The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Tucker Carlson easily snookers Trump on South Africa

South Africa's land expropriation debate and the myth of "white genocide" have been a rallying cry for white nationalists around the world for years. (Video: Joyce Lee/The Washington Post)
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Tucker Carlson’s eponymous program on Fox News promotes itself as “the sworn enemy of lying, pomposity, smugness and group think.” A more appropriate slogan would be “Your hour of white grievance.”

On Wednesday night, Carlson predictably seized on the charges against an undocumented immigrant, Cristhian Rivera, in the slaying of 20-year-old Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts. “Okay, the left says it’s deeply opposed to splitting up families. So, were they even more horrified watching an American citizen permanently separated from her family by an illegal alien?” asked Carlson, an all-star hype man for immigrant crime stories.

“White Grievance Tonight” also alighted upon South Africa, in a segment wherein Carlson coached his audience to froth. “South Africa’s government has begun seizing the property of some of its citizens based on their skin color,” Carlson said. “Does our government care? No, they applaud it. The State Department just sent us an unbelievable statement, and we will share that with you next, and it’s going to make you mad. It should make you mad.”

As it turns out, the State Department’s statement noted that South Africa’s democracy is trying to sort out the fraught issue of land reform in a country that for decades consigned blacks to third-class status: A law that dates back a century stole from most blacks the right to own property. Today, more than two decades after apartheid ended, blacks own just 4 percent of private land in the country.

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So a young democracy is trying to reverse the impoverishing impact of a white kleptocracy.

On “White Grievance Tonight,” however, the reality is much different. Carlson said:

  • “South Africa’s government has begun seizing the property of some of its citizens based on their skin color.”
  • “The president of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, has begun, and you may have seen this in the press, seizing land from his own citizens without compensation, because they are the wrong skin color.”
  • “State Department did not mention that, by following the rule of law, [Ramaphosa] has changed the country’s constitution to make it possible to steal land from people, because they are the wrong skin color.”
  • “How should the U.S. administration respond to this human rights tragedy that we’re watching unfold?”

Now for some facts, which come from Bloomberg reporters John Harney and Colleen Goko:

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa — who took office after his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, was forced out amid a whirlwind of corruption investigations and scandals — has embraced land seizures without compensation as a means to achieve equality and racial justice — and as the ruling African National Congress faces growing opposition before elections in 2018. The state hasn’t taken any property yet, and a planned amendment to the constitution is still work in progress.

Bolding added to highlight a contrast with the reporting of Carlson, according to whom the government has already amended the constitution. On the question of expropriation, Carlson alleges that Ramaphosa has “begun” taking land without compensation — and his sweeping indictment of the government suggests the practice is widespread. According to News24, the government has “begun unilaterally expropriating farms against which land claims have been lodged and where price negotiations with owners have stalled.”

If you say something on Fox News that’s loose with the facts and appeals to the fantasies of white nationalists, chances are you’ll pick up a tweet from the president. Sure enough:

We’ve seen it before: Fox News plus U.S. foreign relations equals diplomatic crisis. Allow Bloomberg to explain South Africa’s response to the Calrson-Trump hysteria: “South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation said it will meet with the U.S. embassy Thursday ‘to seek clarification on the matter.’ Trump’s comments were ‘unfortunate’ and based on false information, it said in a statement.”

The Erik Wemple Blog has asked Fox News for any evidence underpinning Carlson’s claims that the constitution has been changed and land seized without compensation. A spokesperson for the network said that the program would return to this topic on Thursday night’s edition. “I find no evidence at all that there has been any expropriation to date,” John Campbell, the Ralph Bunche senior fellow for Africa policy studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, told the Erik Wemple Blog.

But beyond these factual questions, the bigger deception in Carlson’s segment comes via omission. A search of the transcript shows that “apartheid” was mentioned but once, by Carlson’s guest commentator. Missing was any sincere attempt to mention all the wrongs that the land-reform debate in South Africa seeks to address. “White South Africans live in the first world and black South Africans live in the third world,” Campbell said.

“White Grievance Tonight” is free to skew the news however it wishes. Carlson is an expert at this form of polemical combat, which finds a welcoming hive in the uncritical recesses of the president’s brain. Even if the president felt compelled to watch, he could have checked Carlson’s segment with the world’s foremost experts on South African politics and society. He could have arranged a briefing by the next commercial break. Instead, he lets “White Grievance Tonight” run his government.