Will the Real Tucker Carlson Please Stand Up
Is the man we see on TV simply an invention?
From time to time I wonder if Tucker Carlson, the cable news star we see on Fox News, is simply a character invented by the real Tucker Carlson, a man who understands that the way you make a name for yourself in the world of cable TV news is to say things, no matter how outrageous, that will garner you lots of attention, lots of outrage, and mostly lots and lots of money.
I wondered this the other day when just before the war in Ukraine began for real, Carlson told his loyal viewers that what was going on over there was simply a “border dispute.” Vladimir Putin couldn’t have said it any better.
While the world was shunning Putin as a pariah, Carlson had a different take on the matter. What has Putin done to us, he asked. And if he hasn’t done anything bad to me, Tucker Carlson – and to Americans in general – why do we hate him so much? And maybe elites here at home are worse than Putin himself.
“Has Putin ever called me a racist?” he asked. “Has he threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him? Has he shipped every middle-class job in my town to Russia? Did he manufacture a worldwide pandemic that wrecked my business and kept me indoors for two years? Is he teaching my children to embrace racial discrimination? Is he making fentanyl? Is he trying to snuff out Christianity? These are fair questions,” Carlson said, “and the answer to all of them is no. Vladimir Putin didn't do any of that. So why does permanent Washington hate him so much?”
Maybe “permanent Washington” – whatever that is – and a lot of other Americans “hate him so much” because of all the things Tucker Carlson forgot to mention: That Putin is a ruthless authoritarian who doesn’t tolerate dissent, that he refuses to put up with free speech, that he’s credibly been accused of having his agents poison Russian dissidents, and oh yeah, that he was about to launch the first full-scale war in Europe in more than 75 years – because of that pesky “border dispute.”
But in Tucker’s world, if Putin never called any of us a “racist” or tried to get us hooked on fentanyl, well then, why should we think he’s such a bad guy, right? At least that’s the conclusion his loyal fans might unreasonably come away with.
And Carlson’s fans are not only here in American living rooms. Tucker has fans in the Kremlin, too. They liked his pro-Putin routine so much in Moscow that Russian state television has been rebroadcasting it, with Russian subtitles.
So was this the real Tucker Carlson speaking his true feelings or was it a character he created to get the reaction he probably was hoping for, which was plenty of controversy and buzz, which is oxygen for people on TV?
Over at the Washington Post, media columnist Margaret Sullivan heard what he said about Putin and fired off a few missiles of her own. “Carlson is dangerous because he has a cult-like following who believe his nightly rants,” she wrote. “But it’s important to remember what Carlson is: nothing more than an outrage machine. What he offers is not political commentary. It’s Fox-approved nonsense meant to juice ratings — and it works.”
I’m guessing that Carlson isn’t losing any sleep over that. As long as liberals in the media loathe him, he must figure, he must be doing something right.
But we should remember that we’re under no obligation to believe anything that comes out of Tucker Carlson’s mouth. That’s not my snooty conclusion, in case you’re wondering. It’s the conclusion of a federal court judge, and – no fooling – of Fox’s own lawyers in a defamation suit that was filed against Carlson.
A few years ago, Carlson went on TV and portrayed Donald Trump as a victim of extortion. "Two women approach Donald Trump and threaten to ruin his career and humiliate his family if he doesn't give them money,” Carlson said. “Now that sounds like a classic case of extortion.”
One of the women, former Playboy model Karen McDougal sued – but lost when the judge threw the case out, saying 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.'"
And she came to that conclusion, she said, because Fox lawyers convinced her that Carlson isn’t always in the truth-telling business. "Fox persuasively argues,” the judge said, “that given Mr. Carlson's reputation, any reasonable viewer 'arrive[s] with an appropriate amount of skepticism' about the statement he makes."
Are you following this? Fox was essentially admitting what Fox’s critics have been arguing for years – that you can’t always trust Tucker Carlson to tell you the truth, or at absolute least, that you should be skeptical about what he says.
As Slate, the left-of-center online news magazine, put it: "Fox News doesn’t label Carlson’s speech parody because that’s embarrassing for a company with the word news in its name to admit; it’s not factual journalism because that implies some responsibility for the credibility of the information that you spew. Instead, Fox News lawyers claim, Carlson is not ‘stating actual facts’ but simply engaging in ‘non-literal commentary.’"
The problem, of course, is that as far as many of Carlson’s viewers are concerned, he’s the voice of reason. He’s the guy who has the guts to speak truth to power in a world of liberal elite lies.
For the record, one day after he implied that Putin wasn’t such a bad guy, Carlson reversed course. Russian tanks had started rolling across the border into Ukraine and so there’s a good chance Carlson was hoping no one would remember what he had said just 24 hours earlier.
“Vladimir Putin started this war, so whatever the context of the decision that he made, he did it,” Carlson was now saying. “He fired the first shots. He is to blame for what we’re seeing tonight in Ukraine.”
Whatever you say, Tucker. But you’ll excuse us if we think this is just more “non-literal commentary.”
Between you and me, I don’t really care if it’s Tucker Carlson spouting his dopey ideas or if it’s his alter ego, the make-believe character he invented who is also named Tucker Carlson – because I don’t trust either of them.
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