Tucker Carlson and the Dangers of Crying Wolf
Best of Morning Shots
Hope you had a very happy Christmas!
As we wind down the year, we’re continuing to offer some encore Morning Shots. But, in the meantime, here are three must-read pieces to help you celebrate Boxing Day:
The Final Campaign: Inside Donald Trump’s sad, lonely, thirsty, broken, basically pretend run for reelection. (Which isn’t to say he can’t win.) By Olivia Nuzzi
The January 6th Report Takeaway: Trump Incited the Riot. By Amanda Carpenter
Donald Trump’s Infamous 187 Minutes: A timeline drawn from the Jan. 6th Committee report makes clear that he wasn’t just dithering as the Capitol was attacked—he was rooting for the mob. By Will Saletan
And for your listening pleasure… We are also offering a series of encore Bulwark podcasts this week.
Monday: Police Officer Michael Fanone (from our live event in October)
Tuesday: The NYT’s Nick Confessore (from May)
Wednesday: The Atlantic’s Jennifer Senior (from June)
Thursday: Maggie Haberman (from October)
Friday: Susan Glasser and Peter Baker (from September)
From the Morning Shots files: a flashback from May 2, 2022:
(Photo by Janos Kummer/Getty Images)
The NYT’s massive three-part deep-dive on Tucker Carlson doesn’t shy away from using the r-word. In the opening piece — “How Tucker Carlson Stoked White Fear to Conquer Cable” — The Times bluntly declared that the Fox News host “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….
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.
Part 2 describes “How Tucker Carlson Reshaped Fox News — and Became Trump’s Heir.” The third part brings the audio receipts: “Look inside the apocalyptic worldview of ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight.’”
Much of this will be familiar to Bulwark readers, but the overall effect is devastating.
Then why is this man laughing?
No embarrassment, no shame, no chagrin at being accused of the vilest sort of racist demagoguery. And not even a lingering trace of anxiety that this might actually be bad for his career, or his status as a decent human being.
So let’s linger over this for a moment. There was once a time, believe it or not, that this kind of expose would have been a world-destroyer, both for Fox News and for Carlson himself. Allegations of “racism” were once toxic for both broadcasters and “thought-leaders,” who could quickly find themselves cast out as pariahs. The more virulent bigots would lose their platforms and would be shunned from polite society.
Even six years ago, the sort of rhetoric that is now routine on Carlson’s show, would have drawn condemnation from conservative leaders and GOP politicians.
But look at Tucker’s reaction again.
He knows that none of that is going to happen.
There are lot of explanations for what’s happening here, and most of them are not mutually exclusive, but we have to reckon with the fact that for much of the Carlson-esque right, “racism” no longer carries any stigma. They literally no longer give a shit.
Here’s the reaction of the I’m-so- leftwing-that-I’m-a-right-wing-troll Glenn Greenwald, who says the whole thing is “irrelevant.”
I wrote about this in “How The Right Lost Its Mind”. Much of this is adapted from the book:
Crying wolf had serious consequences for both sides, because over time our audiences shrugged off the charges, responding to accusations of racism with an eye roll and “Not this again.” By the time the real thing came along, the Left had used up its rhetorical ammunition, and the Right had become numb to the realities of the bigots around them.
Many on the Left seemed genuinely shocked that their charges of racism, sexism, and xenophobia did not seem to dent Trump’s popularity with conservatives. Only belatedly did some of them realize that this may have been, at least in part, the price they paid for crying wolf for decades. Conservatives had become accustomed to being called mean, dumb, benighted bigots.
So liberally had epithets been hurled at them, that conservatives came to recognize charges of “racism” as merely the Left’s code for “I don’t like you, shut up.”
While many Democrats claimed to be nostalgic for the kinder, gentler, more statesmanlike GOP candidates of the past, they often neglected to remember what they had said about them when they were actually running for office.
“By 2000,” RealClearPolitics.com’s Carl Cannon wrote, “Calling George W. Bush a racist was the liberals’ standard operating procedure, a tactic used against Romney as well. . . . If Reagan and George W. Bush are routinely portrayed as warmongers, if both Bushes (and Reagan and Romney) are painted as bigots . . . how do we expect rank-and-file conservatives or grassroots independents to respond when Trump is dubbed by the media as an existential threat to democracy?”
In an essay entitled “How the Media’s History of Smearing Republicans Now Helps Trump,” Jonah Goldberg recounted the serial attempts to paint various Republicans as Nazi sympathizers, racists, and granny killers: “I have no doubt many journalists would defend their smears and professional failures, but that doesn’t change the fact that many Americans outside the mainstream media/Democratic bubble find it all indefensible. More important, they find it all ignorable—because the race card and the demagogue card have been played and replayed so often they’re little more than scraps of lint.”
A handful of Democrats belatedly realized the problem. “There’s enough truth to it to compel some self-reflection,” Howard Wolfson, who was the communications director for Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid in 2008, told New York Times columnist Frank Bruni in September 2016. Bruni noted that the mild-mannered Romney was called a “race-mongering pyromaniac.’
Wolfson admitted that he helped use “hyperbolic and inaccurate” language to attack candidates like George Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney. And he called for some introspection on the Left:
“It’s only when you find yourself describing someone who really is the definition of an extremist—who really is, essentially, in my opinion, a fascist—that you recognize that the language that you’ve used in the past to describe other people was hyperbolic and inappropriate and cheap,” Wolfson said.
It doesn’t mean that you somehow retrospectively agree with their positions on issues,” he added. “But when the system confronts an actual, honest-to-God menace, it should compel some rethinking on our part about how we describe people who are far short of that.”
But this does not let conservatives off the hook.
For years, we ignored the birthers, the racists, the truthers, and other conspiracy theorists who indulged fantasies of Obama’s secret Muslim plot to subvert Christendom, or who peddled tales of Hillary Clinton’s murder victims. We treated them like your obnoxious uncle at Thanksgiving. Rather than confront them, we changed the channel because, after all, they were our friends, whose quirks could be indulged or at least ignored. They could rant and pound the table, we thought, but they were merely postcards from the fringe, right? The hope was that the center would always hold, things would not fall apart, and principled conservatives would rise to the occasion. Except they didn’t. That proved to be a moral failure that lies at the heart of the conservative movement, even in its moment of apparent electoral triumph.
It is impossible to say how many conservatives actually harbor racial resentments, but what is undeniable is that a great number of American conservatives have proven themselves willing to tolerate and even accept racism and racial resentment. When Speaker Paul Ryan denounced “textbook racism,” after Trump lashed out an the Mexican American judge, Ryan was hit with an avalanche of opprobrium from many of his fellow conservatives who believed that winning the election was more important than distinguishing conservatism from racial animus. (Ryan is now a member of the Fox board and notable for his silence on Carlson’s textbook racism.)
The hard fact is that only a political party that had cultivated an indifference and insensitivity to racial issues could have nominated Donald Trump and embraced him so easily.
Blogger Ben Howe lamented all the signs we ignored, the times we looked away or simply rolled our eyes when one of our “allies” suggested that Obama was from Kenya or that liberals wanted to impose Sharia law on the country. “People would say outlandish things and I would find myself nodding my head and awkwardly walking away, not calling them out for their silliness,” Howe wrote, because there were more important issues at stake. So, he said, he lied to himself about who they were.
I chose peace over principle. I chose to go along with those I disagreed with on core matters because I believed we were jointly fighting for other things that were more important. I ignored my gut and my moral compass.
The result is that, almost to a man, every single person I cringed at or thought twice about, is now a supporter and cheerleader of Donald Trump.
Bonus: This detail in the NYT is gobsmacking (and helps explain why Carlson’s job has been so secure, despite his descent into white nationalism):
Lines of authority and power had always been mysterious at Fox, and so when a formal organizational chart appeared on the company’s employee portal, some curious employees logged on to see who reported directly to Rupert Murdoch.
Most of Murdoch’s subordinates were unsurprising, according to several people who viewed the chart. But one came as a shock: Peter Brimelow, founder of the website VDare.
The British-born Mr. Brimelow had known Mr. Murdoch for decades and once worked as a columnist for MarketWatch, the Murdoch-owned financial news site. But over the years, he had adopted more pronounced nativist views; VDare, started in 1999, had evolved into a hub of the new, more online-oriented white nationalist movement.
VDARE? Christian Vanderbrouk puts this into some helpful context:
What the Jan. 6th Report Says About the Fake Electors Scheme
Philip Rotner in today’s Bulwark:
Until the publication of the report, there were arguably two open questions: (1) How high in the levels of Trump world did the scheme go? And (2), could at least some of the perpetrators assert a credible defense that they understood it was just a contingency plan to have electors in place in the event that the courts or state legislatures determined that Trump, not Biden, was the winner in one or more of the five states?
The report answered both questions. (1) The scheme went all the way to the top, right up to Trump himself. And (2), while some of the lower-level participants in the scheme—most likely some of the state-level GOP operatives who actually signed the phony certificates—may have been duped into believing that that it was a contingency plan, the higher ups who created and executed the scheme knew better.
They knew it was an action plan.
Heather Cox-Richardson has suggested that the triumph of Republicans in the last few decades of the 20th century was based on uniting those who wished to roll back the new deal with those who opposed the elimination of Jim Crow and expanding civil rights for Blacks. If she is right this means that the racists are not just your crazy uncle at Thanksgiving but folks the GOP depended on to win elections (while still distracting them from their crazy notions). Eventually the crazies just took over the GOP.
What makes me laugh is that you think previous calls of racism against the right were simply crying wolf. Perhaps, just spitballing here, those warnings and callouts where legit and the right has simply sunk deeper and deeper into the swamp they started swimming in decades ago