Just before Christmas, Fox News host Tucker Carlson laid out his worldview in an episode of his new 7 p.m. program, “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” He interviewed Lauren Duca, an ascendant correspondent for Teen Vogue whose writing about Donald Trump had stirred a great deal of interest on social media. As the interview wore on, Carlson’s objective outed itself: He strove to belittle Duca by nitpicking her writing and questioning her credibility for political writing in light of the fact that she’d also covered fashion, including one story with the headline “Ariana Grande Rocked the Most Epic Thigh-high Boots at Jingle Ball.”
“You should stick to the thigh-high boots. You are better at that,” said Carlson.
First problem: Following that segment, Duca received all manner of threats. Second problem: In seeking to sideline Duca from political reporting and confine her to fashion coverage, Carlson was engaging in sexist media management. For years, female journalists were restricted to the pink ghetto of the “women’s pages,” where they were charged with soft coverage areas such as fashion, the arts, entertainment, food and the like.
More stuff like that, Fox News all but screamed today.
News broke this morning that Carlson is being promoted to the 9 p.m. slot that will shortly be vacated by Megyn Kelly, the ratings-grabbing star who this week announced her move to NBC News. By virtue of tough interviews, real coverage of Trump and adept implementation of Fox News programming obsessions, Kelly made this slot a prime commodity. She also suffered a mountain of sexist abuse from Trump after she posed a tough question to him at the first GOP primary debate in August 2015. Her last day at Fox News will be Friday.
The Drudge Report, the New York Times, the Daily Caller (the conservative news site that Carlson formerly edited) and others have all reported on the move. Fox News has yet to respond to a request from the Erik Wemple Blog. Succeeding Carlson in the 7 p.m. time slot will be morning news anchor Martha MacCallum.
These changes to the Fox News prime-time lineup follow a tempestuous summer at the network. Roger Ailes, who founded the place back in 1996, was ousted in a sexual harassment scandal, prompting speculation that Fox News might just seek a new direction in its prime-time lineup — perhaps by promoting a newsy type like Shepard Smith into prime time or otherwise recommitting itself to investigative or straight-news coverage in those hours. Nope: Not only were longtime Fox News hands selected to succeed Ailes, but they chose Carlson to fill the 7 p.m. slot vacated by Greta Van Susteren.
As this blog noted in an extensive story on the move, Carlson had established a legacy of disrespect for women and for solid reporting while at the Daily Caller — a record that appeared to have assisted him in securing his gig. Here’s a key passage from that post, exploring an awful incident from Carlson’s work at the site:
In March 2015 Daily Caller staffers got into a spat with Amy Spitalnick, then a spokeswoman for New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, over a story that had run on the site. Angry at the tone with which Spitalnick had requested a correction, Carlson sent her an email scolding her for her manners. “Outside of New York City, adults generally write polite, cheerful emails to one another, even when asking for corrections. Something to keep in mind the next time you communicate with people who don’t live on your island,” wrote Carlson.
For whatever reason, Buckley Carlson, brother of the site’s top editor, got looped in on correspondence. He wrote a brushback email that runs afoul of Post decency standards in virtually every clause:
Great response. Whiny little self-righteous b[—-]. “Appalling?”
And with such an ironic name, too… Spitalnick? Ironic because you just know she has extreme d[—]-fright; no chance has this girl ever had a pearl necklace. [Synonym for sperm]neck? I don’t think so. More like [unspeakable].
That message made it to Spitalnick, and BuzzFeed reported Tucker Carlson’s take on the whole thing. “I just talked to my brother about his response, and he assures me he meant it in the nicest way.”
A year and a half later, Spitalnick, now the press secretary for the New York attorney general, tells this blog that she hasn’t received an apology.
Yes, this is the fellow who’s now one of the marquee talents at Fox News. And make no mistake — he is talented. Over many, many years in cable television — including a famous role in the CNN program “Crossfire” — Carlson has mastered televised polemical combat. He knows every comeback, every feint, every debating trick. Those skills he has deployed in interviews with the likes of New York Times Public Editor Liz Spayd, journalist Kurt Eichenwald, Duca and a New Mexico CEO who refuses to work with Trump supporters. The Fox News audience appears to approve, too, as his show has done quite well in the ratings — clearly a consideration in pushing Carlson into Kelly’s soon-to-be-vacated spot.
In an interview last month, this blog asked Kelly about Carlson’s move into her prime-time neighborhood. Here’s the exchange:
EWB: Tucker Carlson once asked on the set of “Fox & Friends”: “Are female breadwinners a recipe for disharmony within the home?” Now, the departure of Ailes was an inflection point for Fox News, meaning that there was perhaps a chance to take the programming in a different direction. Among the first major moves was to place this guy Carlson in the [prime-time] lineup. Did you lobby for him; if not, for whom did you? And to what extent does he represent a future that you’d like to see for Fox News?
KELLY: As far as that particular comment, I refer you to my segment with Lou Dobbs and Erick Erickson. In which I famously challenged two guys at my network for saying exactly that kind of thing, so you know how I feel about comments like that. As far as Tucker, though, I don’t think you can sum up the man based on a comment here, a comment there. My experience with him has been nothing but delightful and respectful and I think he’s a huge talent and I am thrilled to see him hosting the 7 p.m. show — thrilled.
EWB: Have you seen any of the misogyny that he did at the Daily Caller, including the website with all the titty clickbait and all that stuff? Does that matter to you?
KELLY: I don’t — no, I haven’t see that and I don’t know what you’re referring to. It’s not like Tucker is at my house every night for dinner, but I have known him for a long time and what I’ve seen of him is a man who’s respectful and kind and loving and actually so far in his time at 7 p.m., I happen to know has reached out to a lot of women who may not get on camera that often to say, “Would you like a shot, would you like to come on? I think you’re great.” All I’ve heard from my female colleagues is gratitude for new opportunities since he’s taken over that show. So I am a big Tucker fan and I believe he’s a good person and will continue to believe that until somebody gives me great reason to believe otherwise.
Another perspective comes from Spitalnick, who tweeted today upon hearing the news of Carlson’s promotion:
Spitalnick elaborated in a comment to the Erik Wemple Blog: “Replacing a woman who’s faced misogyny with a man who openly condones it is a sad metaphor for our politics right now. Misogyny is alive and well — and it makes it all the more incumbent on journalists, and all of us, to call it out.”