Columnist

Fox News is the most-watched cable network in the United States. Breitbart News is the 134th most-popular news site on the Internet, and has become notorious as a platform for the alt-right. Yet Breitbart seems to have higher standards than Fox News.

After the far-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos defended pedophilia (specifically, sexual relationships between adult men and 13-year-old boys whose organs are “mature”), he was forced to resign as a Breitbart editor. Tucker Carlson, by contrast, has not even been publicly reprimanded by his superiors at Fox News after the liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America unearthed his vocal support for a child rapist — among many other sick statements he made between 2006 and 2011 during conversations with a radio shock jock who calls himself “Bubba the Love Sponge.”

Carlson defended Warren Jeffs, a polygamist cult leader who is now serving a life sentence for child rape. Carlson called the criminal charges "bulls--t" and said that “arranging a marriage between a 16-year-old and a 27-year-old is not the same as pulling a stranger off the street and raping her.” (The case he was referring to actually involved a 14-year-old girl married by Jeffs to a 19-year-old cousin over her objections.) Carlson explained: “The rapist, in this case, has made a lifelong commitment to live and take care of the person, so it is a little different.” That prompted the co-host to call Carlson “twisted” and “demented.” If you’re not up to the moral standards of Bubba the Love Sponge . . . !

During other interviews on the same show, Carlson used the c-word to refer to the daughter of Martha Stewart, called Arianna Huffington a “pig,” and said women are “extremely primitive” beings who “just need to be quiet and kind of do what you’re told.” Apparently the “c-word” is a common part of Carlson’s vocabulary; former Salon editor in chief Joan Walsh writes that he once used it when speaking about her to a Salon intern.

Caught on tape saying reprehensible things, Carlson was typically and totally unapologetic. “Media Matters caught me saying something naughty on a radio show more than a decade ago,” he said, as if he had been belching in public. Then, like so many other right-wingers (including, of course, President Trump), Carlson refused to accept any responsibility or apologize for his conduct. Instead he portrayed himself as the victim — precisely what the right so often accuses the left of doing. Carlson complained that he was being chased by a liberal “mob” and cast himself as a First Amendment hero. It seems he and his Fox News colleagues uphold the right to express “independent thoughts,” defying the left’s demands for “total conformity.”

Even as Carlson was delivering this defiant statement on Monday’s "Tucker Carlson Tonight," Media Matters for America was releasing more examples of Carlson’s so-called independent thought: “Carlson called Iraqis ‘semiliterate primitive monkeys’ and said Afghanistan is ‘never going to be a civilized country because the people aren’t civilized.’ He also said he had ‘zero sympathy’ for Iraqis because they ‘don’t use toilet paper or forks’ and that the war could turn around ‘if, somehow, the Iraqis decided to behave like human beings’.”

Oh, and Carlson also disparaged President Barack Obama in a racist fashion (“Everybody knows that Barack Obama would still be in the state Senate in Illinois if he were white”); said that “everyone’s embarrassed to be a white man” even though “white men” deserve credit for “creating civilization and stuff”; and called efforts to increase diversity in radio programming “worse than Jim Crow.” Sigh, there’s plenty of homophobia, too.

Is there any odious “-ism” that Carlson is not guilty of? Even by Fox News’s low, low standards, this is appalling stuff.

Carlson’s racist, misogynistic and Islamophobic rants were revealed shortly after his fellow Fox News host, Jeanine Pirro, delivered an anti-Muslim commentary on her show, claiming that Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) is acting “antithetical to the United States Constitution” because she wears a hijab. Fox News rebuked Pirro for this bigoted statement. It remains to be seen whether Fox News will even give Carlson a slap on the wrist. He is, after all, the host of a highly rated nightly show, not a weekly show like Pirro’s, and thus is much more financially valuable. Fox News, Carlson says, is “behind us.”

Carlson’s defenders point out that his conversations with Bubba the Love Sponge occurred years ago and not on Fox News. But he defended statutory rape — female teachers having sex with underage boys — as recently as a 2015 podcast. And on his Fox News show, Carlson regularly rages against immigration and diversity. In December, he said that immigration “makes our own country poorer and dirtier.” White supremacists have become avid fans of Carlson; the white supremacist website Daily Stormer called him “literally our greatest ally.”

It is difficult to believe that any television network would give Carlson a forum to spew his bile or that any reputable company would underwrite it. Megyn Kelly was fired from NBC for only one offense — defending blackface Halloween costumes — and, unlike Carlson, she apologized. It is high time for both advertisers and network bosses, from Rupert Murdoch on down, to search their souls about their complicity in injecting this poison into the body politic. Carlson has a right to say whatever he wants — but he doesn’t have a right to say it on the most-watched cable channel in the country. He needs to go. Now.

Read more:

Erik Wemple: Don’t worry, folks: Fox News is ‘addressing’ the matter

Erik Wemple: Defenders of Tucker Carlson decry ‘hit piece’ by Media Matters

Erik Wemple: Fox News couldn’t care less that Tucker Carlson is a misogynist

Margaret Sullivan: It’s time — high time — to take Fox News’s destructive role in America seriously

News: Fox News host Tucker Carlson uses racist, homophobic language in second set of recordings