Earlier this week, Media Matters for America published controversial comments Tucker Carlson made between 2006 and 2011 during interviews on shock jock radio program Bubba the Love Sponge. Sunday night’s post contained a roundup of misogynistic and perverted comments by the now-Fox News host, and Monday’s releases highlighted Carlson’s racist and homophobic statements. On Tuesday, NowThis published additional comments Carlson made about Miss Teen South Carolina in 2007.
Carlson brushed off the initial post as Media Matters catching him “saying something naughty on a radio show more than a decade ago” and said he would forego “the usual ritual contrition.” He began Monday night’s episode of Tucker Carlson Tonight with a monologue about getting caught in the gears of “the great American outrage machine,” and how “bewildering” it can be when the quotes in question are more than a decade old.
Others on the right suggested that these were just jokes, or that Media Matters was being hypocritical for dumping these recordings, highlighting how right-wing figures like Mike Cernovich were criticized for using old tweets to take down people like Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn. This theory -- that this is all meant as one big “gotcha" -- relies on an assumption that the recordings were just outdated jokes not relevant to Carlson’s views today.
In truth, as regular viewers of Tucker Carlson Tonight can confirm, the unearthed clips are simply R-rated versions of the same messages his audience can expect to hear every weeknight.
One of the more shocking moments in the recordings comes from a 2006 interview in which Carlson mounts a protracted defense of Warren Jeffs, then charged with two first-degree felony counts of being an accomplice to rape for facilitating a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin.
He's not accused of touching anybody; he is accused of facilitating a marriage between a 16-year-old girl and a 27-year-old man. That's the accusation. That's what they're calling felony rape. [crosstalk] That's bullshit. I'm sorry. Now this guy may be [crosstalk], may be a child rapist. I'm just telling you that arranging a marriage between a 16-year-old and a 27-year-old is not the same as pulling a stranger off the street and raping her. That's bullshit.
It’s easy to say that 2006 comment doesn’t represent who Carlson is or what he believes, but not much has changed in the years since. During the April 28, 2014, episode of Fox News’ Outnumbered, Carlson defended a teacher accused of giving one of her students a lap dance for his 15th birthday, saying, “There’s no victim here.” At one point, co-host Sandra Smith interjected, “She fondled an underage child in front of his entire classroom. You’re not embarrassed?”
Viewers were similarly shocked, which is why he returned a week later to defend his position: “I’m not saying that all teachers should do lap dances at school. I’m merely saying when a teacher gets so enthusiastic she breaks out into a lap dance, don’t send her to prison. That’s all I’m saying.”
On June 5, 2014, Carlson made another appearance on Outnumbered, in which he took the side of a 38-year-old teacher who allegedly raped one of her 16-year-old students, saying it was “ludicrous that we’re calling this a rape” and lamenting that the student “went and tattled to the police.” The following year, the teacher would go on to plead guilty to rape and criminal sexual act charges. She was sentenced to 10 years of probation.
Are you being serious? The kid is 16, he pursued her, and they’re calling it a rape? I’ll tell you, she was wrong to this extent -- he went and tattled to the police and destroyed her life. Are you joking? I mean, what a whiny country this is.
There are lots of things you have to play along with in life, and I understand society demands compromises. We all live together in close quarters. … But there is a limit beyond which I can’t pretend anymore. And calling -- in this case, it was a 17-year-old kid -- a “rape victim” because a teacher, who wasn’t even that old, or married, was kind enough to initiate him into the ways of adulthood. I’m not just going to sit there. … I’m not going to pretend that that’s rape because it’s just not. And it demeans and devalues real rape.
None of this is to say that Carlson can’t change his views. We all make mistakes, and I believe that people should be encouraged to learn from those mistakes and grow. In fact, that’s why this piece isn’t dedicated to one-off flubs or the use of “naughty” language, to quote Carlson himself.
The issue with Carlson has much more to do with the fact that it’s not clear his views on things like the age of consent or misogyny have shifted.
Prior to the 2016 election, Carlson claimed that people were only “pretending” to be shocked -- trafficking in manufactured outrage -- over Trump’s “grab ‘em by the pussy” comments. In another interview, Carlson belittled his guest, Teen Vogue writer Lauren Duca, telling her to “stick to the thigh-high boots.” He also suggested that Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) met with then-President-elect Donald Trump because “she’s the prettiest member of Congress.” In 2017, Carlson lamented rape shield laws that protect the name of accusers, something he also did on Bubba the Love Sponge in 2006.
During a 2018 interview with New York Times reporter Amy Chozick, Carlson asked whether the fact that “the overwhelming majority of beat reporters covering Hillary were women” was akin to “stacking the deck” in her favor, implying that women wouldn’t objectively cover another woman. In another interview that year, he said that the belief that we live under a patriarchy is “a sign of mental illness” and “demented.” During a September 2018 episode of his show, Carlson said survivors of sexual assault have an “obligation” to report the attack immediately in part to “protect the rest of us from whomever you believe did it.” During another show, he took that argument even further, saying, “If there's a rapist on the loose, if you don't tell anybody ... you're part of the problem, are you not?” Yet, a week later, he compared sexual assault survivors speaking out against the confirmation of then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh to a scene from Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, a play about the Salem witch trials. In December 2018, he agreed with one of his guests that “feminism has ambitions to take over civilization.”
This doesn’t even take into account the entire month of March 2018, a banner Women’s History Month in which Carlson parroted the views of misogynists like Jordan Peterson, Stefan Molyneux, Gavin McInnes, Paul Joseph Watson, and Owen Shroyer.
What these recordings tell us about the past is less important than what they tell us about the present.
Taking the above examples at face value (and looking only at comments made on his show), there’s little to suggest that Carlson’s views on gender or the age of consent have changed. Even so, that’s not to say that the views he held then or the ones he currently holds will be the ones he holds next month or next year.
“The reason we released this is precisely because the things you say on your Fox News show echo the misogyny displayed in those clips. We were actually helping people better understand just how vile your current Fox News show is by showing what that worldview really looks like,” Media Matters President Angelo Carusone wrote on Twitter in response to Carlson’s Sunday night statement.
There’s nothing nefarious about ensuring that Carlson’s advertisers understand the long-standing beliefs still being echoed on his show. Carlson is one of the most powerful voices in media, with an average audience of 2.8 million viewers per episode in 2018. He is not some random blogger or a troll, and it's not as though these comments were meant to be private. These are all things he knowingly said on the air, whether it be on Fox News or Bubba the Love Sponge.
Carlson is almost certainly a member of America’s ruling class, a group that he’s repeatedly argued should be held to account for what they say and what they do. To ignore the current narratives presented on his show and how they have been shaped by years of comments would be irresponsible. I believe Carlson should be judged on what he says today and not 10 years ago, and it's the overlap between the past and the present that makes those recordings relevant.