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What to Make of the Fall of Tucker Carlson

What to Make of the Fall of Tucker Carlson

Update: 2023-05-012


Formerly a Beltway neoconservative, Tucker Carlson came to embody a populist figure—the angry, forgotten-feeling white man, an archetype that Carlson inherited from Bill O’Reilly when he took over Fox News’s coveted eight-o’clock slot. “Unlike a lot of his colleagues at Fox News, he made news, he set the agenda,” Kelefa Sanneh, who profiled Carlson in 2017, says. “People were wondering, What is Tucker going to be saying tonight?” But though Carlson sometimes challenged Donald Trump more than other colleagues at Fox did, he overtly embraced white nationalism. He trumpeted especially the “great replacement” conspiracy theory, which has inspired racist mass killings. He lavished attention on authoritarian, anti-democratic rulers like Viktor Orbán, of Hungary, and Nayib Bukele, of El Salvador. “One of the things a very talented demagogue like Tucker Carlson can do is put you on the back foot if you’re critiquing him,” Andrew Marantz, who covers extremist politics, notes, “never quite coming out and saying ‘the thing’ but coming as close as possible to saying it. So that if you’re then in the position of critiquing them, you . . . sound hysterical.” It’s unclear whether Carlson’s extremist politics contributed to his ouster from Fox. His e-mails and text messages, disclosed in Fox’s legal battle with Dominion Voting Systems, made plain that his cynicism is even larger than his ego or his ratings: in private, he hated Trump “passionately” and talked about women in terms that may cause further legal troubles for Fox. Even if Carlson initially adopted extremism cynically, as a matter of entertainment business, Sanneh says that “most of us don’t love living with that kind of cognitive dissonance. Most of us, over time, find ways to convince ourselves that the things we’re saying we really believe in.”

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What to Make of the Fall of Tucker Carlson

What to Make of the Fall of Tucker Carlson

WNYC Studios and The New Yorker