Thursday, July 15, 2021


Not that it matters -- does anyone still read Time magazine, in any form? -- but this Time profile of Tucker Carlson by Charlotte Alter gets nearly everything wrong. And I'm sure it's deliberate -- Carlson is a right-wing hatemonger but also a mainstream star, therefore Alter can't position herself an inch to the left of Love him or hate him, you have to admit he knows how to push America's buttons.

So we start with an appropriate question and learn that Alter has an okay serve but no volley.
On a Thursday afternoon in June, five months after Inauguration Day, I asked Tucker Carlson whether Joe Biden was the legitimately elected President of the United States.

This was halfway through a meandering phone conversation—me in my apartment in New York, he at his home in Maine—in which I spent most of the time trying to get a word in edgewise. Carlson paused. “What do you mean by ‘legitimately elected’?”

Did Biden win the election? I asked again.

“He did win the election,” Carlson said, his voice rising. “Do I think the election was fair? Obviously it wasn’t.”
Right there, Alter should have said, "Then you think he wasn't legitimately elected. You agree with Trump." She apparently says nothing.
He ticked off a bunch of reasons he believed this: media bias, tech censorship of right-wing outlets, a shortage of voter-ID laws.
If you bring up "a shortage of voter-ID laws," it sure sounds as if you think there was fraud.
I asked whether any of this resulted in determinative changes in vote counts, knowing that Donald Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security and Attorney General found no evidence of widespread fraud.

“Oh, I have no idea,” Carlson said, in an aw-shucks kind of way. “I’ve never said that. No one’s ever proved that. I don’t know if it’s provable.” But that was incidental to what seemed to be his larger point: “This weird insistence on pretending the election was fair when everyone knows that it wasn’t, even people who are happy about the outcome, is part of a much larger ritual that makes me very uncomfortable,” he said. “You’re required to say things that everyone knows aren’t true, but you’re punished if you don’t say them. It’s like a religious ritual.”
So there's no way of knowing whether there was fraud, but "everyone knows" there was fraud. I would have told him, "All right, I'm putting that down as a yes -- you think the election was rigged." I'd also point out that he's been "punished" for saying such things with acsuccessful cable television career and talk about a possible presidential run.

But this is the kind of piece in which, after some harrumphing, the author concludes that the interviewee's ability to run circles around her is a sign of his greatness.
By this point, my head was spinning. This is Tuckerism in miniature: he sanitizes and legitimizes right-wing conspiratorial thinking, dodges when you try to nail him down on the specifics, then wraps it all in an argument about censorship and free speech. He has a way of talking about culture and politics that is rooted in defiance: defiance of elites, defiance of the federal government, defiance of scientific consensus. And it has won him the loyalty of millions of Americans who are already suspicious of everything he questions.
Alter then gushes about Carlson's ratings, and about his ability to move product. (“Our Tucker stuff is actually selling more than our Trump stuff,” one purveyor of right-wing merchandise says.) She says,
Right now, Carlson may be the most powerful conservative in America. “No one carries more weight in Republican and conservative politics—no one—than Tucker Carlson,” said Jeff Roe, a Republican strategist who managed Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign. “He doesn’t react to the agenda, he drives the agenda. He’s the gold standard for Republican philosophy.”
Then she tells people who worry about Carlson, Don't fret -- it's probably all theater.
That “philosophy” is less of an ideology and more of a posture. Carlson has mastered the Trumpian mathematics of outrage—the more outlandish his rhetoric, the more vehement the backlash, the more formidable he becomes.
And it's no big deal because Republicans are struggling.
He has strengthened his hold on the conservative mind at a moment when most of the right’s elected leaders have been dethroned. The Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell, has lost the GOP majority there, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is fumbling to corral a fragmented caucus, and Trump has lost both the White House and his social media megaphone.
(Try telling Black voters in Georgia or Texas that the GOP is in decline. Try telling women in Texas whose abortions might soon prompt lawsuits from people they've never met. And this is before a midterm cycle in which the GOP is likely to take the House and possibly the Senate, while the 2024 presidential election could be handed to the Republican candidate regardless of how voters voted.)
Culture has supplanted policy as the central organizing principle of American conservatism, and Carlson has emerged as the leader of that oppositional force.
Actually, culture is the smokescreen Republicans are using to regain power so they can have a stranglehold on policy, particularly as policy affects their wealthy donors.
What Carlson seems to believe is that anytime the “ruling class” agrees on something—that racism creates unfairness in American life, that masks and vaccines stop the spread of COVID-19, that Jan. 6 was an attempt to subvert the democratic process—you should suspect the opposite. To Carlson, objectivity is conformity, and conformity is cowardice. The more authoritative the facts, the more skeptical he becomes.
But it's not just the "ruling class" that believes these things. When Carlson says this, it turns everyone who believes objective reality into a member of the "ruling class" or a collaborator. If you got a vaccine or mourned George Floyd, you're a tool of The Man.
His rants sometimes have a grain of truth to them—more often than his critics would like to admit.
Oh, for fuck's sake.
Or, more specifically: there are kernels of fact within the miasma of misdirection. He does sometimes tell outright falsehoods—like his bizarre claim that “FBI operatives were organizing the attack on the Capitol”— but Carlson is often more careful than other right-wing hosts to avoid assertions that are factually disprovable, instead sticking to innuendo.
That's how low the bar is: Because Carlson occasionally doesn't lie outright, he's more of a truth-teller "than his critics would like to admit."
Near the end of our call, I asked Carlson if he’d been vaccinated against COVID-19. He paused. “Because I’m a polite person, I’m not going to ask you any supervulgar personal questions like that.”

I told him he was welcome to ask me whatever he wanted.

“That’s like saying, ‘Do you have HIV?’” he said. “How about ‘None of your business’?” He broke into a cackle, like a hyena let loose in Brooks Brothers. “I mean, are you serious? What’s your favorite sexual position and when did you last engage in it?” (This has apparently become his go-to line when asked whether he’s been vaccinated; Carlson offered the same retort to Ben Smith of the New York Times.)
The next time he throws out that "What’s your favorite sexual position and when did you last engage in it?" line, I hope someone just says, "Reverse cowgirl, last night. Now it's your turn: Answer the question."

But it's better not to play his game. Don't interview a slippery bastard like this unless you can throw him off his game; don't profile a hatemonger when your assignment is to ask the question "hero or devil?" and leave the answer ambiguous at the end. Traditional journalism is an inadequate tool for dealing with the likes of Tucker Carlson. It's like fighting a 21st-century war with horse cavalry.

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