But instead of answering her questions, Beattie lashed out at Zadrozny in a blog post calling her an “ideologically-motivated hit-man” with a practice of “targeting Trump supporters for doxing, censorship and harassment.”
It might have remained a small, nasty online grudge. But Beattie soon got an opportunity to bring his views to a much-larger platform: that night’s episode of Tucker Carlson’s prime-time Fox News show, which was watched by more than 5.3 million people.
As a photo of Zadrozny took up a good chunk of the screen, Beattie described why he thought her reporting techniques were so malevolent. “She’s up to no good,” Beattie said. “She uses state-of-the-art, proprietary technical tools to dig up personal information about anonymous Trump supporters online. . . . basically, so she can ruin their lives.”
This was a fundamental misinterpretation of Zadrozny’s work, which has included reporting on individuals who discussed the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill insurrection in advance on fringe message boards, the origins of the baseless QAnon conspiracy theories, and a school shooter in New Mexico who participated in white supremacist Internet communities.
But Carlson expressed outrage. “Why would NBC News be doing something like this?” the most-watched man on cable news asked. “Why would they be going after anonymous Twitter users?”
“It really is disgusting,” Beattie replied, likening Zadrozny to a “neo-Stasi,” a reference to the East German secret police.
And then the threats against Zadrozny started pouring in. The threats got so bad, and so violent, and so specific, that Zadrozny required armed security for two weeks after the Carlson show segment.
The next day, NBC News released a statement accusing Carlson of “dangerously and dishonestly” targeting Zadrozny, saying that his employer, the Fox News Channel, had “shamefully encouraged harassment and worse.”
Zadrozny, however, was hardly the only journalist to receive death threats after being called out by Carlson, a conservative pundit who recently dethroned Sean Hannity as the most-watched host on the most-watched cable news network.
Carlson cut his teeth jousting with the nation’s top elected officials and brand-name pundits on CNN’s “Crossfire” 20 years ago. But as his influence within the conservative media ecosystem has grown, with some calling for him to run for president in 2024, he has increasingly found fodder in criticizing lesser-known media figures whom he presents to his audience as symbols of liberalism run amok. And a subset of viewers are inspired to personally harass those journalists with threatening messages.
Los Angeles Times columnist Virginia Heffernan told The Post that she contacted local police and filed a report with the Federal Bureau of Investigation — mentioning Carlson by name — after a Feb. 8 segment on his show took aim at a column she published three days earlier.
Heffernan wrote a provocative — but “slightly satirical,” she says — column sharing with readers her internal moral dilemma after her Trump-supporting next door neighbor plowed her driveway of snow. (It drew the ire of Jim Hoft of the far-right Gateway Pundit, who called her “hateful, humorless and intolerant.”)
Carlson highlighted Heffernan on his show, sharing her photo with a chyron on the screen describing her as a “loathsome L.A. Times columnist."
“Have you noticed that the angriest people in America are the ones with absolutely no useful skills?” Carlson asked. “People like Virginia Heffernan. No useful skills. Does not do anything.”
Heffernan said she received waves of harassing and threatening messages, including letters mailed to her home address and a text message to her phone from a sender indicating a knowledge of where she lived. The text message in particular spooked her, and her local police department took it seriously. Officers drove past her house and around her neighborhood multiple times, she said.
While accustomed to mean tweets and abrasive letters to the editor, Heffernan said she was so unmoored by the backlash and the threats to her privacy and safety that she even hesitated when asked for her address — as a formality — in the process of filing her FBI report. “It was like, ‘How do I know this is secure?’” she recalled.
In early March, New York Times technology and digital culture reporter Taylor Lorenz took note on Twitter of International Women’s Day by urging her followers to support female journalists and raising concerns about the online harassment she and other women in the profession have experienced.
Carlson decided to devote a segment of his show to Lorenz’s complaint — in particular highlighting her claim that online harassment had “destroyed” her life, which he mocked.
Days later, Lorenz shared on Twitter an email she had received in the aftermath of the show, repeatedly urging her to “kill yourself."
“It’s not just mean tweets,” said Lorenz’s friend, video producer Sara Pearl Kenigsberg. “It’s death threats. It’s people trying to dox her, or figuring out where she lives or her family situation, or contacting and harassing her family. It’s very scary.” (Lorenz was not made available for an interview.)
The Times put out a statement defending Lorenz and accusing Carlson of engaging in a pattern of bad behavior toward journalists. “In a now familiar move, Tucker Carlson opened his show last night by attacking a journalist,” the paper said. “It was a calculated and cruel tactic, which he regularly deploys to unleash a wave of harassment and vitriol at his intended target.”
At the time, Fox responded to the Lorenz segment backlash by saying in a statement that “no public figure or journalist is immune from legitimate criticism of their reporting, claims or journalistic tactics.” Asked to comment for this story, a Fox spokesperson pointed to this previous statement but did not offer further comment.
Carlson’s allies, though, have countered such complaints by noting that the host, too, has been the subject of behavior he considers harassing, such as a boisterous protest outside his Washington home in November 2018 that he found threatening. A Metropolitan Police Department investigation into the behavior of the protesters remains open, and no arrests have been made, a spokesperson said recently.
At the time, senior Fox executives decried the incident in a statement to The Washington Post. “The violent threats and intimidation tactics toward him and his family are completely unacceptable,” they wrote, arguing that the nation has “become far too intolerant of different points of view” and calling for "the need for a more civil, respectful, and inclusive national conversation.”
Among journalists who say they have been harassed following segments on Carlson’s show, there is a reluctance to speak publicly about what happened for fear of inciting a new round of negative attention and hostility. One female journalist expressed fear of a “Tucker wave” of harassment if she were to be featured in this story.
Murray Carpenter and Tristan Spinski, two Maine-based journalists with relatively small online profiles, declined to comment for this story when asked about the harassment they received in July, after Carlson named them on his show and told his audience that they planned to reveal the location of his Maine home in a story for the Times.
At the time, both Carpenter and Spinski told Post media critic Erik Wemple that they were forced to call law enforcement. Spinski, a freelance photographer, appeared to get the worst of it — there was an attempted break-in at his house following the segment.
Beyond restating the publication’s commitment to the safety of its employees, a Times spokesperson declined to comment for this article and said that “no one is available for an interview.” Nearly a year later, no story based on their reporting on Carlson has yet appeared in the Times.
Organizations that call out Carlson risk entering into a never-ending back-and-forth with the host, who often laments efforts to “silence” him and turns criticisms of his show into the night’s A-block of programming. After Carlson mocked the Times’ statement on his March 10 show, reading it in a dramatic, sarcastic tone, above an on-screen graphic that read “New York Times Knows All About Actual Harassment," the newspaper chose not to respond.
Over time, those who have been criticized publicly by Carlson have attempted to make sense of why they ended up on his show. In addition to Zadrozny, Heffernan and Lorenz, Carlson has featured freelance journalists Talia Lavin and Kim Kelly in his programming.
“They single out these people as avatars of power, when usually they are not,” Lavin said, and then turn them into “the faces of the culture war."
Kelly, who writes about labor issues, landed on Carlson’s radar for a tweet of hers in 2019 expressing support for a 69-year-old activist who was killed by police when he launched an armed attack on a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center parking lot in Washington state to protest Trump administration immigration policies. Kelly called the activist “heroic”; Carlson called her “sick,” adding that “This country’s laws cannot survive when powerful people endorse violence against those who enforce the laws. And a country can’t survive when it’s run by people who hate it.”
Far from being a member of the “decadent rich,” as he called her, Kelly says she was at the time “an unemployed freelancer from a rural working-class union family," writing an occasional column for the online publication Teen Vogue.
Carlson similarly portrayed Lorenz as a media power player, comparing her to Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. Ridiculous, said her friend, Kenigsberg. "She doesn’t manage people. She’s not like this high-up, elitist person that they try to portray her to be.”
April Ryan, a White House correspondent for the Grio, an online publication aimed at a Black audience, believes that Carlson has used her as a symbol as well, to generate heat from his audience and keep viewers tuned in. During a segment in October 2018, Carlson called Ryan a “dumb” person who made “racist attacks” against Brett M. Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court confirmation process. In January of this year, Carlson accused Ryan of “[terrifying] American families, particularly American black families,” about the prevalence of police brutality and violence after the shooting of Jacob Blake in August 2020.
“I am just a target that he wants to use to gin up his base and the base of Donald Trump in 2024,” she said. “I’ve never targeted Tucker Carlson. I’ve never targeted him. I never said, ‘Oh, go after this person.’ They make personal attacks because they can’t handle the truth."
Ryan said she confronted Carlson at the Politicon convention, where both spoke, a few years ago. She said she told him that “basically everything you do has put my life in jeopardy.”
“Tucker Carlson Tonight” has been the top-rated show on Fox News for the past six months, averaging 4.3 million total viewers per month during that period. In February, Fox News management tapped Carlson to create “flagship” content for the network’s subscription streaming service, Fox Nation, including a new streaming show called “Tucker Carlson Today,” which debuted recently.
When the Anti-Defamation League urged Fox News to fire Carlson last Friday for saying in a segment that immigration serves to "dilute the political power” of Americans, the company refused. In a response letter to the organization, which works to combat antisemitism, Fox Corporation chief executive Lachlan Murdoch defended his host and argued that Carlson actually “decried and rejected replacement theory,” despite what critics alleged.
It’s all a little much for Heffernan, who said she tried to ignore Carlson’s show before the segment on her in February, opting out of the daily discussion that takes place on Twitter about his nightly broadsides.
On March 26, Heffernan tweeted a photo of a letter that she received telling her to “get COVID and choke.” The response was huge.
“It turns out that most people online, maybe disproportionately men, don’t know what this sounds like or feels like at all and they’re completely shocked,” she said.