Wednesday, July 14, 2021


In The Washington Post today, Michael Kranish looks into Tucker Carlson's past and notes that the racism on display in Carlson's TV show was in plain sight for years as he made a career in both right-wing and mainstream journalism. Kranish quotes from a story Carlson wrote for Esquire in 2003 after he had accompanied a group of Black civil rights leaders on a trip to Africa. In Ghana, the group saw a holding pen for furure American slaves.
The civil rights leaders prayed, cried and sang “We Shall Overcome.” They peered toward the sea from the Door of No Return. But Carlson seemed strangely detached, according to two of the civil rights leaders who were present.

“When we got to the castle and the dungeon, it had an emotional impact on all of us, as Africans in America,” said the Rev. Albert Sampson, a former associate of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Then there was what he called “the tragedy of Carlson.”

“He did not cry,” Sampson told The Washington Post in his first interview about the encounter. “He did not have any intellectual response. He didn’t give any verbal response. It was a total detachment from the reality of the event.”

When Carlson wrote an account of the trip several months later, he sounded derisive, describing how he thought a teary-eyed Sampson “was going to bite me” but instead put his arms on Carlson and said with a smile, “I love you, man.”

“Sampson was trying to make me feel guilty,” Carlson wrote in an account for Esquire. “It wasn’t obvious to me at the time. The idea that I’d be responsible for the sins (or, for that matter, share in the glory of the accomplishments) of dead people who happened to share my skin tone has always confused me. Racial solidarity wasn’t a working concept in my southern-California hometown.”
It's what you'd expect from Carlson. But why did Esquire want Carlson to write this story? The subtitle of the piece makes clear that "snarky racist goes to Africa" was exactly what Esquire wanted from him:
Recently, an eminent, varied, large, and unlikely delegation of Americans, led by the Reverend Al Sharpton, went to Africa to heal a wounded continent. They took the whitest man in America with them.
In the 1990s, Carlson begann building a career in the mainstream media as well as at right-wing outlets. He wrote for The Weekly Standard but also The New York Times Magazine, New York, Talk (the magazine Tina Brown started after leaving The New Yorker), and Slate. Why was it so easy for him to get work in the mainstream press?

You have to remember that Carlson's rise started in a decade marked by a lot of liberal and left-centrist backtracking on race and social justice. White liberals were expected to regard 1960s and 1970s rhetoric on race as naive and dangerous, and the programs of those eras as catastrophic failures. We were supposed to see marginalized young Black men as potential "superpredators." Typical of the era was a Joe Klein review of a book by the Black sociologist William Julius Wilson, which was published in the "liberal" New Republic in 1996:
Klein writes that talking about structural economic problems is “a tired idea,” when more emphasis should be placed on the “social pathologies” of black America. To Klein, “the phenomenon of underclass poverty is not entirely, or even predominantly, an economic phenomenon.” It is a problem of culture. He writes:
Wilson spends hundreds of pages filleting statistical minutiae about the poor without ever mentioning the single most striking domestic detail about inner-city households: The living rooms of even the poorest, most fractured single-parent families are dominated by a single piece of furniture–the color television. (And often an imposing console model.)
... And Klein dismisses the idea that a jobs program would much help: “The cultural forces pulling in the opposite direction are simply too powerful.... The problem is not the absence of jobs. It is the absence of restraint.”
If you're wondering, that was published a few months after Andrew Sullivan left his job as TNR's editor. But that was acceptable rhetoric at many mainstream publications in that era. If you objected, you were a fossil, desperately clinging to failed attitudes and policies of the past. If you agreed, you were a realist.

In that climate, of course Tucker Carlson could become a successful mainstream journalist, while also laying the groundwork for a career as a white nationalist demagogue.

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