Tucker and the Dangers of Crying Wolf
Plus: Maybe crazy doesn't work
Happy Monday and greetings from D.C.
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.
“Tucker is ultimately on our side,” Scott Greer, a former deputy editor at the Carlson-founded Daily Caller, who cut ties with the publication in 2018 after his past writings for a white nationalist site were unearthed, said on his podcast last spring. “He can get millions and millions of boomers to nod along with talking points that would have only been seen on VDare or American Renaissance a few years ago.”
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.”
The New York Times @nytimesTucker Carlson, the host of the most-watched show on prime-time cable news, uses a simple narrative to instill fear in his viewers. To understand how he promotes extremist ideas and conspiracy theories, we analyzed 1,150 episodes. Here’s what we found. https://t.co/erE9z7xSge https://t.co/HEygrwwqbu
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:
Maybe crazy doesn’t work?
Restrain the wish-casting, but this trend line is worth watching:
In a positive indicator for Biden and his party, the Post-ABC poll also shows Democrats moving to rough parity with Republicans on intentions to vote in House races in November, often seen as a key indicator of the size of the potential shifts in the balance of power. Republicans need a net gain of five seats to capture control of the House from the Democrats, which would allow them to block Biden’s agenda for the last half of his term.
Exit take: Jewish space lasers, Q-conspiracies, “groomers,” and book bans might not actually be working for the GOP?
Voting with their feet
If these numbers are right, this is yet another extraordinary Putin-fail that will have consequences for decades:
Russia is also in the midst of an emigration wave that is upending its spheres of arts and journalism, and especially the world of tech.
The Russian Association for Electronic Communications told the lower house of Russia’s parliament last month that 50,000 to 70,000 tech workers have fled the country, with 100,000 more expected to leave over the next month — for a total of about 10 percent of the sector’s workforce. Ok Russians, a new nonprofit group helping emigres, used a sampling of data from neighboring nations and social media surveys to estimate that nearly 300,000 Russians overall had left since the war began.
1. ‘College for All’ Is Broken. Let’s Embrace Opportunity Pluralism Instead.
Thanks to degree inflation, four-year degrees are increasingly required for jobs that didn’t formerly require them even though those jobs’ skill requirements often haven’t changed. One analysis shows about 40 percent of recent college graduates are employed in good jobs that don’t require their college degree.
2. DHS Disinformation Board: An Unserious Solution to a Serious Problem
Under current circumstances, an anti-disinformation center run by the federal government could still work. But it would have to be strictly apolitical in a “just the facts, ma’am” way. If such a unit is run by DHS, for instance, it should limit itself to clearcut disinformation relevant to border issues and counterterrorism. Initial press reports were not entirely clear about the board’s purview; for the board to work well, its functions would have to be narrow and well-defined. In that sense, the Biden administration has certainly botched the rollout of this initiative—especially since, when press secretary Jen Psaki was asked about the board at the April 28 press briefing, she knew nothing about either the board or Jankowicz.
JP Mandell, we hardly knew you.