Leave it to Fox News host Tucker Carlson to skip past the evidence in search of some way to place an asterisk on this moment of racial justice. “The jury in the Derek Chauvin trial came to a unanimous and unequivocal verdict this afternoon: Please don’t hurt us,” said the host on Tuesday evening.
What did that mean? As best we can surmise, Carlson was suggesting that a motivation behind the verdict was to head off the protests that would likely have erupted after an acquittal. “The jury spoke for many in this country,” continued Carlson. “Everyone understood perfectly well the consequences of an acquittal in this case. After nearly a year of burning and looting and murder by [the Black Lives Matter movement], that was never in doubt.” (In fact, the overwhelming majority of racial justice protests have been peaceful.)
Carlson further attempted to undercut the verdict by bashing President Biden, who had stated Tuesday that the evidence against Chauvin was “overwhelming.” “I wouldn’t say that unless the jury was sequestered,” said the president. Carlson couldn’t fathom it: “When was the last time a sitting president weighed in on a jury decision before it was made? Answer: never,” said Carlson.
Wrong! As my colleague Karen Tumulty noted, in 2018, President Donald Trump opined on the trial of Paul Manafort as the jury was in deliberations. “I think it’s very sad what they’ve done to Paul Manafort,” said Trump. And then there was President Richard M. Nixon’s midstream verdict on the Charles Manson trial in 1970.
This mini-episode epitomizes at the luxuries of being Carlson: He can spend four years overlooking the aberrant behavior of Trump. Then, he can turn around and hammer Trump’s successor for doing some of the same stuff. And his audience will love him for it.
The more Carlson strained to provide an alternative take on the Chauvin verdict, the more he stumbled. To shed light on the impact of the verdict on the police, he interviewed Ed Gavin, former New York City deputy sheriff and corrections officer. “Who’s going to become a cop going forward, do you think?” Carlson asked, clearly expecting a grievance about how people won’t enter the profession if their actions will be second-guessed.
But Gavin wasn’t having it. “Well, I think people will still become police officers. This really is a learning experience for everyone. Let’s face it, what we saw in that video was pure savagery,” said Gavin. Tension overtook the interview. When Gavin started to suggest reforms, Carlson cut him off: “How about enforce the law? Do we need to do that? So hold on, wait a second. So, wait, slow down. Do we enforce the law? Like let’s say, people are going through the windows in Macy’s and the cops are just standing there, do they resign?” As Carlson was concluding the discussion, Gavin tried to get in one more point. “Nope, done,” scolded Carlson.
The host’s reaction to the verdict was predictable, given how Carlson covered the Floyd murder last year. As this blog pointed out at the time, Carlson’s initial reports focused not on what had happened to Floyd, but on protests that spun out of control: “We’ll have the latest on those riots in Minneapolis last night,” said Carlson two nights after Floyd’s death. “And yes, they were in fact riots, no matter what they’re telling you on the other channels — that’s a fact and we have the tape.” For weeks, Carlson wouldn’t show the video of Floyd’s murder that had circulated widely on other networks.
To viewers of “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” accordingly, the George Floyd story is one of civil unrest, fires and broken windows. And when someone comes on air and dares to explain the atrocity, well — that person needs to be cut off and shut down. That’s because the truth of the Floyd murder threatens the fragile white-grievance ecosystem that Carlson has fashioned on Fox News’s airwaves. It speaks to the systemic racism that Carlson so commonly mocks. So desperate was Carlson to exonerate the system of Floyd’s death that he claimed that Floyd had died of a drug overdose.
The Chauvin jury repudiated that nonsense; no wonder Carlson doesn’t want to talk about it.