Dr. Jill Biden and Tucker Carlson’s selective outrage about calling somebody a “doctor”

Doctor What? Carlson says incoming first lady Jill Biden has “status anxiety” — while he welcomes “Dr.” Sebastian Gorka, and many others

Fox News host Tucker Carlson joined the right-wing media pile-up, begun on Friday by Wall Street Journal columnist Joseph Epstein, who criticized Jill Biden for preferring to use her full title, “Dr. Jill Biden,” for her doctorate in education.

“Just don't ask her to commit surgery, don't ask for advice in your coronary artery disease, because she's not actually a physician,” Carlson said during the December 14 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight. “She's a doctor of education, which means basically nothing.”

But while Carlson also ridiculed the incoming first lady for having purportedly suffered from “a very bad case of status anxiety” and solving it “with another pointless title,” it turns out Carlson has had no objection to honoring the title of “doctor” for non-physicians when it served his own agenda — that is, when their titles might boost the credibility of the conservative narratives he sought to advance on his show.

One of the honorees of Carlson’s usage of the “doctor” title has been Sebastian Gorka, far-right commentator and former deputy assistant to President Donald Trump. Gorka has long insisted on being addressed by his academic title, received via a doctorate in political science from Corvinus University of Budapest, Hungary.

But that degree also appears to be of highly questionable value. Writing in Haaretz, University of North Carolina professor Andrew Reynolds said that Gorka’s “supposed Ph.D dissertation would have never passed muster in America or Britain and to put the cherry on the cake was approved by an fraudulent panel of examiners.” Georgetown University associate professor Daniel Nexon wrote in Foreign Policy magazine that he was “shocked by the lack of scholarly merit” in Gorka’s dissertation, and he also took a look at the background of the faculty involved: “His dissertation advisor, Andras Lanczi, has no academic expertise in terrorism or national security issues — but is, for the record, a strong supporter of authoritarian Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.”

Non-medical degrees in the physical sciences are fine for Carlson, too, as he has introduced climate deniers Roy Spencer and Judith Curry each as “doctor,” while they respectively hold doctorates in meteorology and geophysical sciences.

And despite Carlson saying that Jill Biden’s degree in a social science “means basically nothing,” he previously introduced “Dr. Warren Farrell,” who holds a doctorate in political science, to discuss his book The Boy Crisis, or political scientist Wilfred Reilly, Ph.D., to discuss his book Hate Crime Hoax.

Right-wing think tank members with doctorates also receive the honorific from Carlson, such as Michael Pillsbury of the Hudson Institute or Victor Davis Hanson of the Hoover Institution.

Carlson also hosted “Dr. Frank Wright,” head of the D. James Kennedy Ministries. Wright’s doctorate is not in theology, either, as might often be used for clerical titles — it is in business administration and finance, from Florida Atlantic University. Carlson has also referred to Fox News contributor Alveda King as “Dr. Alveda King,” though she holds an honorary doctorate of law from Saint Anselm College. 

And in the course of a single episode of his show on May 28, 2019, Carlson introduced “Dr. Michael Wall,” who holds a doctorate in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, to discuss the search for extraterrestrial life — and then mocked author Naomi Wolf, who holds a doctorate in English literature from Oxford University, for using her doctoral title.

“This woman calls herself Dr. Naomi Wolf,” Carlson said. “She's advised presidential candidates, Al Gore, most famously. She was a Rhodes Scholar. You and I were raised to believe that she was really impressive, but she's really not. So what does this tell us?”

For a man like Tucker Carlson, who readily accuses his political opponents of suffering “status anxiety,” this selective recognition shows the lengths he will go to elevate the titles of anyone on his own side.