Fox News’ top star Tucker Carlson recently interviewed former U.S. Rep. Steve King on his subscription-only show, offering the disgraced politician an opportunity to defend himself after racist remarks he made to The New York Times in 2019 torpedoed his political career.
The almost-hour-long conversation aired on Tucker Carlson Today on Fox Nation, the network’s streaming platform that has invested heavily in Carlson-branded content. Carlson also hosts a documentary-style series available on Fox Nation, in addition to his regular cable show hosting duties. King appeared on the long-form, conversational show to plug a book he published earlier this year detailing his downfall and exile from the Republican Party after losing his primary in 2020. King spent the entire time either denying, downplaying, or justifying his various bigoted remarks over the years, as Carlson nodded along and interjected to praise the former congressman.
King had previously appeared on Fox News 14 times since 2017, including 6 appearances on Tucker Carlson Tonight, sometimes for clean-up interviews after pushing white nationalist talking points. King hasn't been on the show in years, but Carlson defended him throughout his various scandals. After the then-congressman tweeted that Americans “can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies” (and then later doubled down on the statement), Carlson hosted him on Fox News, saying, “Everything you said I think is defensible and probably right.”
King has a long history of making racist remarks, dating back to at least 2002. “They just want to have this equivalency of multicultural and they say every culture is equal,” he told local news outlet Cleveland.com during the Republican National Convention in 2016, referring to his critics. “Well, every culture has not equally contributed to the civilization we have today."
Then, in 2019, New York Times reporter Trip Gabriel interviewed King for a piece that framed him as a precursor to Donald Trump. “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” King said in the interview, as reported by Gabriel. “Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?"
King disputed the quote, saying he had been referring to “western civilization” when he posed the question about offensive language, rather than “white nationalist” or “white supremacist,” according to follow-up reporting in the Times.
Before Carlson even laid out that context for his audience, he began the interview by praising King effusively, after calling most politicians “sick” and “screwed up people."
“So if you come across someone who's actually a good person, like a decent person who cares about other people, who loves other people on a basic level, you remember,” Carlson gushed. “And Steve King of Iowa was always that guy."
Carlson then made an allusion to the racist great replacement theory, which both he and King have repeatedly espoused. “You were always a, not a crazy, but like an immigration restrictionist,” Carlson said. “Like, we should take care of the people who already live here before we, like, just replace them with new people, because that’s our duty as a government."
Carlson then defended the comments King made to Cleveland.com and CNN, beginning by playing tape of both.
“I’m just going to start with that intro comment and then let you tell the story,” Carlson said. “Maybe times have changed a lot, but those seem like — that’s not hate, those are obvious observations.”
“A healthy civilization has kids, and a healthy civilization is proud of itself, and every civilization is the product of certain cultures,” he continued. “Those are not white supremacist positions, those are like obvious positions.”
King explained himself by describing the political context at the time, summarizing the widespread, xenophobic fear of Muslims and other people from the Middle East migrating to European countries.
“The ‘somebody else’s babies’ were the young men – 80% of them that were pouring into Europe at the time, horizon to horizon and shoulder to shoulder on gravel roads, pouring into Europe by the thousands daily — I went and walked with them,” King said.
“They were somebody else’s babies 18 and 20 years ago,” he continued. “And so it’s too late for them, they’ve already bring their culture with them.”
Later in the conversation, Carlson gave King an opportunity to challenge the Times’ reporting that led to party leadership stripping him of his committees and his eventual loss to a primary challenger. King described talking with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), arguing his remarks had been misconstrued and that he had simply been defending “Western civilization.”
“I brought with me a sheet of paper on what I believed was said in that interview — there’s no tape and there’s no notes,” King said. “I said, ‘There’s a separation between these two odious ideologies, a pause and separation between white nationalism and white supremacy – I’m defending Western civilization.’”
The Times stood by its reporting, and even on King’s own terms, the phrase “Western civilization” is frequently used as a dog whistle to signal racist beliefs that at the very least heavily imply an adherence to white supremacy.
King’s loss in 2020 relegated him to the dustbin of U.S. politics, at least for now. Even before his defeat, his open racism was something of an embarrassment to Republicans, because of not what he said but how he said it. To Carlson, however, King is the victim. Toward the end of the interview, King claimed that the few members of the Republican Party who had stood by him were scorned and punished for it.
“It almost feels hopeless,” Carlson said, shaking his head sadly. “Because that kind of cowardice just abets evil. It really does.”