Who’s the they?

Fresh Air on Tucker Carlson part 2.

DAVIES: One of the things you hear a lot on his show is him looking into the camera, as he does in his opening monologues, and speaks to his audience and says, they don’t like you. They don’t care about you. They want to control your lives. Who’s the they?

CONFESSORE: In Carlson’s telling, in his narrative, they is the ruling class. And the ruling class is pretty much anybody he wants it to be. It’s people who actually are in charge and have power and are elected to office – presidents, vice presidents, people in Congress. It’s pro athletes. It’s Chelsea Clinton. It’s comedians who make jokes about America. It’s pretty much anybody who’s in the news that day for whatever reason. And his great skill as a broadcaster, among others, is that he can always take whatever’s happening that day and make it part of his narrative of the ruling class. If someone’s talking about making pot legal, he goes on the air and says that the ruling class is trying to legalize pot because a plying population is a good population. So it doesn’t matter what the story is, it always gets wrapped back into the narrative of the day versus you.

They is the snobs, versus The Salt of the Earth. Trump is The Salt of the Earth, because, and schoolteachers are snobs, because.

A lot of it is about fear, Davies says.

CONFESSORE: Yeah. You know, I would – I talked to one former Fox employee about the programming strategy on Carlson’s show and across it – or board more broadly. And what he said – I’m going to paraphrase – is, anger gets people to tune in and stay locked onto the network, keep their TVs on. But what’s better than anger? Anger and fear. And what you see on Fox in the last few years, but especially on Carlson’s show, is rage inflation. You see an effort to just dial it up to 11 every night. And the point is, keep people tuned in.

Why not rage about the failure to do anything about climate change though? Or about the yawning gap between wages and housing costs? Or predatory payday loan companies? Or the Sackler family?

How much do ratings drive the content?

CONFESSORE: What our story shows is that from the beginning, Carlson’s show, his provocations on the air, his escalating rhetoric are all part of a careful and intentional effort to build and hold Fox’s audience in an era when the cable audience in general is in decline. And it’s been incredibly successful overall. You saw that in 2020, Carlson attracted more viewers than any other show in the history of cable news. And on one night during the George Floyd protests, he had the highest rated show on all of television, broadcast and cable. It’s very potent. And for a lot of people, it’s really gripping viewing. And so I think it’s important to understand that – I think these are his real views. And we show in the story kind of how he got there.

But I also say that, you know, I was talking to two people who worked with him at The Daily Caller, which is an online tabloid he founded in 2010. And they each separately volunteered a quote from Kurt Vonnegut, and it really struck me. And the quote was basically, we are who we pretend to be. And if you think about that, I think it explains a lot about how you build a personality on cable TV. You start with what you think and know, but you’re also watching what the audience responds to. And in the case of Fox, you are seeing a minute-by-minute analysis of the ratings, right? You’re seeing, down to the minute, what makes the audience change the channel. And so, of course, you give them more of what makes them stay, and that becomes who you are, and that becomes your persona.

In other words, what there is of democracy and solidarity in the US is being systematically ground to powder so that one tv network can make lots and lots of money. A trivial self-interested motivation and a catastrophic turn of events. It’s a tad annoying.

DAVIES: You and I are speaking on Wednesday. And Tuesday night, I watched Tucker Carlson’s opening monologue, which was about Karine Jean-Pierre, who is the new press secretary who is replacing Jen Psaki. And, you know, he spent a long time mocking her and the fact that she is Black and LGBTQ and that she’s the first person in that role from that background. But he also repeatedly said how she had no qualifications. And the fact is, she has a fairly substantial history in political communications. Is this a common theme of his? Is he tough on women of color in particular?

CONFESSORE: He definitely is. I mean, he’s tough on a lot of people. He thinks a lot of people are stupid. But what we found in our reporting was that he really seems to reserve special scorn for Black women. In his cast of characters, you really see a disproportionate focus, I think, on Black women – on Kamala Harris, who he’s insinuated only has her job today because of who she dated; to Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who he’s demanded the LSAT scores of – I don’t recall him demanding the LSAT scores for Brett Kavanaugh – Karine Jean-Pierre. And on Carlson’s show, it’s not just that they’re wrong or they have bad ideas. They’re stupid and evil and unqualified. And you see that theme, you know, over and over. And certainly it’s not only Black women, but that jumped out when we saw – you know, often repeating the same words about different people over and over again.


CONFESSORE: White nationalists and neo-Nazis love Tucker Carlson’s show. They watch it. They talk about watching it. They post clips from it. They cheer it online. And the reason is simple. He has taken ideas that were caged in a dark corner of American life, on a few websites that don’t get that many visitors, and he made it the animating force on the most popular cable news program in history. And if you listen to them, what they say is, Carlson is taking our ideas. He is the most effective popularizer of the importance of white identity of any person around today. And Carlson just kind of waves us away. He says, if you want to know what I think, watch my show, which is a way of evading the question.

And there’s Putin. Apparently we’re all wrong to think Putin is not a fine head of state.

CARLSON: Good evening, and welcome to “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” Since the day that Donald Trump became president, Democrats in Washington have told you, you have a patriotic duty to hate Vladimir Putin. It’s not a suggestion. It’s a mandate. Anything less than hatred for Putin is treason. Many Americans have obeyed this directive. They now dutifully hate Vladimir Putin. Maybe you’re one of them. Hating Putin has become the central purpose of America’s foreign policy. It’s the main thing that we talk about. Entire cable channels are now devoted to it. Very soon, that hatred of Vladimir Putin could bring the United States into a conflict in Eastern Europe.

Hating Putin is a mandate? I totally missed that.

Before that happens, it might be worth asking yourself, since it is getting pretty serious. What is this really about? Why do I hate Putin so much? Has Putin ever called me a racist? Has he threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him? Has he shipped every middle-class job in my town to Russia? Did he manufacture a worldwide pandemic that wrecked my business and kept me indoors for two years? Is he teaching my children to embrace racial discrimination? Is he making fentanyl? Is he trying to snuff out Christianity? Does he eat dogs? These are fair questions, and the answer to all of them is no. Vladimir Putin didn’t do any of that.

He did other things though. Anna Politkovskaya? Alexander Litvinenko? Sergei and Yulia Skripal? Alexei Navalny? Ring a bell?

So why does permanent Washington hate him so much? If you’ve been watching the news, you know that Putin is having a border dispute with a nation called Ukraine. Now, the main thing to know about Ukraine for our purposes is that its leaders once sent millions of dollars to Joe Biden’s family. Not surprisingly, Ukraine is now one of Biden’s favorite countries. Biden has pledged to defend Ukraine’s borders even as he opens our borders to the world. That’s how it works. Invading America is called equity. Invading Ukraine is a war crime.

That “for our purposes” is interesting.

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