April 28, 2021

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson is saying more stuff that’s — pick your word — goofy? Dangerous? Irresponsible? Ridiculous? Harmful? Reprehensible? Outrageous? All of the above and so much more?

The latest is Carlson complaining about wearing masks outside. Here’s the clip. He said you should verbally accost those who want to wear a mask and call the cops on parents whose children are wearing masks. He said a bunch more, but you get the gist. And, frankly, it turns the stomach to even repeat it.

The recommendations about masks are changing, as President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday, and there are serious conversations to be had about all things related to COVID-19, including masks.

But Carlson wasn’t trying to have a serious conversation. He was telling people to call the cops if they see a kid wearing a mask because it’s a form of child abuse. That’s not being serious.

It’s so out there that it makes you wonder if Carlson is now just seeing how far he can go before someone (like his employer) tells him to knock it off.

Is he serious about the stuff he says? Is he joking? Is he just trolling? Is he sitting back and getting a kick out of people losing their minds over the latest thing that comes out of his mouth?

The answers to those questions really don’t matter. What does matter is how his viewers — and there are millions — absorb that message. What does matter is what his audience thinks.

And I can tell you that many take him seriously. How do I know? Because I hear from them. All the time. Whenever I write about Tucker Carlson, I get angry emails from his fans who swear by what he says on his prime-time show and defend even his most preposterous commentary.

So that gets back to the question that always comes up: Should we even talk about someone who says such things? If his viewers are going to defend him no matter what and everyone else is going to see him as someone in a tie banging pots and pans together to make the loudest noise possible, why not just ignore him?

On MSNBC on Wednesday, contributor Frank Figliuzzi said, “I debated even coming on and talking about Tucker Carlson. For him, this is really about ratings and relevancy, and he thrives on this kind of coverage. He’ll probably have us on in clips tonight on his show, and relish the fact we’re talking about it.”

But maybe there is something far more nefarious about Carlson’s words, something that goes way beyond ratings and trolling the so-called other side.

Appearing on CNN, Asha Rangappa, former FBI special agent and CNN’s legal and national security analyst, said, “He is also a master class in propaganda. He’s very effective in meeting the three goals of propaganda — which is to, one, shape people’s beliefs; two, reinforce those beliefs; and, three, to get people to act on those beliefs. And in this case, what he is trying to do is … channeling his propaganda to condition them to engage in antisocial behavior against their own neighbors, their fellow citizens … and I think that should be very troubling.”

It is troubling and dangerous because, as I mentioned, many of Carlson’s viewers are fully behind him. My belief is someone will call the cops and waste the police’s valuable time because they see a child wearing a mask. Someone will challenge another person for wearing a mask and it will turn ugly. I believe Carlson’s words will have consequences.

In her media column for The Washington Post, Margaret Sullivan wrote, “Carlson, though, delivers for Fox News, night after unhinged night. And he seems to have no limits. Some of it may be harmless. The mask screed, though, isn’t.”

Sullivan, correctly, calls it “outrage-mongering.” She added, “If the past is any indication, it’s a lost cause to hope that Fox will rein in Carlson. He’s doing exactly what the Murdoch ownership wants: Juicing ratings, and giving Fox a reason for existing in the post-Trump era. These days, the only question is how low he’ll go.”

He’ll go as low and as far as Fox News allows and they seem poised to let him do whatever he wants. He has become, by far, Fox News’ biggest personality — to the point where Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and the rest of Fox News’ biggest names are barely relevant at the moment compared to Carlson.

Yesterday it was the Derek Chauvin verdict. Today it’s about masks. Tomorrow it will be about someone or something else. Carlson will cause another controversy. We’ll all be outraged.

And Fox News, apparently, will be just fine with that.

Impactful journalism

A CBS News investigation could lead to legislation that will require regulators and carmakers to strengthen standards in an effort to make cars safer.

In 2015, CBS News started an investigation that revealed that when cars are struck from the rear, the front seats may break. When they did, the occupants often were propelled into the back seats where children often sit. The CBS News investigation found that more than 100 people, most of them children, were severely injured or killed as a result.

Back in 2015, the CBS News report quoted safety officials who said there was “no excuse” for not improving the safety on this matter.

Now Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) are reintroducing legislation that would require a new strength standard.

Markey told CBS News congressional correspondent Kris Van Cleave, “We must end these entirely unacceptable and preventable tragedies” and then he thanked CBS for shining a light on the issue.


The Higher Education Media Fellowship supports journalists interested in reporting on postsecondary career and technical education with $10,000 in funding and professional development. Applications are open through May 28.

Le Batard’s new home


Dan Le Batard, the former ESPN radio and TV host, has found a new home. DraftKings has bought the rights to distribute Le Batard’s radio show and podcast. The Wall Street Journal’s Ben Mullin broke the story. DraftKings also purchased the rights to a network of podcasts being built by the media company started by Le Batard and former ESPN president John Skipper called Meadowlark. The deal is believed to be worth $50 million over the next three years.

Washington Post sports media writer Ben Strauss wrote, “According to the announcement, DraftKings will have the rights to distribute Le Batard’s show across audio, TV and digital channels, meaning the company can sell the show to radio networks like Westwood One and digital audio platforms like Sirius XM.”

As Strauss also notes, the move by DraftKings — an online sports betting and fantasy sports site — increases “the sports betting company’s ambitions as a media company and (gives) Le Batard a new home in a sports media industry increasingly tied to sports betting. DraftKings may also air the show on its new channel devoted to betting that just launched on Sling TV.”

Le Batard, the former Miami Herald sports columnist, had a wildly successful 22-year career at ESPN, hosting a radio show as well as the daily TV show “Highly Questionable.” He left last year — a move that was not at all surprising given that Le Batard and ESPN management often butted heads over content and ESPN staffing decisions.

Pay disparities at Gannett?

My Poynter colleague Angela Fu has a story in which the NewsGuild Gannett caucus claims to have found that the median salaries of women and people of color at 14 unionized Gannett newsrooms was at least $5,000 less than those of their male and white colleagues.

The numbers, according to Fu’s story: The median full-time salary for women in fall 2020 was $47,390, while the median for men was $57,235 — a difference of $9,845. Journalists of color earned a median salary that was $5,246 lower than the median salary for white journalists. In addition, Fu wrote, “The median salary for women of color was $15,727 less than that of white men, and women with at least 30 years of experience at Gannett papers had a median salary that was $27,026 less than their male peers.”

Arizona Republic reporter Rebekah Sanders, who worked on the study, told Fu, “I could not believe that number when I saw it. At the same time, I do believe it because among the veteran women journalists that I’ve spoken to, many have felt for a long time that they are underpaid.”

A spokesperson for Gannett said the Guild report was “misleading,” that the company strongly disagreed with the findings, and that outdated data was used.

Biden’s speech

President Joe Biden speaking on the North Lawn of the White House on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Biden will speak to a joint session of Congress tonight as he is on the verge of 100 days in office. Look for coverage on all the major and cable news networks. The speech is scheduled for 9 p.m. Eastern.

What are we expecting? The headline in Michael D. Shear’s story for The New York Times: “Part Victory Lap, Part Sales Job: Biden to Address Joint Session of Congress.”

Shear writes that Biden will talk about COVID-19 and the economy, but “he also plans to seize the moment to pitch a broader agenda, laying out his proposals to upgrade the nation’s infrastructure and expand public benefits.”

Biden also likely will talk about a variety of other topics, including foreign policy, race and policing.

For some opinion, Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin has “7 points Biden should cover in his address before Congress.”

It won’t be your typical jam-packed crowd of 1,600 that you normally see for a State-of-the-Union-type address. Because of COVID-19, attendance will be limited to about 200 or so.

Media tidbits

  • As I wrote about in the newsletter earlier this week, the NHL’s deal to make Turner Sports the secondary TV partner in the U.S. was made official on Tuesday. As part of the new seven-year deal, which starts next season, Turner Sports (which includes TBS and TNT) will televise the annual outdoor NHL Winter Classic; the Stanley Cup final in 2023, 2025 and 2027; one conference final series each season; and half of the first two rounds of the playoffs along with 72 regular-season games per season. Bleacher Report, which is owned by Turner, will have rights to use NHL highlights on its digital platform.
  • A New York Post reporter who wrote a since-removed article about migrant children getting a copy of Kamala Harris’ book as part of a “welcome kit” has resigned. Laura Italiano tweeted she was “ordered” to write the story and that was her “breaking point.” The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi has all the details.
  • Perry Bacon Jr. has been hired as a columnist by The Washington Post’s Opinions section. He will write on issues pertaining to politics, governing, identity and American society. Bacon comes from FiveThirtyEight, where he has been a senior writer for the past four years. He also has worked at the Post as a political reporter, as well as Time Magazine and NBC News.
  • In case you missed the announcement on Tuesday, The New York Times has changed the name “op-ed” to “guest essay.” Writing for Reason, Michael J. Socolow looks at the history of the Times’ op-ed in “Elegy for Op-Ed.”
  • Also in The New York Times, Kellen Browning with “Extremists Find a Financial Lifeline on Twitch.”
  • My colleague Rick Edmonds, Poynter’s media business analyst, with “No longer a holdout for free, USA Today launches a paywall and digital-only subscription plan.”
  • It’s only a month into the season, but through the first four games of ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball,” ratings are way up. The first four games have averaged 1,709 million viewers. That’s a 38% increase over last year and a 7% jump from 2019’s season average.
  • Subscriptions for podcasts? You had to figure that was coming, right? Axios media reporter Sara Fischer with “Spotify unveils subscription platform for podcasts.”

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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