Fox News promised Tucker Carlson was going to address the controversy discovered last week when CNN’s Oliver Darcy reported that Carlson’s head writer had long been posting vile and racist rants online.
Carlson addressed it alright — quickly, somewhat defiantly and, for many, unsatisfactorily. Yes, Carlson condemned writer Blake Neff’s horrid remarks, but he also struck a “both sides” balance by warning those who he felt were rejoicing that Neff had lost his job. Neff resigned on Friday. In an internal memo, Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott and president Jay Wallace condemned Neff’s online posts and wrote, “Make no mistake, actions such as his cannot and will not be tolerated at any time in any part of our workforce.”
Neff was not a minor figure on Carlson’s show. Carlson has credited Neff’s influence on the show and Neff, himself, once said that he wrote the first draft on many of Carlson’s monologues. Darcy pointed out how many of Neff’s anonymous comments were the basis of Carlson’s on-air commentaries. Yet, Carlson waited until 45 minutes into Monday’s show before addressing the controversy and, even then, spent only 77 seconds on it.
Carlson said what Neff wrote anonymously was “wrong.”
“We don’t endorse those words,” Carlson said. “They have no connection to the show. It is wrong to attack people for qualities they cannot control. In this country, we judge people for what they do, not for how they were born.”
But, as Media Matters’ Matthew Gertz tweeted, “If you hadn’t read articles about Blake Neff, you have absolutely no idea what he did based on Carlson’s explanation.”
That’s absolutely true. Carlson came nowhere close to pointing out just how awful Neff’s behavior online was.
Then, incredibly, Carlson pivoted and seemed to turn Neff into a victim.
“To the ghouls now beating their chest in triumph at the destruction of a young man,” Carlson said, “that self-righteousness also has its costs. We’re all human. When we pretend we are holy, we are lying. When we pose as blameless in order to hurt other people, we are committing the gravest sin of all and we will be punished for it. There’s no question.”
Neff is out of a job because he commented on posts that used the N-word among his many vile remarks and slurs that were racist, sexist, misogynistic and indefensible. He self-destructed under a wave of inexcusable and hateful attacks on others.
Then, in what came as no surprise, Carlson ended his show by saying he is going trout fishing for four days. He said the trip was “long-planned,” but it follows a pattern of other Fox News hosts who have gone on “vacation” to let controversies die down.
But, you can be assured that Carlson will return next week as if nothing ever happened. His viewers will be fine with it and so too will Fox News.
Here is Carlson’s full commentary:
Over the weekend you may have seen stories about a writer on this show called Blake Neff. For years, since he was in college, Blake posted anonymously on an internet message board for law school students. On Friday, many of those posts became public. Blake was horrified by the story, and he was ashamed. Friday afternoon, he resigned from his job. We want to say a couple of things about this.
First, what Blake wrote anonymously was wrong. We don’t endorse those words. They have no connection to this show. It is wrong to attack people for qualities they cannot control. In this country, we judge people for what they do, not for how they were born. We often say that, because we mean it. We will continue to defend that principle, often alone among national news programs, because it is essential. Nothing is more important.
Blake fell short of that standard and he has paid a very heavy price for it. But we should also point out, to the ghouls now beating their chests in triumph at the destruction of a young man, that self-righteousness also has its costs. We are all human. When we pretend we are holy, we are lying. When we pose as blameless in order to hurt other people, we are committing the gravest sin of all. And we will be punished for it. There’s no question.”
Clarification: This story has been updated to note that Fox News writer Blake Neff commented on posts in which others used the N-word. Originally, it was said that Neff used that word.
Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer. For the latest media news and analysis, delivered free to your inbox each and every weekday morning, sign up for his Poynter Report newsletter.