His one-minute remarks lit up Twitter -- mainstream media personalities expressed surprise and satisfaction with the Fox News prime time host. But as someone who has watched Carlson’s show every night for the last three years, I am here to tell you that he has not changed, and this praise is unearned. In a moment of global uncertainty and great anxiety, Carlson is playing an extremely simple game to his own benefit, cultivating legitimacy and authority closer to centers of power in order to turn around and push his far-right nationalist agenda.
First, some background: Carlson has been attacking Burr for a while. Second, as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee during its investigation into the Trump campaign, Burr issued a subpoena for Donald Trump Jr. Additionally, Burr -- who, it bears repeating, subpoenaed the president’s son -- isn’t exactly a powerhouse in today’s Republican Party. He announced in 2016 that he wouldn’t seek reelection, and his vacant Senate seat would be filled by another Republican.
With this fuller picture in mind, it’s clear that Carlson, who has the president’s ear on the spread of COVID-19 and many other issues of great consequence, has little to risk and much to gain in going after Burr. In a world in which a mismatched consortium of MAGA media grifters are jockeying to influence the president’s response to a global pandemic, it’s not hard to see how Carlson finds himself in a much more powerful position than a sitting U.S. senator.
Unlike many of his Fox colleagues, Carlson never downplayed COVID-19 as an anti-Trump conspiracy by Democrats and the media. But that doesn’t capture the full picture of how he’s been covering this crisis, because he’s been pushing racist talking points and unsubstantiated conspiracy theories about the virus for weeks. That media influencers on Twitter are ready to congratulate him for the former without acknowledging the latter -- not to mention his decades of pushing white supremacist talking points -- shows not only their willful ignorance of the full scope of Carlson’s coverage but a complete misreading of what’s at stake here.
A global pandemic has people understandably worried about the health and safety of themselves and their loved ones, and many are experiencing severe disruptions to their daily lives, including missing income and lost jobs. There are thousands of trustworthy scientists, journalists, researchers, and pundits who offer a clear and fact-based moral voice in the midst of this uncertainty.
Tucker Carlson is not one of them.
When this hard-right demagogue is feted as some sort of reluctant truth-teller, erasing his long track record of pushing extremism, racism, misogyny, and misinformation, it undermines the work of researchers and journalists who produce honest work. It gives him legitimacy to exploit the next time when does something like blame “diversity” and “wokeness” for the spread of coronavirus or point the finger at homeless people when he himself may have been exposed to the virus during a trip to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.
Carlson’s sleight of hand only works with the consent of influential voices in mainstream media. No one should fall for it.