Fox News needs to rebrand, since the network’s current incarnation as President Donald Trump’s personal propaganda outlet is about to stop being viable. One clear possibility is returning to the role of the “voice of opposition” that it held during President Barack Obama’s tenure, fighting tooth and nail against the confirmation of President-elect Joe Biden’s nominations and the passage of his policies.
Fox star Tucker Carlson is testing out that path. Over the last week, he’s run a series of segments targeting Kristen Clarke, Biden’s nominee to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Clarke began her career as a trial attorney for the division; spent four years leading the Civil Rights Bureau for the New York State Attorney General’s Office; and was most recently president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
Clarke shares the Democratic Party’s views on the values of affirmative action in college admissions, diversity in hiring, and voting rights, rather than those of the Republican Party apparatchik who she would replace. Her recent accomplishments include securing damages against the neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin, who had sicced a troll mob on her organization’s client. And she is a Black woman who is the daughter of Jamaican immigrants.
All of this makes Clarke a perfect target for Carlson, whose descent into bigotry led his own colleagues to describe the network as containing a “white supremacist cell.” Carlson had to cut ties with his top writer last year following the revelation of the staffer’s bigoted trolling, and he has lost advertisers for falsely claimed that white supremacy is a “hoax,” arguing that immigrants make the country “dirtier,” and attacking Black Lives Matter protesters. (For his part, Anglin, one of Carlson’s many white supremacist fans, once wrote of the Fox host, “Tucker Carlson is literally our greatest ally. I don’t believe that he doesn’t hate the Jews.”)
Carlson’s campaign against Clarke began last week.
“Appointing Kristen Clarke to head the Civil Rights Division is like hiring Beto O'Rourke to lead the NRA,” he claimed on January 8. “Kristen Clarke doesn't believe in civil rights. She believes in identity politics."
The Fox host claimed that Clarke had “admitted that on the air” when he interviewed her in March 2018. Carlson was lying, as is often the case. Carlson aired a clip in which Clarke said that the top ranks of federal agencies should be filled with “people who are qualified and experienced” but that “we also need to make sure that those agencies reflect the growing diversity of our country,” and criticized the Trump administration for failing to take that into consideration before sparring with Carlson about the issue. After ending the clip, Carlson dishonestly translated her opinion as Clarke alleging that Trump’s appointees were “bad because of their skin color.”
Carlson went on to say that Clarke “thinks identification cards are racist, but only in certain situations,” before airing a clip from her September 2017 appearance on his show in which she criticized Republican-backed voter ID laws because they have a disparate impact on voters of color. Carlson concluded that “it doesn't sound like she believes in the most basic principle in the country, which is we are all created with equal value.”
Carlson returned to the subject on Monday. This time, instead of digging through his show’s archives, he used 1994 articles in The Harvard Crimson to attack Clarke over her statements while head of Harvard’s Black Students Association when she was a college sophomore, more than a quarter-century ago.
“In a sane country,” the stalwart defender of free speech and scourge of campus cancel culture concluded, “someone like Kristen Clarke would be under investigation by the Civil Rights Division, not running it.”
And on Wednesday night, Carlson reiterated his points from the first two segments, while claiming that Wikipedia had corruptly sought to protect Clarke from his reporting. This time, he lied that Clarke argued during the March 2018 appearance that “skin color and gender are more important than what that person does, the skills that person has.” Carlson commented that this “is an insane perspective.”
Of course, that’s not Clarke’s actual position -- as I noted earlier, she had explicitly told him that both were important, rather than claiming one was more important than the other.
So this time, Carlson just left that comment out of the clip.
Carlson’s deception and bad-faith scandalmongering marks a return to form for Fox and a preview of the network’s likely footing over the next four years. Absolutely no one should fall for it.