Again: This was how Carlson launched the first show in which he addressed Floyd’s death.
So many questions merited answers on that edition of “Tucker Carlson Tonight”: How does the Floyd case align with the Minneapolis police department’s record on the use of force? What justification could there possibly be for the treatment of Floyd?
But, no, Carlson went right to broken windows. “Rioters cut a path of destruction through Minneapolis last night after a video went viral that showed a man dying in police custody,” he said. Then came a live shot from Fox News correspondent Mike Tobin, who was in the midst of a confrontation between protesters and police. There were flash-bangs and pepper spray from the police, and Tobin began coughing. Carlson pulled away, saying, “We’re getting reports that there’s looting in other parts of the city. So, I think we’re going to come back to you a little bit from now.”
Credit Carlson for honesty: He wants riot footage, and that’s about it. As for the footage that touched off the protests, well, the Erik Wemple Blog reviewed transcripts and could find no record that Carlson showed the video of Floyd’s death. Media Matters for America, an organization that scours Fox News coverage, told us it found nothing. We’ve asked Fox News about editorial decisions on the Floyd footage and will update with any response.
The unrest in Minneapolis over the killing of an unarmed black man, however, provided Carlson a safe space for a lecture on political freedom: “The indiscriminate use of violence by mobs is a threat to every American of all colors and backgrounds and political beliefs,” he roared. “Democracy cannot exist when people are rioting. Rioting is a form of tyranny.”
Just before that self-righteous proclamation, Carlson issued his patented giveaway: “We want to be clear, we’re not showing you these pictures to defend the behavior of individuals on the Minneapolis Police Department — we’re not.” (Boldface added to highlight classic Carlsonian misdirection.)
In November 2017, the Erik Wemple Blog documented this staple of Carlson’s misleading cable-news wizardry. The sequence routinely goes like this: A scandal of some sort breaks in Trump World or some organization that’s part of the Fox News ideological constellation; a backlash among liberals kicks up; instead of addressing the scandal itself, Carlson feasts on the most extreme fringes of that backlash. In the process, he apprises the audience that he’s “not defending” Trump or the police or whomever.
This framing explains all of the rhetorical jujitsu that Carlson has rolled out since Floyd’s killing. At the top of his May 28 program, for instance, he bemoaned the reaction: “Anarchy grips parts of Minnesota at this hour, rioters are burning cars and looting stores in neighborhoods across the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul.”
May 29: “Remarkable scenes of violence and destruction and chaos from across the country now and we’re going to spend much of the hour keeping you abreast of what’s happening.”
June 1: “The nation went up in flames this weekend. No one in charge stood up to save America. Our leaders dithered. They cowered. They openly sided with the destroyers.”
As long as there was violence associated with the protests, there was a segment for “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” By last weekend, however, the clashes and violence had diminished.
A change of gears, accordingly, was in store for “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” On Monday, he denounced the growing cultural influence of the Black Lives Matter movement: “America went insane over the weekend. ... This was without precedent in the modern era, a small group of highly aggressive, emotionally charged activists took over our culture. They forced the entire country to obey their will. It all happened so fast and with such ferocity that virtually no one resisted it.”
As the host decried this new and “insane” America, he himself sounded more and more unhinged. Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah had taken part in a D.C. protest and declared that we need to find "a way to end violence and brutality and to make sure that people understand that black lives matter.” Carlson couldn’t handle it: “Mitt just wants to make sure that Americans understand, get through their thick heads that black lives matter, as if Americans didn’t know that.”
Still irate, the host apparently couldn’t fathom that D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) named a park Black Lives Matter Plaza — and, Carlson said, “nobody criticized her for it!”
Where was Carlson heading with all this? Toward this ugly conclusion:
If Democratic leaders cared about saving the lives of black people, and they should, they wouldn’t ignore the murder of thousands of young black men in their cities every year. They wouldn’t put abortion clinics in black neighborhoods. They would instead do their very best to improve the public schools and to encourage intact families, which we know beyond a shadow of a doubt is central to life prospects of children.If they tried to make black neighborhoods as safe as their own neighborhoods, they would close the payday lenders that add so much misery to the lives of poor people of all colors. But they don’t even consider doing any of this, they don’t even try.Instead they encourage theft and mayhem as if that will help, it will not help.This may be a lot of things, this moment we’re living through, but it is definitely not about black lives, and remember that when they come for you, and at this rate, they will.
Who are these people coming for you? A Fox News spokesperson said it was a reference to Democratic leaders, not to protesters — a distinction that may have been lost on millions of Fox News viewers. In any case, Carlson himself was a registered Democrat the last time we checked (in January).
What sort of organization would want to be associated with Carlson’s commentary? Well, not Walt Disney Co., Papa John’s, Poshmark or T-Mobile, advertisers that this week took steps to disassociate themselves from “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” T-Mobile CEO Michael Sievert, whose company stopped advertising on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” in early May, drove home the desertion with this tweet:
A network spokesperson told the Erik Wemple Blog that the national ad revenue was moved to other programs, with the result that no “national money” has been lost.
Angelo Carusone, president and CEO of Media Matters, told the Erik Wemple Blog: “So, Fox News is saying that if advertisers really want to stop financially supporting Tucker Carlson’s white power hour, they need to drop Fox News entirely? I agree with Fox News here — advertisers should remove their ads from all of Fox News if they really want to disassociate from bigotry.”
The companies are a bit late to their Tucker Carlson awakening. Last year, the host called white nationalism a “hoax,” though he had previously declared, “I’m not defending white supremacy.” In December 2018, he said that immigration makes the United States “dirtier,” triggering an advertiser defection; in August of that year, he stirred a flimsily premised racial furor over white South African farmers. Years ago, he made racist remarks on a radio show, as later exposed by Madeline Peltz of Media Matters. And while the top editor of the Daily Caller, where he worked before becoming a prime-time host at Fox News in late 2016, Carlson hired writers with archives of racist material.
All that activity may explain why Carlson has sounded so desperate and panicky over the past week. It’s the timbre of a guy who’s trying to glue back together a world that’s falling to pieces in between segments. Particularly revelatory have been Carlson’s feeble attacks on conservatives he has judged pusillanimous against the protest movement. Only Tucker Carlson withstands the Tucker Carlson purity test.
Even Carlson’s employer is drifting from his worldview. In a memo to colleagues, Fox Corp. Executive Chairman and CEO Lachlan Murdoch struck a Romney-esque note, counseling Fox folks to “grieve with the Floyd family, closely listen to the voices of peaceful protest and fundamentally understand that black lives matter.” He tucked in this thought: “The FOX culture embraces and fosters diversity and inclusion."
Contrast that sentiment with a famous Carlson rant from 2018: “How, precisely, is diversity our strength?” These days Carlson is finding an answer — and that’s freaking him out.