Why does Carlson care so much about Maine and its Democratic governor?
Because that’s where he summers. As Carlson noted to the National Conservatism conference in 2019, he lives in Maine for three months of the year. He has “spent virtually every summer of my life” in Oxford County, a rural enclave that shares borders with both Quebec and New Hampshire. A nomadic television host, Carlson even beams “Tucker Carlson Tonight” from the wilds of Vacationland, where he enjoys fishing and learning about the country. Andover, a town in Oxford County, “had stores and a barbershop, and a car-repair place, and I used to get my hair cut there as a kid,” Carlson told Stephen Rodrick in a GQ profile. “And I’ve watched the town collapse.”
Reaction to the pandemic, argues Carlson, will only accelerate the decline. “In the past five weeks, more than 100,000 people in the state have filed for unemployment. That’s only 10 percent of the entire population,” said Carlson on his April 23 program; that number has since jumped to 135,000. “Maine’s economy has long been fragile. It will not recover from this for years, if it ever does recover.”
In late April, Mills extended the state’s stay-at-home order until the end of May and has outlined a four-phase approach to reopening the economy. But some business owners have sued Mills in hopes of securing a judicial ruling allowing their immediate reopening and the revocation of the 14-day quarantine requirement for folks arriving in Maine from out of state. And tension between Maine entrepreneurs and its governor provided the drama for one of the more compelling “Tucker Carlson Tonight” segments in recent memory. Rick Savage, owner of the Sunday River Brewing Co. in Bethel, Maine, joined the show on April 30 to discuss his plans to open the restaurant on the following day in defiance of state orders. “We need to open back up. Get this summer tourist business going or we’re going to lose a third of our restaurants. Who knows how many motels and other businesses?” said Savage, who has noted that some big-box stores have been allowed to stay open.
The plan to seat customers at the Sunday River Brewing Co. drew applause from Carlson. “You know, Godspeed, Rick Savage. Good luck tomorrow, truly. I hope you’ll tell us how it goes,” the host told Savage.
The brewpub did indeed open on May 1, and about 150 patrons showed up. The state, however, pulled the restaurant’s health license. Undeterred, Savage opened the restaurant again. Last Wednesday night, Carlson reported that Mills is continuing her pursuit of the restaurateur. “Maine’s civil courts are currently shut down, but Mills has asked them to reopen temporarily solely to order Rick Savage’s restaurant shut down completely,” said Carlson. “That shouldn’t be allowed in this country. It has nothing to do with health. In fact, restaurants across rural Maine are being allowed to reopen next Monday. So, she knows the virus is not a threat in the rural parts of the state. But she is doing it anyway. Why? Because power is what Janet Mills cares about.”
Now: Carlson has blasted what he views as coronavirus-countermeasure overreach in other places, too, including New York and Pennsylvania. The Maine stuff has a bit more edge, however.
In an interview with the Erik Wemple Blog, Savage says he’s known Carlson for a long time, though they don’t hang out. “He has land in Maine and he loves Maine and that’s why he’s so passionate about Maine,” says Savage, who points to the stakes involved in his fight: He had to lay off all but a handful of his 70 employees as a result of the shutdown order. “It’s not like he’s trying to beat [Mills] up, but this affects him, too. He does love Maine, and he’s a great guy. We’re fortunate to have his voice, to be honest with you.”
“Great guy” is a subjective evaluation, but Savage is right about Maine’s good fortune. “When we make national news, people in Maine tend to notice that we made national news,” says John Bott, communications director for the Republicans in the Maine House of Representatives.
If Carlson’s viewers know about his connection to the place he rants about on television, they likely found out from non-Fox News sources. That’s because Carlson doesn’t clue them in to his Maine connection during his broadcasts, at least not those in which he has explored Savage’s tribulations.
Is that an ethical problem? Perhaps not. On the one hand, Carlson has a very direct stake in the outcomes of the decision-making that he’s attacking on air. On the other, his stake stems from his status as a citizen, and who cares where he summers?
There’s a bigger issue at play here, anyhow: Should a cable-news host use his platform to encourage a man to defy a state order? Fox News didn’t provide an answer to an inquiry on that matter. We’ll jump in to say, no, a cable-news host should not do such a thing.
Yet Carlson now has a story that he can keep flogging. A Maine court on Friday issued an injunction that ordered Savage to keep his brewpub closed until he recovers his licenses. “Based on the evidence received to date, the injury to the public outweighs any harm which granting injunctive relief would inflict on defendant,” wrote Superior Court Justice Thomas McKeon, according to a report in the Sun Journal. “The harm to defendant is that it will not be able to operate, at least in the short term, losing revenue. Although this will have a financial impact on the defendant, it does not outweigh the injury that continued operation causes to the public’s interest in the enforceability of the department’s licensing requirements.”
“I guess I’ll sleep in a prison cell for a while. They are basically trying to make me an example because I defied her order. And if they want to make me an example, they can come after me,” said Savage on last Wednesday’s edition of “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
The novel coronavirus is a case study in Tucker Carlsonism. In the early going, he was ringing alarm bells about the virus; after his predictions bore out, he inveighed against the countermeasures as economy-killing overreaction. As the story progressed, he started highlighting the alleged promise of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for covid-19, a notion that looks sillier and sillier every week. He then hyped Savage’s defiance of Maine authorities and has taken to criticizing Anthony S. Fauci, who has advised six presidents on public health matters.
The through line of all this is no line whatsoever. Viewers of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” tune in to hear the unpredictable comments of a glib and well-read television host, one who himself fully recognizes that he has no world view. “My politics are evolving, although I don’t even have politics, I just have reactions to things, as you can tell,” he said in a speech last year.