In his ongoing and remarkably successful quest to be the worst of the Fox News nighttime hosts, Tucker Carlson hit a new low on his Tuesday show.
White supremacy, he claimed, isn’t a real problem in America: “This is a hoax, just like the Russia hoax. It’s a conspiracy theory used to divide the country and keep a hold on power.” (Let’s set aside, for a moment, the truth that the Russian attacks on America’s voting integrity, to help Donald Trump become president, are anything but a hoax, as the Mueller report made abundantly clear.)
And, Carlson insisted, he has empirical evidence: “I’ve lived here 50 years and I’ve never met anybody, not one person who ascribes to white supremacy,” he said, adding, “I don’t know a single person who thinks that’s a good idea.”
Hmm. Maybe his sample size is a bit flawed.
Anyway, Carlson’s wrong. Here’s the dictionary definition of white supremacy: the belief that white people are superior to people of other races and therefore should be dominant over them.
It’s undeniably one of the core tenets of the opinion-mongers at Fox News — and of some portion of its supposedly straight news coverage, too. (Remember the network’s feverish attention to “the caravan” of migrants moving northward toward the United States — and how abruptly that coverage faded after it was no longer useful as a Republican talking point in the 2018 midterms?)
Understand: I’m not suggesting that Carlson or his Fox colleagues are stashing their Klan robes in the newsroom closet. They may not display the most obvious and virulent strain of white supremacy or belong to organizations dedicated to the cause or pick up assault weapons and destroy innocent lives, as the El Paso gunman did on Saturday. (Remember, the 2,300-word screed — let’s not dignify it with the term “manifesto” — that authorities linked to the suspect stated: “This attack is a response to Hispanic invasion of Texas.”)
Nevertheless, Carlson’s nightly show does a great deal to portray nonwhites as the dangerous “other,” a force to be beaten back to save America.
His denials and rhetoric must be called out for the lies that they are.
Consider his and his Fox colleagues’ insistence on using the word “invasion” to describe migrants coming to America — generally people of color from countries south of the border.
Here’s what a recent Media Matters study found about the use of that term so far this year on Fox News: There have been more than 70 on-air references to an invasion of migrants; there have been at least 55 clips of President Trump calling migrants an invasion. And Carlson himself spoke of the United States being invaded nine times, including “This is an invasion, and it’s terrifying.”
Carlson’s colleague Brian Kilmeade argued: “If you use the term ‘an invasion,’ that’s not anti-Hispanic. It’s a fact.”
No, it’s racist propaganda.
As Ben Zimmer wrote recently in the Atlantic, exploring the ugly history of the term: “The American brand of nativism has long relied on menacing images of immigrant invaders. The ‘invasion’ trope has gone hand in hand with similar metaphors of contamination and infestation.”
Or, as Rolling Stone’s Jamil Smith put it: “By likening people to insects or vermin, even if he considers them criminals, [Trump] provides himself license to be an exterminator. We know that story.”
Recognizing the white supremacy at work here does not deny that there is a real need for sensible, humanitarian immigration reform, including aid to the countries from which immigrants are fleeing as they try desperately to find a better life. Nor does it translate to support for open borders.
I really don’t know what drives Carlson to be so hate-filled and divisive. Is it all about ginning up ratings by playing to audience prejudices, rage and fear of “replacement” by immigrants?
Does he really believe what he says? Is he an egalitarian, tolerant fellow in his heart of hearts?
The cause of this damaging rhetoric doesn’t matter. But the results certainly do.
The Fox-Trump feedback loop constantly reinforces the notion that black and brown people are to be feared and despised — whether they are in “rat-infested” cities like Baltimore, as Trump would have it, or at the Mexico-Texas border.
Tucker Carlson has become one of the most high-profile perpetrators of this appalling and divisive message, one constantly amplified by the president.
So if Carlson thinks he hasn’t met a single white supremacist, he might want to take a searching look in the mirror.
For more by Margaret Sullivan visit wapo.st/sullivan.