A year ago, Fox News star Tucker Carlson’s January 6 “false flag” conspiracy theories roiled the network. His Patriot Purge special, which portrayed the rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol as righteous patriots and the federal government’s response as a pretextual “purge aimed at legacy Americans,” created a media firestorm and had some of Fox’s most high-profile veterans telling executives he had gone too far.
But Carlson won that power struggle: The Fox brass stood by him, and his critics either left the network, like Chris Wallace, or quietly submitted, like Bret Baier. And today, Carlson dominates Fox like no on-air personality in its history, replacing former President Donald Trump as the network’s fulcrum.
Carlson is a demagogue who sneers at America’s heritage as a multicultural nation bound by shared principles like liberty, equality, and democracy. He instead embraces the blood-and-soil nationalism of European autocracies. This radical and reactionary philosophy is swiftly gaining power on the American right, thanks to adherents such as the fascist billionaire Peter Thiel and his pet philosopher Curtis Yarvin and hand-picked Sen.-elect J.D. Vance. Carlson is that movement’s accelerant; he is using his weekday program on Fox and regular specials on its streaming platform, Fox Nation, as well as his influence over the Republican Party, to bring it into the mainstream.
In practice, this means Carlson spent 2022 exhorting his viewers to take action against the purported “replacement” of white Americans and the increasing public acceptance of the LGBTQ community and levying inflammatory conspiracy theories sourced from the right-wing fever swamps and Russian propaganda outlets.
Carlson’s rhetoric — and the frenzy it seeks to inculcate in his viewers — would be disturbing in any case. But he’s the brightest star in the right’s constellation of bigots and demagogues because of the influence he has on the GOP. He remains a key adviser to Donald Trump. He intimidates the party’s political operatives, helps his endorsed candidates like Vance win their primaries, and generates election strategy. Carlson will be one of the major players shaping Republican politics in the 2024 presidential election cycle.
For these reasons and more, Media Matters is naming Tucker Carlson our Misinformer of the Year for 2022.
All Fox hosts are adept at misinforming their viewers and turning their grievances into ratings. Carlson is a particularly shameless liar with a gift for stoking his audience’s rage. But he also stands out from the rest by urging his viewers to take direct action — at times even explicitly urging them to respond to his rants with violence.
Carlson has for years promoted the “great replacement,” a white supremacist conspiracy theory which posits that Democrats are using immigration to replace white American voters with foreign hordes. He’s edged closer and closer to the exact phrasing used in the most toxic spaces on the internet, destroying any plausible deniability Fox executives and business partners may have had about what he is doing. And as that talking point spread through Fox’s programming — and motivated white supremacist massacres — he stood out by repeatedly demanding that his viewers do something about it.
So when a white supremacist invoking the “great replacement” went on a killing spree in Buffalo, New York, in May, it was another opportunity for Carlson and his bosses to change course. Instead, Carlson angrily denounced his critics and doubled down, claiming ignorance of the theory while nonetheless reiterating that Democrats are trying to “change the electorate.” As Fox stood by him amid a media firestorm, avowed white supremacists thanked the network host for mainstreaming their message to millions of people.
By mid-July, the mask was entirely off. “The great replacement — yeah, it's not a conspiracy theory; it's their electoral strategy,” he told the Fox audience.
2022 also saw an outpouring of anti-LGBTQ hate from Fox and others, as right-wing activists, media figures, and politicians demonized members of that community as “groomers” to boost their own profiles and mobilize Republican voters. That hate had victims. Far-right extremist groups targeted Pride events and drag performers, children’s hospitals faced violent threats for providing trans health care, and in November, five people were killed and dozens injured in a mass shooting at Club Q, an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Carlson emerged as a nexus of that burgeoning anti-LBGTQ movement. He championed its crusaders — Libs of Tik Tok’s Chaya Raichick, Daily Wire podcasters Matt Walsh and Candace Owens, and Manhattan Institute senior fellow Christopher Rufo — making their rants about drag queens, trans health care, and teachers who educate their charges about LGBTQ people part of his regular rotation.
He has also added to the fury with his own incendiary invective. Carlson describes trans-affirming health care for youth as the “sexual mutilation of children” and “castrating young people,” saying it’s conducted by doctors who are committing “atrocities” thanks to “a dangerous cult that is causing irreparable harm to children.” And he has repeatedly and explicitly called for violence, saying that teachers who discuss “gender identity” with students “should be beaten up” and asking, “Some teacher's pushing sex values on your third-grader. Why don't you go in and thrash the teacher?”
The Club Q attack brought no reprieve. Instead, Carlson responded by describing the uproar following the murders as “a pretext for yet more censorship of your speech” and condemning what he described as “a deeply unhealthy fixation on the sexuality of children” and hospitals “sexually mutilating kids” due to “a very specific religious ideology.”
These depraved rantings, dangerous and influential as they are, constitute only a small fraction of the unhinged conspiracy theories Carlson promoted in 2022. In addition:
- Russia’s invasion of Ukraine generated a Carlson-Kremlin feedback loop: The pro-Putin pundit picked up talking points from Russian propaganda sources or far-right fever swamps about topics like the U.S. supposedly funding Ukrainian biolabs and engineering the destruction of the Nord Stream gas pipelines and parroted them on Fox. Then his words were rebroadcast by state TV channels in that country as part of a deliberate Russian propaganda strategy.
- Carlson has further argued that the Russian invasion is actually the U.S.’s fault, and that it is part of a sinister effort — perhaps deliberate — to “bring the total destruction of the West,” in support of what he deems the “growing dictatorship” in Kyiv.
- He retained his post as the nation’s most prominent anti-vaxxer, regularly telling his viewers that the COVID-19 vaccines are dangerous and ineffective.
- While other networks aired live coverage of the first prime-time hearing of the January 6 select committee, Fox gave Carlson free rein to recap conspiracy theories about the attack, downplay the violence, and host kooks and white nationalist fellow travelers who described January 6 as “a clear hoax.”
- He responded to the FBI’s execution of a search warrant at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, which yielded a trove of highly classified documents, by accusing President Joe Biden of conducting a “war on his own population.”
- He offered the risibly false and incendiary charge that the Biden administration is hiring “87,000 armed IRS agents to make sure you obey.”
- Carlson portrayed Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, as the truth-telling victim of a smear campaign aimed at silencing him, even as he hid antisemitic remarks the artist made in an interview with him. Ye spent the subsequent weeks ranting about Jewish people and praising Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.
- His End of Men Fox Nation special detailed a supposed crisis in American masculinity based on pseudoscientific ideas about modern testosterone levels and sperm counts. It featured a rant from the pseudonymous right-wing influencer Raw Egg Nationalist detailing “soy globalism,” which he claimed seeks “to destroy nations and local communities” via “food and also through so-called medicine.” His remedy, as you might expect, is “a strong politics of nationalism” and a diet of raw eggs.
- After a man obsessed with right-wing conspiracy theories broke into Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s house and assaulted her husband, Paul Pelosi, Carlson suggested that law enforcement and the press were engaged in a cover-up to help Democrats win in the midterm elections.
- In the lead-up to the 2022 midterms, he primed his audience to suspect fraud if Republicans didn’t win landslide victories.
Meanwhile, the Murdochs have decided that there are few if any limits to what Carlson can get away with. He is their business model; they hope to gain an increasing share of their revenue from the Fox Nation streaming service that he headlines. Carlson’s paranoid specials on topics like Hungary vs Soros: The Fight for Civilization and his lengthy interviews with toxic racists like former Rep. Steve King may be heavily promoted on his program and elsewhere on Fox, but they air commercial-free for subscribers, freeing the network from needing to rely on advertisers.
A decade and a half ago, Rupert Murdoch grabbed Carlson off the cable news scrapheap. Since then he’s climbed the Fox ladder from contributor to Fox & Friends weekend co-host to host of an eponymous weekday prime-time show, until he reached his current status as the nation’s most powerful right-wing commentator, a GOP kingmaker and the linchpin of the right’s misinformation ecosystem. His rising influence within the network and the Republican Party is a testament to their willingness to reward and elevate toxic demagoguery. And since the message he’s been getting from the network brass and party leaders is that they are fully on board, it’s only going to get worse from here.
For more about Carlson's year of misinformation, conspiracy theories, and toxic rhetoric, read Media Matters' report here.