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The Kanye West Tucker Carlson didn’t want his audience to see

Kanye West listens during a meeting with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office in 2018. (Calla Kessler/The Washington Post)
5 min

Fox News host Tucker Carlson went to great lengths to reinforce for his viewers last week just how levelheaded Ye, the musician born Kanye West, actually was.

Introducing the first of two shows focused on a lengthy interview with Ye, Carlson praised the artist’s wearing a “White Lives Matter” shirt for Paris Fashion Week.

“The enemies of his ideas dismissed West, as they have for years, as mentally ill,” Carlson told his audience Thursday night. “Too crazy to take seriously. Look away. Ignore him. He’s a mental patient. There’s nothing to see here.” Ye’s rhetoric could be “jarring,” Carlson said, something that is “often used as ammunition against him in the battle for influence over the minds of America’s young people. And that battle is intense.”

He offered a challenge to his viewers: “Is West crazy? You can judge for yourself as you watch what we’re about to show you.”

Carlson then showed snippets of a lengthy interview — an interview that, as revealed in footage obtained by Vice News, included far more controversial comments than made it onto Fox News’s airwaves. The Ye Carlson wanted viewers to see might well be judged differently than the Ye Carlson actually interviewed.

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Even in what Carlson showed, there were questionable comments. Ye spent a full minute raising questions about the investment of Josh Kushner (brother of Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared) in Kim Kardashian’s clothing line — a riff that seemed to snap into a different context given Ye’s subsequent antisemitic comment on Twitter about going “death con 3” on “JEWISH PEOPLE.” He claimed that he’d been warned that supporting Trump might lead to his death.

What was excluded, according to the footage from Vice, was more disconcerting. Ye claimed that he’d rather his kids learn about Hanukkah than Kwanzaa since “at least it would come with some financial engineering.” His assertion that “professional actors” had been “placed into my house to sexualize my kids.” He said he trusted Latinos more than “certain other businessmen” — a vague descriptor he used to “be safe.” Ye also told Carlson that he had “visions that God gives me, just over and over, on community building and how to build these free energy, kinetic, fully kinetic energy communities.”

Both in the snippets Vice obtained and what made it on the air, Carlson mostly nodded along with Ye’s commentary. There is no obvious effort to question Ye’s assertions or to express uncertainty about moving forward with the interview at all.

What emerges from the fuller context provided by the Vice segments, really, is that Carlson wasn’t really interested in interviewing Ye or presenting his views to his audience. Instead, it’s that Carlson wanted to present a very specific version of Ye to his viewers, a Ye that mirrored Carlson’s rhetoric on race and politics and didn’t go much further.

As Vice’s Anna Merlan points out, Ye’s admission that he’d been vaccinated against the coronavirus — something Carlson has undermined repeatedly for more than a year — was excluded from what aired. Carlson, it seems, wanted his audience to see Ye saying particular things and not to fret over Ye’s rationality. So he and his team cobbled together two days of shows that did that.

The interview was immediately reframed after Ye was suspended from social media for his comments about Jewish people. In his show Monday night, though, Carlson didn’t address that. Instead, he invited conservative commentator Candace Owens on to discuss the initial trigger for his Ye interview: those “White Lives Matter” shirts. Owens wore one, too, invited that same day by Ye to participate in the stunt — which Ye compared to standing in front of tanks in Tiananmen Square.

“The worst thing that you can be in this country, far from what they’re telling you, I would say two things,” Owens told Carlson. “First and foremost, a Black child in the womb of its mother. That is the most unsafe place for a Black child to be. The second thing is a White straight male.”

That’s the message Carlson wants his audience to hear. He wants his viewers to hear that their sense of victimization is valid and that Black Lives Matter is about their own subjugation, not the systemic constraints of race. He wants to present Candace Owens and Ye, Black celebrities, as the faces of such messages.

His interview with Ye got to the desired points, burdened though it was with the musician’s other, objectively eyebrow-raising offerings. So he trimmed those off and then insisted that Ye hadn’t said anything eyebrow-raising at all.

In one of the clips obtained by Vice, Ye offers an odd analogy.

“Think about us judging each other on how White we could talk would be like, you know, a Jewish person judging another Jewish person on how good they danced or something,” he said. He paused, saying he worried that people might get mad about the comment. “I probably want to edit that out.”

Carlson waved his hand with finality. “Done,” he said. Ye could rest assured that Carlson would be judicious about what he did and didn’t show on the air.