Carlson has a long history of pushing vaccine conspiracy theories that endanger people’s lives. On Tuesday night, he attacked covid-19 vaccines, claiming without providing any evidence that “the way the authorities handled the covid vaccine did not inspire confidence,” “all these people [were] lying about it” and “the most powerful people in America worked to make certain that no one could criticize it.” He never did say what these lies supposedly were — he just left his audience with the impression that the vaccines are part of a plot against them by powerful, shadowy forces. One fact Carlson did not mention: His boss, Rupert Murdoch, has already been vaccinated. His conspiracy mongering is likely to discourage Fox News’s elderly viewers — who are at the highest risk of dying of covid-19 — from getting safe and effective vaccines that could save their lives.
Having done his level best to injure public health, the next night Carlson sought to exacerbate racial and political divisions. On Wednesday, he argued that “they” (whoever they are) are lying to “you” — the Fox News viewer — about the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6. “The known facts bear no resemblance to the story they’re telling — they’re just flat-out lying,” Carlson said. He didn’t say what the real story was — perhaps, like half of Republicans in a recent poll, he thinks antifa was responsible for the assault?
Rather than try to make his case for an alternative reality, Carlson segued into a diatribe about the Black Lives Matter rallies last year that were sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. He claimed that protests “changed this country more in five months than it changed in the previous 50 years” — and it was all based on “an utter lie.” Floyd wasn’t “murdered by a cop,” Carlson told viewers. He “almost certainly died of a drug overdose, fentanyl.”
This is the claim advanced by attorneys representing the cop who pressed his knee onto Floyd’s neck for roughly nine minutes, but it’s not true. The medical examiner ruled that Floyd’s death was a homicide. While Floyd had fentanyl in his system, the cause of death was “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.” A private autopsy requested by Floyd’s family found he died of asphyxia, or suffocation.
That Carlson is spreading dingbat, dishonest conspiracy theories from such a powerful perch is certain to have deleterious, even deadly, consequences for the country. Already his promotion of “Stop the Steal” lies helped to lead to the attack on the Capitol that left five people dead and at least 138 cops injured. That is why I, and other commentators such as Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, have called for Fox News to exercise greater restraint — and, if it doesn’t, for the cable systems that carry it to drop its programming.
This provoked another Carlson diatribe. On Thursday night, he claimed that there was a plot involving everyone from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) to Post owner Jeff Bezos to, well, me designed to “silence” Fox News. To make his case, he employed his trademark combination of hyperbole, paranoia and ignorance.
He bizarrely compared Pelosi and Schiff to the Ottomans, who, he said, “destroyed the cities they captured” because “they enjoyed it.” Perhaps Carlson is thinking of the Mongols? The Ottomans were not city-destroyers — as he would know if he visited Istanbul, Cairo or Belgrade. He’s just casually maligning Muslims along with Democrats.
Carlson is full of off-the-wall analogies that demonstrate his invincible ignorance of history. “The moment they took power, Democrats began a kind of Counter-Reformation against the free Internet,” he claimed. “They started the most sweeping mass censorship campaign in the history of this country.” (Guess he’s never heard of the 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts or the 1873 Comstock Act or the 1917 Espionage Act.) Later, he compared the Democrats to the “Red Guards.” He can’t decide if the targets of his ire are militant Catholics or militant Communists.
Carlson went on to paint Fox News as a lonely, embattled champion of free speech: “Everyone else in the media is standing in crisp formation, in their starched matching uniforms and their little caps, patiently awaiting orders from the billionaire class. And then there’s Fox News off by itself, occasionally saying things that are slightly different.” Pretty rich coming from a TV star who is reportedly paid $10 million a year by a giant corporation controlled by two billionaires, Rupert Murdoch and his son Lachlan.
No one is trying to punish Fox News for expressing “slightly different” views. I am a staunch believer in free speech. I spent most of my life in the conservative movement. (Carlson and I were once affiliated with the same magazine — the Weekly Standard.) I welcome a debate that features conservative views.
But that is not what Carlson represents. He is peddling lunatic conspiracy theories that endanger people’s lives and shred our social fabric. The executives at Fox News — and at the cable systems that carry it — should be ashamed of themselves for beaming this dangerous claptrap into millions of homes.