Over the weekend, The New York Times and investigative reporter Nicholas Confessore put out a stunningly detailed and deeply-reported three-part series on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. The three parts were:
- “How Tucker Carlson Stoked White Fear to Conquer Cable.”
- “How Tucker Carlson Reshaped Fox News — and Became Trump’s Heir.”
- “Look Inside the Apocalyptic Worldview of ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight.’”
Confessore writes, “… 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.”
Others agree with the assessment. Speaking on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” on Sunday, media analyst David Zurawik, the former longtime media critic at The Baltimore Sun, said, “He’s right up there. No one has ever had the kind of audience that he has and has preached the kind of racism he preaches. I would say that’s absolutely certain.”
Zurawik also added this: “You can’t separate Tucker Carlson from (Fox News founder and boss) Rupert Murdoch. Rupert Murdoch allows this stuff to go out over his airways.”
The Times analyzed 1,150 episodes of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” and Confessore tweeted that the story was “based on interviews with dozens of current and former Fox employees, Carlson’s friends and former colleagues, and an array of public records.”
Confessore writes, “Mr. Carlson has led the network’s on-air transformation, becoming Fox’s most influential employee. Outside Fox, Mr. Carlson is bandied about as a potential candidate for president. Inside the network, he answers solely to the Murdochs themselves. With seeming impunity, Mr. Carlson has used his broadcast to attack Fox’s own news coverage, helping drive some journalists off the air and others, like the veteran Fox anchor Shepard Smith, to leave the network entirely. In Australia, the editors of some Murdoch-owned newspapers watch Mr. Carlson’s show religiously, believing it provides clues to Mr. Murdoch’s own views. According to former senior Fox employees, Mr. Carlson boasts of rarely speaking with Fox’s chief executive, Suzanne Scott, but talking or texting regularly with Mr. Murdoch. And in an extraordinary departure from the old Fox code, Mr. Carlson is exempt from the network’s fearsome media relations department, which under Roger Ailes, Fox’s founder, served to both defend the channel’s image and keep its talent in line.”
Confessore adds, “Mr. Carlson is powerful at Fox not merely because he is the network’s face but because he is also its future — a star whose intensity and paranoid style work to bind viewers more closely to the Fox brand, helping lead them through the fragmented post-cable landscape.”
It’s nearly impossible to recap the entire three-part series here, but read this compelling work. Confessore also has six takeaways from his series called “What to Know About Tucker Carlson’s Rise.”
Out of fairness, despite the ridiculousness of it, here’s what Justin Wells, a senior executive producer overseeing Carlson’s show, told the Times: “Tucker Carlson programming embraces diversity of thought and presents various points of view in an industry where contrarian thought and the search for truth are often ignored. Stories in ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight’ broadcasts and ‘Tucker Carlson Originals’ documentaries undergo a rigorous editorial process. We’re also proud of our ongoing original reporting at a time when most in the media amplify only one point of view.”
Carlson, who declined to be interviewed for the Times series, told Axios’ Mike Allen that he “of course won’t” read the Times series. On Sunday, Carlson tweeted a photo of himself smiling widely (laughing?) while holding up a front of the Times, where the story about him was prominently displayed. There were no words in Carlson’s tweet.
Speaking of no words, NPR TV critic Eric Deggans tweeted, “Laughing at a story that says he hosts the most racist show in (mainstream) cable news history. I have no words.”
Nikole Hannah-Jones, the journalist behind The New York Times’ 1619 Project, replied, “He’s proud of it.”
This piece originally appeared in The Poynter Report, our daily newsletter for everyone who cares about the media. Subscribe to The Poynter Report here.