By:
March 15, 2021

It was quite the week, even by Tucker Carlson’s standards.

The Fox News primetime host publicly mocked a New York Times reporter for her tweet about being harassed and his attacks were so caustic that the Times took the rare step of putting out a statement condemning Carlson’s behavior.

Then, after the military updated its dress and hair standards (including maternity uniforms), Carlson made disparaging remarks, calling it a “mockery of the U.S. military.” That led to several senior military leaders blasting Carlson’s comments.

In both cases, Carlson pulled his usual routine, acting like he’s the victim when anyone pushes back on his absurd comments.

There was more. Carlson wrote about and made what I personally would call troubling comments about the George Floyd case and the upcoming murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on Floyd’s neck, causing his death. At one point, during Carlson’s show, the chyron read, “Derek Chauvin May Not Receive A Fair Trial.”

This was before a jury was even selected and, honestly, made me think of the tactic many conservatives used last fall when they said, “The presidential election might be rigged.”

Look, the Fox News primetime host says outrageous things. He’s more of an entertainer than a journalist and sometimes you can’t help but wonder if it’s all one big act.

But — and let me be very clear about this — whether he’s just trolling by saying the most ridiculous things he can think of or simply trying to drum up a big audience, it doesn’t mean his words are any less irresponsible, hurtful and dangerous.

And while you can call him an entertainer or pundit or whatever word you want to use to somehow soften many of the reckless things he says, the fact is he owns one of the most prized pieces of real estate (weekdays from 8 to 9 p.m. Eastern) on a network that has the word “news” in its name. That alone gives Carlson some credibility, at least by his employers. In addition, we cannot ignore that some 4 million people a night tune into his show and see him as more than just a so-called entertainer.

With all this as a backdrop, CNN’s Brian Stelter started his Sunday “Reliable Sources” show talking about Carlson and his dangerous rhetoric.

This wasn’t unusual. Stelter often goes after Fox News. But this was different.

Stelter said, “Tucker has taken Trump’s place as a right-wing leader, as an outrage generator, as a fire-starter, and it’s all taking place on Fox, just as Trump’s campaign did. Every day, Carlson is throwing bombs, making online memes, offending millions of people, also delighting millions of others, tapping into white male rage and resentment, stoking distrust of big tech and the media, generally coarsening the discourse, never apologizing for anything and setting the GOP’s agenda. Sounds like a recently retired president, right?”

Yes, let’s take a moment to point out that CNN is a rival of Fox News. In a way, this is like the Yankees talking about the Red Sox. And, as I said, Stelter in particular has history with Fox News. Stelter wrote a book about Fox News and Fox News frequently makes fun of Stelter.

But this does not mean Stelter is wrong. Not only is Stelter widely respected as a journalist, but it also should be noted that he’s not alone in questioning Carlson.

On Sunday’s “Reliable Sources,” Washington Post media writer Erik Wemple said, “(Carlson) lies strategically and carefully.” Wemple compared Carlson to Trump, saying, “They both traffic in hatred and they both traffic in lies.”

Baltimore Sun media critic David Zurawik criticized Carlson and said Fox should be treated like a “political tool.”

The most interesting comments of all came from syndicated columnist, conservative and CNN contributor S.E. Cupp, who said the Murdochs, who own Fox News, might be more than happy to let Carlson become the dominant voice on their network.

“I think though in some ways the Murdochs are relieved that the GOP no longer wants to tackle substance and policy and just wants to live in the culture wars,” Cupp said. “They make for much better television, which is why you’re seeing Fox become the Tucker Channel — the 24-hour Tucker Channel. And Tucker is leaning into that kind of coverage.”

Carlson says so many outrageous and disturbing things that I, literally, could write an item on him every day. I choose not to, partly not to give him more oxygen to spread his propaganda.

But it is important to occasionally point out his divisive and disconcerting commentary. I have no issue with CNN and Stelter calling it out, and I also believe it’s important for others to back CNN’s assertions because in many cases — particularly Sunday’s “Reliable Sources” — the commentary about Fox News and Carlson is fair.

Maybe someday the Murdochs will realize the damage being done and, if not, at least media observers can do their part by letting cable watchers know just how negligent Carlson and many of his Fox News colleagues are.

Wemple calls out CNN

During his appearance on CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple called out CNN for its Andrew Cuomo coverage. CNN has been battling a Cuomo dilemma for a while now. The New York governor is under fire and there are calls for his resignation after several women have accused him of sexual misconduct and harassment.

His brother, Chris, is a CNN primetime host who has recused himself from covering his brother — a year after interviewing his brother many times regarding COVID-19. The whole thing has just been a conflict-of-interest mess and Wemple made mention of it.

He told Stelter, “I would be remiss, Brian, if I didn’t mention CNN’s own huge media story here with Chris Cuomo. …  They suspended the conflict of interest rule for Chris Cuomo for those interviews, yet all of a sudden they’ve enforced it again now that Andrew Cuomo is in the midst of an historic scandal in the Albany statehouse. It is a major black eye for this network.”

An important topic

A “Meet the Press” promo for this past Sunday’s discussion on voting access. (Courtesy: NBC News)

Nearly half of Sunday’s “Meet the Press” on NBC was dedicated to an in-depth look at Republican attempts to pass new restrictions on voting all across the country.

According to “Meet the Press,” Republicans have proposed more than 250 laws in 45 states designed to limit mail-in voting, early in-person voting and Election Day voting. Republicans insist they are just trying to eliminate voter fraud, but moderator Chuck Todd said, “All told, the bills amount to the greatest effort to reduce ballot access — particularly for African Americans — since the Jim Crow era. Among the states considering changes: the five Joe Biden turned blue last year: Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Georgia, and three large states he lost by one to five points: Texas, North Carolina and Florida.”

Todd interviewed both Stacey Abrams and Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan.

Duncan, a Republican, told Todd, “Republicans don’t need election reform to win, we need leadership. I think there’s millions of Republicans waking up around the country that are realizing that Donald Trump’s divisive tone and strategy is unwinnable in forward-looking elections.”

Duncan added he was “very sensitive” to claims that new voting laws are an attempt to suppress Black voters, saying, “I’m one of those Republicans that want more people to vote. I think our ideas help people.”

Adams also appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday and told host Jake Tapper, “I do absolutely agree that it’s racist. It is a redux of Jim Crow in a suit and tie. We know that the only thing that precipitated these changes, it’s not that there was the question of security. … And so the only connection that we can find is that more people of color voted, and it changed the outcome of elections in a direction that Republicans do not like. And so, instead of celebrating better access and more participation, their response is to try to eliminate access to voting for primarily communities of color. And there’s a direct correlation between the usage of drop boxes, the usage of in-person early voting, especially on Sundays, and the use of vote by mail and a direct increase in the number of people of color voting.”

Making the rounds

Dr. Anthony Fauci made the rounds on the Sunday morning news shows. His message was that, yes, we could see some degree of normalcy by the Fourth of July, but only if cases drop as more Americans are vaccinated. When it comes to vaccinations, Fauci said it’s important that everyone — especially Republicans — get vaccinated. A recent “PBS NewsHour”/NPR/Marist poll showed that 41% of Republicans said they would not get one of the three approved vaccinations, compared to less than 15% of Democrats.

Fauci told “Fox News Sunday” moderator Chris Wallace that former President Donald Trump could go a long way in seeing that Republicans get vaccinated.

Fauci said, “If he came out and said, ‘Go and get vaccinated. It’s really important for your health, the health of your family and the health of the country,’ it seems absolutely inevitable that the vast majority of people who are his close followers would listen to him.”

On “Meet the Press,” Fauci said, “It makes absolutely no sense. And I’ve been saying that for so long. We’ve got to dissociate political persuasion from what’s common sense, no-brainer public health things.”

Carl Hiaasen retires

Carl Hiaasen published his final column for the Miami Herald last week. He had been with the Herald since 1976 and had been writing a column since 1985. Many know Hiaasen, 68, for his books. He has written more than 20 fictional books, including several novels for young readers, and has published six nonfiction books, including collections of his columns. He plans to keep writing books.

As he published his final column, Hiaasen tweeted, “With or without me, Florida will always be wonderfully, unrelentingly weird. One more for the road.”

In his last column, Hiaasen talked about his career, writing, “My own approach to the column — drawn from the incomparable Pete Hamill, Mike Royko and others — was simple: If what I wrote wasn’t pissing off somebody, I probably wasn’t doing my job.”

Hiaasen’s final column also included thoughts of his brother, Rob, a columnist and editor who was one of five murdered by a gunman at the Capitol Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, in 2018.

And Hiaasen emphasized the importance of local journalism.

“As you read these words,” Hiaasen wrote, “some scrofulous tunnel rat in public office is busy selling your best interests down the road. It might be happening at your town council, zoning board, water district, or county commission — but it is happening.”

Fellow Herald columnist Dave Barry told The Associated Press, “The hardest thing for Carl is going to be when the people of Florida, especially the elected officials, continue to do idiotic things and he can’t talk about it. He’ll have to deal with that. And it’s going to be hard on his fans, who love him to death despite the fact that no one has ever been able to learn to spell his name correctly.”

Broadcasting’s next big thing?

Drew Brees, walking off the field after what was his last game in January. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

As expected, NFL star quarterback Drew Brees announced his retirement on Sunday. His next stop — well, besides the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio — will be the broadcast booth. Nearly a year ago, New York Post sports media columnist Andrew Marchand broke the story that Brees had picked NBC over ESPN for his post-football broadcast career.

It’s believed that the plan is for Brees to serve as a game analyst on Notre Dame football and a studio analyst for NBC’s “Football Night in America” Sunday night pregame show. Then, according to Marchand, Brees eventually will take over for Cris Collinsworth as the game analyst on “Sunday Night Football,” which is every week’s most-watched NFL game and, typically, the most-watched TV show. When Brees replaces Collinsworth is unknown. Collinsworth is only 62 and still very much on top of his game as a broadcaster.

All this seems to check out seeing as how Brees will appear this morning on NBC’s “Today” show.

Media tidbits

  • ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos will sit down with President Joe Biden this week to discuss the COVID-19 relief plan and more. The interview is scheduled to air Wednesday on “Good Morning America.”
  • Remember the old TV show “America’s Most Wanted?” It aired on Fox for 25 years before being canceled in 2011. Counting a short stint on Lifetime, the show helped in the capture of more than 1,100 fugitives, including 17 from the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List. It also helped find 43 missing children. Well, the show is returning to TV tonight with new host Elizabeth Vargas, formerly of ABC News. The show debuts tonight at 9 p.m. Eastern on Fox.
  • Speaking of “America’s Most Wanted,” Nancy Grace will host a show called “America’s Most Wanted Overtime,” which will air immediately after at 10 p.m. Eastern on Fox Nation — Fox News’ streaming service. Grace recently signed a new multi-year deal with Fox Nation, where she will continue to host her show “Crime Stories with Nancy Grace.”
  • MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow won a Grammy Award. She won for Best Spoken Word Album for her book, “Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth.”

Hot type

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

Clarification: This story has been updated to indicate Dylan Farrow was the adopted daughter of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow.

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