Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, though, is charting a rather novel course when it comes to allegations of racism: Asserting people talking about it are targeting him and his allies, even if they themselves didn’t make that connection.
On his show Tuesday night, Carlson revisited his long-standing campaign to combat allegations of racism in American society. After playing clips of media figures discussing well-established coronavirus vaccine hesitancy among Republican men, Carlson tossed in an aside about President Biden.
“It’s always the same people,” Carlson said. “It’s those White Republican men — the very ones that just today Joe Biden warned us are more dangerous than ISIS.”
The problem: Biden had said no such thing about White Republican men — or even about Republicans more broadly. At an event in Tulsa, commemorating the 1921 massacre of Black residents there, Biden re-upped what he and many others — including Trump administration officials — have said in the past: That white supremacy is currently the greatest terrorism threat our country faces.
“As I said in my address to the joint session of Congress: According to the intelligence community, terrorism from white supremacy is the most lethal threat to the homeland today,” Biden said. “Not ISIS, not al-Qaeda. White supremacists.”
Biden’s speech only mentioned Republicans once — in a section talking about the hurdles his broader agenda faces. And his address to Congress in April didn’t lay this at the feet of White Republican men or even Republicans, either; he instead said, “We won’t ignore what our intelligence agents have determined to be the most lethal terrorist threat to our homeland today: white supremacist terrorism.”
Why assume that “white supremacist terrorism” means “White Republican men?”
And this wasn’t even a one-off for Carlson. Just two weeks ago, he pointed to another top Biden administration official allegedly targeting Republican voters as irredeemable racists (or worse) who must be cast out of the military en masse.
Except, again, that official — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin — did no such thing. Carlson even played a clip of Austin not saying what he claimed Austin had said:
CARLSON: Here is Lloyd Austin explaining the single scariest risk our soldiers face is the possibility they might have to serve alongside Americans who didn’t vote for Joe Biden.(CLIP OF AUSTIN): And if confirmed, I will fight hard to stamp out sexual assault and to rid our ranks of racists and extremists. ... The job of the Department of Defense is to keep Americans safe from our enemies. But we can’t do that if some enemies lie within our own ranks.
That’s a pretty anodyne comment. I honestly thought when I saw it at the time that perhaps Carlson’s producers had merely played the wrong clip. Carlson’s latest offering suggests that’s not the case. It seems he’s interpreting efforts to condemn white supremacism and even white supremacist violence as inherent attacks on Republicans.
There is utility in that framing, of course. Nothing is more effective politically (and when it comes to ratings) as a sense of victimhood and righteous indignation. By suggesting these comments about nefarious elements of society are targeted at all Republicans or even White Republican men, Carlson is telling people that the likes of Biden and Austin are painting with a much broader brush than they actually are, and that his viewers should all be duly offended. It’s effectively an effort to rekindle Hillary Clinton’s “baskets of deplorables” comment — just without the actual evidence to back it up.
But in doing so, Carlson is participating in the same kind of oversimplification that he’s supposedly decrying. If someone warns about white supremacist terrorism or racist extremism in the military, and your mind immediately goes to “They’re talking about Republicans,” the transitive property might have something to say about the conclusions you’re drawing about your own allies.
This is increasingly well-worn territory in the GOP and for Carlson — to the point where it becomes clear how much of an increasingly concerted strategy it is. The Washington Post’s Philip Bump wrote in January about how Carlson and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) pitched Biden’s criticisms of the Jan. 6 Capitol rioters as somehow being geared toward tarring all Republicans with the labels of extremism and racism. And last week, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) responded to another seemingly rather anodyne comment from a top Biden administration official.
“On the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder, we reflect on the fact that dismantling systemic racism is also a national security priority,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan tweeted. “The fight for racial justice at home and abroad is foundational to our future & to how the world sees us.”
Cotton quote-tweetedit and added: “This tweet is approved by the Communist Party of China.”
At least Sullivan’s tweet referenced the narrower concept of “systemic racism,” which Republicans balk at and which many Americans dispute exists, in one measure or another. Cotton’s argument seemed to be that focusing on such things weakens our national security apparatus, while Carlson’s seems to be more along the lines that acknowledging and combating racism and white supremacist terrorism is inherently somehow anti-Republican or part of an effort to impugn all White Republican men.
If the argument is that racism is oversold and doesn’t deserve so much attention, that’s one thing. But this seems to go quite a bit further than that. It attempts to marshal one of the two major parties against even some of the most inoffensive efforts to state that this is something worth dealing with. And unlike claiming those efforts are explicitly targeting a major political party or that this is China-approved propaganda, there’s actually evidence for that.