Fox News host Tucker Carlson. (Richard Drew/AP)
Media critic

Early in his tenure as a prime-time host at Fox News, Tucker Carlson drew plaudits from a certain demographic: Former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke:

It wasn’t an isolated instance. As Media Matters noted, many motivated racists and misogynists were finding that Carlson brought something fresh and appropriately hateful to the Fox News lineup. Last November, the Erik Wemple Blog asked the host what he made of Duke’s endorsement. He got a kick out of that question: “Ha ha ha ha ha ha! It’s so stupid! It was like, when you went into journalism, I bet you never thought you’d find yourself in a place where you ask fake questions like that. And I bet your younger self would have hated your current self.” More Carlson: “That’s just a McCarthyite question. So you find someone — look, let’s be adults, if you don’t mind. Why don’t you, if you’re trying to root out unapproved thinking on my side, if you want to trap me in some kind of naughty worldview, why don’t you just ask me what I think and I’ll tell you? How does that sound?”

On that same theme, Carlson told Lyz Lenz for a Columbia Journalism Review profile: ““It’s like ‘Oh, creepy people like your show. Therefore, you shouldn’t have a show.’ What? How could you go along with that? I don’t understand. Like, that’s the lowest form . . . that’s so contemptible.”

He’s right about the creepy part. As Justin Baragona noted, on Wednesday, Carlson secured the endorsement of Richard Spencer, a name that’s become synonymous with the alt-right, white nationalism and just plain racism. Spencer is the fellow who, just after President Trump was elected, convened a group of like-minded folks who cheered as Spencer thundered, “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!

That was the kickoff thought of a thread in which Spencer alternately chided Carlson for his “shtick” and praised him for what he has brought to Fox News. Yet the posts landed on this assertion: “Tucker has become a major public figure, not simply for his talents and good humor, but because he has raised the specter of nationalism, national disintegration, and anti-white hatred — often implicitly and increasingly explicitly.” And this assertion: “A few years ago, one could plausibly (though not convincingly) say that conservatives just hadn’t heard of things like race realism, White identity politics, or identitarianism. After the rise of the Alt-Right, you simply can’t argue this. Tucker knows.”

Thanks to good ratings and good luck, Carlson moved from weekend duty at Fox News to the table-setting 8 p.m. hour formerly occupied by Bill O’Reilly. The jab in Spencer’s thread against the dethroned King of Cable News is telling: Though O’Reilly despised political correctness and tossed around racist and racially divisive comments, he didn’t ride the politics of white grievance with the passion of Carlson. Time and again, Carlson has managed to depict white America as a victim of multiculturalism run amok, as a group that needs to start looking out for itself:

Nor is there any surprise that Spencer would riff on Carlson’s appeal at this particular moment. Weeks ago, the Fox News host stretched the truth to raise alarm bells about the prospect of expropriation of farmland in South Africa owned by white people. He later questioned why our political elites hadn’t ever bothered to explain why they often said that diversity is America’s strength. Actually, they had. And just this week, he has propagated more scary programming about the grim implications the Brett Kavanaugh controversy holds for white people.

At least Carlson cannot be accused of dog-whistling. His appeals span the auditory spectrum, making clear that he understands the dynamics of his rants and his audience. Spencer is right: “Tucker knows.”