Sunday, May 01, 2022


The New York Times has published a series of reports on the life and career of Tucker Carlson and his Fox News broadcasts -- two long articles by Nicholas Confessore and a detailed analysis of his nightly show's content, illustrated with a series of inflammatory clips.

Unlike most mainstream journalism about the right-wing media, this series tells the plain truth.
... Mr. Carlson has constructed what may be the most racist show in the history of cable news — and also, by some measures, the most successful.... his show teaches loathing and fear. Night after night, hour by hour, Mr. Carlson warns his viewers that they inhabit a civilization under siege — by violent Black Lives Matter protesters in American cities, by diseased migrants from south of the border, by refugees importing alien cultures, and by tech companies and cultural elites who will silence them, or label them racist, if they complain. When refugees from Africa, numbering in the hundreds, began crossing into Texas from Mexico during the Trump administration, he warned that the continent’s high birthrates meant the new arrivals might soon “overwhelm our country and change it completely and forever.” Amid nationwide outrage over George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer, Mr. Carlson dismissed those protesting the killing as “criminal mobs.” ... The following month, “Tucker Carlson Tonight” became the highest-rated cable news show in history.
The second article by Confessore, which focuses on the shaping of Carlson current Fox News show, makes clear that the content mix is no accident:
To help redesign “Tucker Carlson Tonight” for the 8 p.m. hour, Fox assigned Ron Mitchell, a former O’Reilly producer recently promoted to Fox’s executive ranks, where he would supervise “story development” across prime time.... the teams working on Fox’s evening lineup began to make wider use of expensive ratings data known as “minute-by-minutes.” Unlike the “quarter-hour” ratings more commonly used in cable newsrooms, which show how each 15-minute “block” performed, the minute-by-minutes allow producers to scrutinize an audience’s real-time ebb and flow. Mr. Carlson ... was among the network’s most avid consumers of minute-by-minutes, according to three former Fox employees....

Most strikingly, “Tucker Carlson Tonight” began devoting more and more airtime to immigration and to what its host depicted as the looming catastrophe of demographic change. “He is going to double down on the white nationalism because the minute-by-minutes show that the audience eats it up,” said another former Fox employee, who worked frequently with Mr. Carlson.
And that focus eventually extended to all of Fox News:
Mr. Mitchell, now promoted to a high-level position running “analytics” across Fox, began sitting in on story meetings to vet topics and guests.... He handed out color-coded bar charts detailing the minute-by-minute performance of each show. “They’re all obsessed with the minute-by-minutes,” said a former Fox employee. “Every second that goes on that network now gets scrutinized.”

... journalists on the daytime lineup discerned a pattern to what the audience didn’t like. Segments featuring Fox’s own reporters consistently drew lower ratings, especially if they were covering stories the audience deemed unfavorable to Mr. Trump. So did guests who leaned left, or simply staked out independent viewpoints.... But immigration was a hit. Coverage of migrant caravans became a Fox mainstay....

Fox executives wanted to focus on “the grievance, the stuff that would get people boiled up,” said one current Fox employee. “They’re coming for you, the Blacks are coming for you, the Mexicans are coming for you.”
This is very good journalism -- but it makes a mockery of previous Times reporting on conservative voters, particularly the diner safaris and focus groups.

Consider the most recent Times focus group. The participants were eight conservative men. We were told:
Most said they believed society is headed toward increased rule breaking.... Crime and a sense of lawlessness came up a lot....

To that end, safety was a major theme: concern about being physically attacked and also concern about being verbally attacked for what they say. Several felt the cost of saying what they really think is sometimes just not worth it, evoking worries among some Americans about free speech and cancel culture. And they had strong views about masculinity and gender; they seemed aware that their views are out of step with modern culture and will offend some but still felt their views were obviously correct.
Presented this way, the participants' concerns seem earnest and troubling. But after this focus group, in all likelihood, they went home and watched the most popular program in cable news, which talks about these issues in the most inflammatory and conspiratorial way possible.

They participants in the Times focus groups and diner interviews aren't sitting around at the end of the day reading Burke and Hayek -- they're watching bigoted, inflammatory, apocalyptic programming on Fox, which they find completely credible. If they're told that migrant hordes are coming to replace them as citizens, or that gender tolerance in their schools is an attempt to prevent the birth of more white babies, they believe it. They internalize it. They're not going to discuss what they believe in an unfiltered way with a reporter from the Times, but this is how they talk in what they regard as safe spaces. Confessore and his colleagues found what the diner interviewers and focus group leaders didn't see: that this is who Republican voters are when they're at home.

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