In an interview with Variety, Tucker Carlson, the No. 1 host on cable news among adults 25-54, defended the content of his 8 p.m. Fox News show, which he says makes “an argument against racism” each night.
“I’m sure that people who hate my politics will try to discredit them by calling me names, but there is no show that I’m aware of that has made a stronger case for a color-blind meritocracy than ours has,” Carlson tells Variety’s Brian Steinberg. “I believe that all American citizens, regardless of how they were born, should be treated equally under the law. As I say on a nightly basis, we should not impugn people for things they cannot control, for their immutable characteristics. That is an argument against racism.”
When asked if he is biased against people of color, Carlson said he believes “all people are equal in the eyes of God and the U.S. government.”
There are a lot of people who love Carlson’s show and the views he holds. After all, in Q2 of this year, Tucker Carlson Tonight averaged the most viewers for a quarter in cable news history (4.3 million).
But there more than a few people who loathe his views.
The language Carlson uses “brings this type of rhetoric that was once on the fringes, or should be on the fringes” into the mainstream, Michael Edison Hayden, senior investigative reporter for the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit advocacy organization in Montgomery, Ala., that studies and advocates for racial justice. Carlson has criticized the organization on his show.
Many more critics and media watchdogs of Carlson claim that his show “has helped bring xenophobic and misogynist views into mainstream political commentary—such as his December 2018 claim that immigration in some instances has made America “dirtier.”
A fair number of advertisers would suspend (and many went on to pull) airtime on the show in light of those remarks. Carlson said on-air at the time, “We’re not intimidated. We plan to say what’s true until the last day.”
The network fired Carlson writer/producer Blake Neff last month after it was reported by CNN’s Oliver Darcy that Neff had made racist and homophobic statements under an online alias on a conspiracy theory website. Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott later described Neff’s actions as ““deeply offensive, racist, sexist and homophobic,” in a memo to FNC staff.
“We don’t endorse those words,” Carlson said in a taped segment. “They have no connection to the show.”
Carlson told viewers that he was going to embark on a “preplanned trout-fishing vacation and would be away for the next four days.” This was in mid-July. If that sounds familiar, nearly two years prior, in August 2018, Carlson said he was taking several days off from his show to take a preplanned fishing trip with his son, days after saying on-air that white supremacy is “not a real problem in America,” and claimed that it’s a “hoax” being used to divide people.
Controversial statements have caused brands to flee the program, even though it dominates cable news in the demo most coveted by news advertisers.
Instead, that ad money is being shifted to other Fox News programming.
According to Variety, “Advocacy organizations have since 2018 called upon sponsors several times to cut support of Carlson’s program, and many have. At the same time, most move their ad dollars elsewhere on the Fox News schedule. Standard Media Index, a tracker of ad spending, said June ad revenues at Fox News Channel were up 55%.”
Carlson is one of the few TV newsers who has been an on-air host on all three of the networks, with Greta Van Susteren being one of the others.
Variety states that at CNN in the early 2000s, Frank Sesno, at present the director of strategic initiatives at the George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs and a former Washington Bureau chief at CNN, recalls pairing Carlson with former Time columnist Margaret Carlson (no relation).
Soon, Carlson was assigned to Crossfire until the show’s end in 2005.
“At CNN, Carlson was ‘young, brash, funny, glib, conservative,’ says Sesno. “I didn’t know if he was going to go the route of talk-show host or culture warrior, and I think we have seen where he’s gone. He’s married culture warrior with talk-show host and created a behemoth.”
From 2005 to 2008, he hosted the program Tucker for MSNBC. Morning Joe co-host Willie Geist was a producer on the show at the time.
Progressive host Rachel Maddow actually gained some of her first on-air experience during appearances on Tucker.
Carlson still respects Maddow’s work: “Rachel does what Rachel thinks is right. If Rachel is interested in something, she will lead with it, whether it’s in the news or not. Rachel decides what she thinks is important, and I think that is just a great quality.”