Tucker Carlson is more extreme than ever a year into his expanded role at Fox Nation
Carlson has cemented his role at the heart of Fox News by ratcheting up his bigotry
Since as early as 2004, Fox host Tucker Carlson has used his platform to promote virtually every significant white nationalist talking point or conspiracy theory that has risen to the national level. Since he started two new shows roughly a year ago on Fox’s streaming service Fox Nation, he has had more opportunities than ever to push these narratives.
Over the last year, Carlson’s output on both Fox News and Fox Nation demonstrates he’s a committed radical determined to spread racist, bigoted arguments on a network that has consistently rewarded him for that work. Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch, the eldest son of Fox Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch, has not only endorsed Carlson’s most extreme views, but proactively expanded their reach -- all while performatively denouncing others who he claims sow division.
Over the past few years, Carlson has become Lachlan's most useful tool to push his agenda. In mid-April, Carlson admitted that “Fox News has gone all in in support” of his programming, adding, “Fox has stood behind us completely.”
A year of Tucker Carlson on Fox Nation
It’s been just over a year since Carlson expanded his footprint on Fox Nation with his new shows, creating a profile much bigger than his predecessor Bill O’Reilly ever enjoyed. Fox News gave Carlson 9 ½ hours of promotion the week one of his streaming shows, Tucker Carlson Today, premiered in 2021. The program is a thrice-weekly, meandering daytime talk show featuring self-indulgent interviews. The overall low production quality shows that Murdoch is happy to flood the zone with Carlson content, even when the aesthetic looks lifted from cable access.
Carlson looms large on the network’s regular programming. Sometimes he appears on other programs as a guest commentator, and Fox hosts and anchors replay clips from his show to frame various discussions. Carlson appeared on Fox & Friends to promote Season Two of his Fox Nation “documentary” series Tucker Carlson Originals, and Fox News aired 16 commercials for the season premiere on April 18, the day it was released on the streaming platform.
Tucker Carlson Originals
Tucker Carlson Originals is Fox Nation’s gritty “documentary” series that combines the subtlety of Infowars with the insight of a person red-pilled on the QAnon conspiracy theory. The show has been repeatedly condemned by the Anti-Defamation League and others for pushing overt bigotry and disinformation. In Hungary vs Soros: The Fight for Civilization, one of the Tucker Carlson Originals, Carlson portrayed billionaire liberal philanthropist George Soros as a puppet master in control of the worlds of finance and the media, pushing the same antisemitic tropes that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán used to get reelected in 2018. ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said the film invoked “the kind of antisemitic tropes typically found in white supremacist media.”
Another of Carlson’s Originals, a miniseries called Patriot Purge, was written by Scooter Downey, who had previously directed several documentaries for white nationalists. It’s pure fascist propaganda that presents the January 6, 2021, insurrection as an inside job, a claim Carlson has repeatedly pushed on his Fox News show. The ADL wrote an open letter to Lachlan Murdoch prior to the series airing, condemning it as “dangerous misinformation” and “a blatant attempt to rewrite history.” Stephen Hayes and Jonah Goldberg, two longtime Fox News contributors, resigned in protest after the series ran on Fox Nation, and “straight news” anchors Bret Baier and Chris Wallace (who has since left the network) complained to Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott.
Downey co-wrote, edited, and produced another Carlson film titled The Trial of Kyle, a glorification of Kyle Rittenhouse that helped cement his celebrity status among conservatives. (Rittenhouse was found not guilty after he shot and killed two people and injured a third during unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August 2020, following the police shooting of Jacob Blake.) Rittenhouse granted Carlson his first on-air interview after his acquittal, which aired on Carlson’s prime-time cable show and was widely condemned. The documentary itself was largely ignored, but even some on the right were uncomfortable with right-wing media lionizing Rittenhouse.
Fox Nation recently debuted a preview for Season Two of Carlson’s Originals series, which Fox refers to as the platform’s “flagship product.” A trailer for an episode titled The End of Men shows several muscle-bound guys in varying degrees of undress and looks to perpetuate the myth that there is an attack on cis men in mainstream culture. Although the clip is light on details, the fascistic overtones suggesting national rebirth can be achieved through worshiping hypermasculine patriarchy are not especially subtle.
In a slight variation on that theme, a preview for another episode of Season Two features a young woman who claims posts on social media and peer pressure influenced her into transitioning. The flawed narrative that peer pressure is causing teens to identify as trans is common on the far right, but mainstream coverage of trans adolescents regularly adopts this framing as well. But the idea that cisgender children and teens are being ostracized for not being trans completely inverts the actual social dynamics at play. The reality is that trans youth are far more likely than their cis peers to face abuse, bullying, homelessness, and job and housing discrimination later in life. Carlson himself has devoted countless segments to stigmatizing trans people, regularly suggesting that gender dysphoria isn’t real. He has also repeatedly attacked and misgendered trans people in sports and government. It’s no surprise that Carlson is using his platform at Fox Nation to advance his eliminationist project, which seeks to make all trans people unsafe in society and unable to receive proper health care.
The first full episode of Season Two is the two-part series Suicide of Los Angeles, a sensationalist bit of fearmongering that portrays Los Angeles as a dystopic hellscape. The primary villain of the show is District Attorney George Gascón, a reformer who has taken small steps toward reducing incarceration levels in the county. In the episode, Carlson describes the election of Gascón, following the George Floyd protests, as an act of “civilizational suicide.”
Behind a paywall on Fox Nation, this show doesn’t have the same massive audience that Tucker Carlson Tonight does. But the documentary-style format gives Carlson’s sensationalized propaganda the veneer of in-depth research, fueling the outlandish commentary that pervades his nightly show on Fox News.
Carlson’s amplification of right-wing and fringe narratives
The right-wing media ecosystem used to have a fairly straightforward information pipeline. The food chain often began with a link posted to right-wing news aggregators, typically The Drudge Report, which would get picked up by popular conservative talk radio show hosts like Rush Limbaugh — who helped set the right-wing media agenda from the time his eponymous show debuted in 1988 until his death in 2021 — leading to coverage on Fox News. It’s not so straightforward anymore. The explosion of social media platforms, fringe outlets, and mass-scale disinformation campaigns has fractured the far-right media ecosystem into many different information bubbles that can burst and take over entire news cycles.
Carlson has emerged as one constant in this new landscape. He is consistently on the leading edge of elevating fringe far-right rhetoric to his audience of millions, picking out stories from the fever swamps of the internet. Sometimes he’s pushed a narrative that inspired the Trump White House into taking action. When Carlson invited far-right activist Christopher Rufo on his prime-time show on September 2, 2020, to talk about the scourge of “critical race theory,” he elevated it from an obscure obsession on the right to a nationwide phenomenon. Then-President Donald Trump, a Fox News devotee, reportedly saw the segment and the next morning began working on an anti-CRT executive order. With Carlson’s takeover of Fox Nation in the past year, he has had even more time and space to spread bogus conspiracy theories.
Since Russia declared war on Ukraine, Carlson has been instrumental in pushing a disinformation campaign alleging the U.S. was funding biolabs throughout Ukraine, that these labs were tied to presidential son Hunter Biden, and that Russia’s invasion was in response to that perceived (but in reality nonexistent) threat. The Russian government and affiliated media have repeatedly promoted Carlson’s biolabs segments, and the Kremlin even issued an internal memo for state-friendly media outlets to use segments of his show when possible, according to reporting from Mother Jones.
Carlson has also aired anti-LGBTQ clips from right-wing troll Twitter account “Libs of TikTok.” The account, which was banned from TikTok, has been instrumental in seeding the anti-gay, anti-trans “grooming” narrative that has become ubiquitous in conservative media over the last several weeks. Libs of TikTok received early support from podcaster Joe Rogan and conservative pundit Meghan McCain, and now virtually functions as Fox News’ assignment desk, as Media Matters has previously reported. Carlson used clips from the account on his show on March 29, and on April 8, told his viewers to follow the account before it got taken down. Later, he encouraged men to physically assault teachers who talk to students about gender identity.
Lachlan Murdoch and Tucker Carlson: Brothers in white nationalist propaganda
Tucker Carlson Tonight is the most-watched show on cable news, and it serves as the flagship of the network’s prime-time line-up. Despite those consistently high ratings, many advertisers have chosen to avoid his show. Major companies have assessed that Fox’s biggest star is simply not worth the risk, and the show no longer has any blue chip advertisers because of Carlson’s volatility and toxic programming
Lachlan Murdoch and his father Rupert are unfazed by this massive liability to the bottom line of Fox Corp. In fact the real reason Carlson is the face of the network is because his racist politics are exactly the kind of politics the Murdochs want to see in their programming. Lachlan, in particular, has long wanted to turn Fox News into an “unabashedly nationalist, far-right and hugely profitable political propaganda machine,” according to The New York Times Magazine.
After Carlson was heavily condemned for endorsing the explicitly racist “Great Replacement” theory on his prime-time show, Lachlan defended Carlson without exception or caveat. Lachlan has staked Fox Nation’s future on Carlson, and, judging by the CEO’s recent public remarks at a right-wing think tank in Sydney, the affinity between the two men isn’t simply a business arrangement. It’s an ideological alignment as well.
There is no question that Carlson is skilled at presenting fascist propaganda to an audience willing to eat it up. There’s also no question that Carlson and his ethno-chauvinist views are the norm at Fox News. But the Murdoch family can be held accountable for spreading white nationalist propaganda. Advertisers, cable companies, and the general public can all pressure Fox leadership to rein in Carlson or drop Fox altogether. The timing couldn’t be more urgent -- the network is currently in the middle of its upfronts season, during which Fox executives will attempt to sell the majority of their advertising inventory and get brands to make large commitments for the upcoming year so they can continue to promote Carlson and expand the reach of his extremism. The only way they’ll be forced to stop airing his extreme, bigoted views is through sustained activism that hits their bottom line. One year into his streaming show, they’re still betting he’s worth the risk.