In October, Tucker Carlson boasted about how he could say anything he wants to say on his prime-time Fox News program: “I have complete editorial freedom and the support of the company. So, like, when I’ve been criticized, they’ve been like, ‘We support him.’ I can’t think of a clearer sign of support than that,” said Carlson in a National Review podcast hosted by Jamie Weinstein.
Prescient remarks: On Dec. 13, Carlson said on his program that immigration makes the United States “dirtier,” not to mention more poor and more divided. The next day, Pacific Life announced it would reevaluate its advertisements on the program, and at least 15 other companies — including TD Ameritrade, job site Indeed, Voya Financial and Jaguar Land Rover — have taken similar actions.
Fox News’s response? We support him. The company initially issued a statement steering attention away from Carlson’s disgusting and bigoted remark and toward the country’s political divide: “It is a shame that left-wing advocacy groups, under the guise of being supposed ‘media watchdogs’ weaponize social media against companies in an effort to stifle free speech. We continue to stand by and work with our advertisers through these unfortunate and unnecessary distractions."
A new statement popped up on Tuesday, again affirming Carlson’s framing of his working compact at Fox News — and making reference to a group of protesters who last month showed up at the host’s doorstep in Washington:
We cannot and will not allow voices like Tucker Carlson to be censored by agenda-driven intimidation efforts from the likes of Moveon.org, Media Matters and Sleeping Giants. Attempts were made last month to bully and terrorize Tucker and his family at their home. He is now once again being threatened via Twitter by far left activist groups with deeply political motives. While we do not advocate boycotts, these same groups never target other broadcasters and operate under a grossly hypocritical double standard given their intolerance to all opposing points of view.
For an example of these “agenda-driven intimidation efforts,” please see this tweet from the Sleeping Giants account:
What’s missing from the Fox News statements is the contextual truth of the backlash against “Tucker Carlson Tonight": Citizens on social media, bloggers, commentators and many, many others have been voicing their contempt for the racist message of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” for months and months. There was an uproar when the host declared that contemporary leaders had never bothered to explain why “diversity is our biggest strength,” when in fact they had on several occasions. There was an uproar when Carlson mangled facts in service of racial scare-mongering about land reform in South Africa. There was an uproar over his sexist put-downs of writer Lauren Duca.
So: The recent work of Sleeping Giants and Media Matters is no deus ex machina; it’s an extension of very reasonable and long-standing critiques of Carlson’s divisive programming. At most organizations that self-identify as news purveyors, the criticism might have prompted intervention by leadership, also known as editing. Something like ... Hey Tucker, we’re all good with you advocating for strong borders, but let’s stop short of demeaning generalizations about the people who are looking to move across them, okay?
Such a conversation never occurred, based on Carlson’s comments to Weinstein:
I’ve already conceded like five times and let me concede once more, that I have had a lot of opinions that I now find repugnant, where I was wrong. I supported the death penalty, I was pro-choice, I was for drug legalization, I thought the war in Iraq might turn out okay. I mean, I’ve been really dumb in many different turns of my life....But I know from my experience these last two years hosting the show here and working directly for Rupert Murdoch, who controls the company, that I have not a single time been told what to say. There’s not been a single directive -- I swear to god that’s true. It is true -- ask anybody, you can tell by my show.
In one breath, then, Carlson concedes that he has been wrong about a lot of stuff, yet praises a news organization that refuses to edit him — even when he says stuff like this in August: “I actually hate litter, which is one of the reasons I’m so against illegal immigration. Produces a huge amount of litter ... and I mean that with all sincerity.”
Everyone’s work needs pushback, nitpicking and, occasionally, a nice sharp spike. The Erik Wemple Blog has asked Fox News whether its CEO, Suzanne Scott, had ever expressed concerns about Carlson’s rhetoric on immigration and related topics. We don’t expect a substantive response.
What’s clear from the public record, however, is that Fox News has abdicated a central function of any bona fide news organization, that of supervising one of its opinion hosts. Or any of its opinion hosts, including conspiracist in chief Sean Hannity, who once said, "Nobody tells me what to say on my show. They never have and frankly they never will. I’m not that type of person you can say, ‘Go on air and say this.’ That’s been the beauty of Fox News all these years. They leave me alone.”
As advertisers bolt from Carlson’s show, there’s a debate out there regarding whether these campaigns are good things or bad things. Let the opinions flow, though we’d like to add one point: When the record is as long as it is for someone like Carlson, these campaigns, good or bad, are inevitable. As Carlson and Hannity attest, laissez-faire editorial policies have their charms — as well as their perils: If ownership won’t police the hateful content, someone else will.
Read more by Erik Wemple: