly enough, it’s still not too late.