There comes a moment in most Tucker Carlson interviews in which his guest, typically someone liberal who has been brought in as a foil to the Fox News talk show host, will reach a point that seems to silently indicate: He really just said that, didn’t he?
This epiphany is typically telegraphed through the guest’s eyes. And in his Tuesday night appearance on Carlson’s show, Ethan Bearman — host of a radio show in California — seemed to arrive at that moment about four minutes and 37 seconds into the interview.
The two had been engaged in a conversation about whether the two sexual assault allegations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh should disqualify him. (Note: At the time, two women had publicly come forward to accuse the Supreme Court nominee of sexual misconduct. On Wednesday, a third woman was identified.) A chyron appeared beneath them: “WHY SHOULD KAVANAUGH HAVE TO PROVE INNOCENCE?”
Carlson began asking why the first of those accusers, California professor Christine Blasey Ford, had not come forward earlier to make her allegation: that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her at a house party when they were both in high school in the 1980s. It’s a question many Republicans have asked since Ford’s claims were reported, accusing Democrats of delaying for political purposes. Democrats have denied this.
On Tuesday, however, Carlson cast blame on Ford for not fulfilling her “responsibility” of reporting the alleged assault as early as possible.
“She’s claiming that this man sexually assaulted her and altered the course of her life,” Carlson told Bearman. “She didn’t tell anybody his name for 36 years, during which time he got married, he interacted with many others in our population.”
Carlson then launched a barrage of questions at Bearman.
“Sex offenders tend to commit serial sex crimes. Doesn’t she have an obligation to tell someone?” he asked. “To stop him from doing that if he is, in fact, a sex criminal? Where’s her obligation here? What about the rest of us?”
Bearman began talking about the reasons a sexual assault victim might not feel comfortable reporting (more on that below), before Carlson cut him off abruptly.
“No, no, no, no, no, no, hold on, I’m not asking her about her reasons,” the Fox News host said. “I’m asking about the rest of us — the other 320 million people who live here. If he’s actually a sex criminal, we have a right to know that, and she has an obligation to tell us. And I know it’s hard. But why don’t we have a right to know? If there’s a rapist on the loose, if you don’t tell anybody, if Bernie Madoff rips you off and you don’t tell his other investors, you’re part of the problem, are you not? What am I missing?”
Still, Bearman continued, attempting to fact-check Carlson on his earlier claims that Ford “didn’t tell anybody [Kavanaugh’s] name for 36 years.” Ford said she had, in fact, told her therapist, as well as a few other people close to her. (On Wednesday, her lawyers submitted to the Senate sworn affidavits from four people who said Ford had much earlier either named Kavanaugh as the attacker or described him as a “federal judge.”)
As Bearman tried to explain all this, though, Carlson interrupted him again.
“I’m saying, if it is true, what’s going on here?” he demanded. “Don’t the rest of us have a right to protect ourselves from this dangerous man, Brett Kavanaugh? What’s the answer?”
And there it was. The moment. Bearman began shaking his head. His large, dark-rimmed glasses couldn’t hide the fact that his eyes were staying closed longer each time he blinked. Carlson maintained an indignant expression.
The chyron had now changed to read: “KAVANAUGH & THE DUE PROCESS DEBATE.” But this was no longer a debate. The two men’s conversation soon dissolved into a mess of crosstalk.
Bearman: “So you have a very powerful person here. A judge on the 9th Circuit of the United States of America—”
Carlson: “He hasn’t been a judge for 36 years . . . I mean, what?”
Bearman: “Hang on, hang on. Tucker, you were just talking about the privileged elite—”
And so on.
Carlson ended the back-and-forth by admonishing Bearman: “You’re missing it. You’re intentionally dodging my question, which is about responsibility to protect the rest of us. . . . It’s not just about her and her feelings. There’s a responsibility to others around you in the society at large, which we’re ignoring on purpose because we’re all terrified to say anything that’s true because we think we’re gonna be punished for doing that, and you know that’s true. Let me ask you really quickly—”
Bearman, who says he frequently agrees to appear on Carlson’s show because he feels it’s important to present another viewpoint, later told The Washington Post that they were slated to have a general discussion about whether Kavanaugh should have the presumption of innocence. He had not thought Carlson “would go there with victim-blaming,” he said.
Bearman said he started to shake his head because he was thinking “I just so fundamentally disagree with that,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday.
“We have a millennia of some men abusing all kinds of people, mostly women, and with the #MeToo movement . . . I believe it is time that we stop enabling these abusers, we listen to victims, we believe victims and we need to be empowering them,” Bearman said. “And to blame their way at all is wrong. We need to give [sexual assault victims] the space to be comfortable, to come forward and encourage that.”
He said there was no further conversation with Carlson after the show in which the Fox News host might have clarified his remarks, as they were taping the segment on opposite coasts.
Late Wednesday afternoon, Fox News provided an email statement from Carlson that insisted his remarks were “not a gaffe.”
“I meant what I said,” Carlson stated. “Seems like an obvious point: If there’s a rapist on the loose, the rest of us ought to know about it as soon as possible. Men who commit sexual assault tend to do it repeatedly. They need to be stopped. Why is it controversial to ask people to report violent felonies? It’s a way to protect women from becoming victims of sexual assault.”
Online, people also accused Carlson of “victim-blaming” and charged that, in doing so, he was part of the problem.
The segment comes as the #MeToo movement has pushed a national conversation about sexual assault and encouraged survivors to come forward. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, about 310 of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to police, meaning the majority remain unreported.
There are many reasons people who have been sexually assaulted do not report it to authorities, from fearing retaliation to believing that it was a “personal matter” or that police wouldn’t do anything to help. Furthermore, statistics from the nonprofit group show that perpetrators of sexual violence are less likely to be imprisoned than other criminals.
When asked about Carlson’s remarks, RAINN spokeswoman Jodi Omear indicated they can add to an environment that already makes it difficult for survivors to talk about sexual assaults.
“There is no right way to behave after a sexual assault. Reporting what happened is a decision that each survivor has to make for themselves,” Omear said. “It can be incredibly difficult for victims of sexual assault to disclose to their closest family and friends, let alone law enforcement. Because survivors are often reluctant to report sexual violence, it’s critical for institutions to make them feel comfortable doing so, and helping them find support, medical care and justice.”
This post has been updated.