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How Tucker Carlson Stoked White Fear to Conquer Cable


By Emmanuel Iriogbe (with agency report)

A string of setbacks made the pundit flee television, the Republican establishment and even his home. He re-emerged with what may be the most racist, and successful, show in the history of cable news.

Why devote thousands of words to a talk show host? Because Carlson, the highest-rated pundit in history, is also a unique figure on the modern American right — a latter-day Father Coughlin and a movement builder in the mold of Pat Buchanan.

The story of Tucker Carlson is also the story of how American conservatism evolved from Reagan to Trump — the triumph of the nativist current on the right, and the shrinking boundary between mainline politics and the cranks and conspiracy theorists of QAnon.

More successfully than almost anyone else, Carlson has taken a set of themes and conspiracy theories, formerly caged on the fringe of American politics, and brought them to a mainstream audience. His show may be the most racist program in the history of cable news.

This isn’t an opinion or a take. It’s a fact — supported by our content analysis of 1,150 episodes of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” by @karenyourish @dawncai624 @larrybuch and their colleagues @nytgraphics. That’s Part 3 of our series.

Inside the Apocalyptic Worldview of ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight’

A New York Times analysis of 1,150 episodes reveals how Tucker Carlson pushes extremist ideas and conspiracy theories into millions of households, five nights a week.

Night after night, Carlson warns his viewers that they inhabit a civilization under siege — by violent Black Lives Matter protesters in cities, by diseased migrants from south of the border, by refugees importing alien cultures, by falling birthrates & a hateful “ruling class.”

This narrative originates with various white nationalists, neo-Nazis, “alt-right” types and so-called “identitarians” on the right, who have said that Carlson is the best advocate around for their ideas. Thanks to Carlson, more GOP politicians echo those ideas, too.

But what does Carlson himself believe? Part 1 traces his growing skepticism of immigration and his alienation from the old conservative establishment — an evolution that began far earlier in his career than is widely understood, at the beginning of the 9/11 era.

Carlson is often cast as a child of privilege, but as any chronicler of wealth can tell you, rich families are not always happy ones. Our story looks at his roots in a Gilded Age ranching dynasty, his parents’ divorce & how his mother’s abandonment shaped Carlson’s outlook.

Today, “Tucker Carlson Tonight” is both a sincere expression of his views and a lucrative theater. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote, “We are what we pretend to be.” All the more true, Vonnegut might have added, if what you pretend to be makes you wildly rich.

But Carlson is a skilled cable edgelord. The closer he gets to the line, the more he lights up his audience. He knows that because he studies his ratings as closely as anyone. He’s failed twice before in cable, and he’s determined not to fail again.

“He is going to double down on the white nationalism because the minute-by-minutes show that the audience eats it up,” said a former Fox employee who worked frequently with Carlson.

But if Mr. Carlson has not always been truthful, he has been remarkably consistent. Almost from the beginning, “Tucker Carlson Tonight” has presented a dominant narrative, recasting American racism to present white Americans as an oppressed caste. The ruling class uses fentanyl and other opioids to addict and kill legacy Americans, anti-white racism to cast them as bigots, feminism to degrade their self-esteem, immigration to erode their political power. Republican elites, however improbably, help to import the voters Democrats require at the ballot box. The United States, Mr. Carlson tells his viewers, is “ruled by mercenaries who feel no long-term obligation to the people they rule.”

He leaves little doubt who these mercenaries are. Among the most frequent recurring characters on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” are Black politicians like the Democratic congresswomen Maxine Waters and Ilhan Omar and Vice President Kamala Harris, whom Mr. Carlson has portrayed, against the available evidence, as a kind of shadow president. He regularly disparages Black women as stupid or undeserving of their positions. “No one outside of her own neighborhood had ever heard of Kamala Harris before she showed up as Willie Brown’s girlfriend,” Mr. Carlson said last November, referring to Ms. Harris’s long-ago relationship with the California politician. “Then a few years later, she became Montel Williams’s girlfriend. Interesting.” When President Biden nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, Mr. Carlson demanded that the White House release her law school admissions test scores to prove she was qualified.

Our story is based on interviews with dozens of current and former Fox employees, Carlson’s friends and former colleagues, and an array of public records.

But I had many more questions for Carlson.

He declined to be interviewed.

Nicholas Confessore is a New York-based political and investigative reporter and a staff writer at the Times Magazine, covering the intersection of wealth, power and influence in Washington and beyond. He joined The Times in 2004. @nickconfessore

The New York Times

How Tucker Carlson Stoked White Fear to Conquer Cable

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