The wealthy benefactors and beneficiaries of Tucker Carlson's “class war”

Tucker Carlson and his billionaire benefactors

Citation Molly Butler/Media Matters | R. Murdoch image/ David Shankbone

For months, the police shootings of Black people have triggered nationwide protests against racial injustice and law enforcement brutality. But on Tuesday, Fox News host Tucker Carlson claimed that these demonstrations are actually a “class war masquerading as a race war.” He fleshed out the theory during a quasi-fascist rant the following night. “What you’re watching is an effort by the academic left, funded by big business, to crush the last remaining resistance to their control of the country, and that resistance is an independent American middle class,” he explained. “That’s who they really hate.” 

The millionaire Swanson’s Foods heir from La Jolla, California, may present himself as the champion of the middle class in his broadcasts from a private studio near his home on an island in the middle of a pond in Maine. But that’s all a part of his economic populism scam, a facade in which he offers little discussion of the impact government policy has on the lives of Americans. Instead, Carlson presents an angrier and more apocalyptic update of Bill O’Reilly’s “culture war” schtick, subbing in references to the “ruling class” and “elites” for his Fox predecessor’s pin-headed “secular-progressives.”

For all his paens to the middle class, Carlson’s show is propped up by its symbiotic relationships with a handful of extremely wealthy men. Fox honchos Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch have his back because they agree with his toxic rhetoric. Mike Lindell, the CEO of My Pillow, subsidizes the program with ads in order to build his own right-wing brand. And President Donald Trump turns to Carlson for advice while receiving political support from him.

The Murdochs oversee a global media empire that has an outsized impact on the political dealings on three continents. The family made billions by selling parts of Fox’s parent company to Disney last year. Fox founder Rupert has owned an array of mansions along with a private plane and luxury yacht, while heir to the company Lachlan recently purchased a 25,000-square-foot Los Angeles estate for a record-breaking $150 million.

Carlson is the Murdochs’ biggest star, garnering the largest audience in the history of cable news. And he does it by pushing the sort of hard-edged white nationalist messages they want. Rupert hand-picked Carlson, who had failed as a host on several other networks, for a prime-time Fox slot. And Lachlan reportedly wants Fox to be “unabashedly nationalist.” He also believes “Carlson’s overarching message on immigration [is] worth protecting,” according to CNN’s Brian Stelter’s new book Hoax: Donald Trump, Fox News, and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth

The Fox host, in turn, benefits from the Murdochs’ unwavering support. Even as Carlson’s unending stream of bigoted commentary has triggered disastrous headlines, advertiser boycotts, and denunciations from his colleagues, the Murdochs have stood by him -- a fact Carlson flaunts.

Part of the reason they may be so supportive is that as blue-chip advertisers have abandoned Carlson’s show, Lindell’s My Pillow company has filled the commercial slots. Lindell is a multimillionaire whose company was reportedly bringing in nearly $300 million in yearly revenue as of 2017 -- the year after it paid $1 million to settle a false advertising suit linked to ads that falsely claimed the pillow could treat various conditions.

My Pillow is Tucker Carlson Tonight’s biggest advertiser by far, to the point that Stelter writes that Lindell has “propped up” the host.

For his money, Lindell gets credibility and political influence with the right as he reportedly considers a run for governor in Minnesota. Politico reported that his “nonstop, lo-fi infomercials on Fox News have turned him into a ubiquitous presence on the Trump-friendly network, giving him unparalleled name recognition in the state.”

He also gets fawning coverage from Fox itself, and Carlson in particular, which undoubtedly helps boost his profile.

Lindell’s ads likely also help keep him at the forefront of avid Fox-viewer Trump’s mind. The president has promoted the CEO and his pillows from the White House. 

It’s no surprise that Trump, a billionaire real estate mogul, benefits from overwhelmingly positive coverage from Carlson’s show. As the president seeks reelection, Carlson is telling his audience that “only Republicans can save us” from perfidious Democrats who are purportedly trying to destroy civilization. For all Carlson’s claims about a “class war,” he’s largely ignored the fact that Trump provided a huge tax cut slanted toward corporations and rich people like Carlson, while trying to take health insurance away from millions of working-class Americans and enriching himself by channeling public funds to his private company. 

Carlson, in turn, gets political influence at the highest levels of government. He is the Fox host the president listens to most, giving him an outsized impact on Trump’s messaging, policy, and staffing.

Carlson doesn’t maintain his central place in Fox's prime-time lineup because Fox actually cares about helping the American middle class. He's there because his core message remains “elect more Republicans,” which aligns with the interests of the Murdochs, Lindells, and Trumps of the world