Night after night on Fox, Tucker Carlson weaponizes his viewers’ fears and complaints to create what may be the most racist show in cable news history. It is also, by some measures, the most successful.
With a singular influence that reaches far beyond Fox and the viewers who tune in to his show, Carlson has filled the void left by Donald J. Trump, defending the former president’s most ardent supporters and some of his most extreme views. As fervently as she has rushed to defend the January 6 protesters, she has also cast doubt and suspicion around immigrants, Black Lives Matter protesters, or Covid-19 vaccines.
A New York Times examination of Mr. Carlson’s career, including interviews with dozens of friends and former colleagues, and an analysis of more than 1,100 episodes of his Fox show, shows how he has become increasingly sympathetic to currents. nativists circulating in American politics. and how intertwined his rise has been with the transformations of his network and American conservatism.
Here are some key takeaways from “American Nationalist,” the Times’ three-part series on Mr. Carlson.
Years of far-right fringe talking points
Last spring, Carlson caused a stir when he promoted on air the notion of the “great replacement,” a racist conspiracy theory once relegated to the far right, according to which Western elites are importing “compliant” immigrant voters to disempower to the citizens. native. The Anti-Defamation League called for him to be fired, saying such thinking had helped fuel a series of terrorist attacks.
But this was nothing new to Mr. Carlson. In more than 400 episodes, he found the Times analysis, he has amplified the idea that a cabal of elites wants to force demographic change through immigration.
Mr. Carlson’s producers often scour the web for supporting material. In the early years of the show, clips were sometimes sent to network fact-checkers, who would occasionally discover that a story had actually originated further afield, on a racist or neo-Nazi site like Stormfront.
In a statement, Justin Wells, a senior executive producer who oversees Mr. Carlson’s show, defended the host’s rhetoric and choice of topics: “Tucker Carlson’s programming embraces diversity of thought and presents multiple viewpoints in one. industry where contrary thinking and the search for truth are often ignored.”
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He put Trumpism on Trump
In the White House, Trump had a symbiotic relationship with Fox, frequently watching, tweeting and speaking with the network’s hosts. But that presented Carlson with a scheduling problem when his new show moved up to Fox’s 8 p.m. time slot: He wanted to get to Trump’s base, he told his friends and co-workers, but without being beholden to the fickle president. The solution: embrace Trumpism, not Mr. Trump.
The show would capture the emotional core of Trump’s appeal — white panic over the country’s changing ethnic makeup — while maintaining a carefully measured distance from the president. At times, Carlson even criticized the president, privately mocking Trump’s habit of calling to avoid on-air attacks.
He sought out stories, a friend observed, that were sometimes “really weird” and often inaccurate, but tapped into viewers’ fears about a downtrodden American culture. She criticized Macy’s, for example, for introducing a line of hijabs, comparing it to promoting female genital mutilation.
As goes Tucker, so goes Fox
Mr. Carlson forged a relationship with Lachlan Murdoch, heir apparent to the Fox empire, and cultivated a perception within the network that the two men were close. As his show became the highest-rated cable news show in prime time, Fox looked to his success as a model for broader transformation.
Inside the network, journalists and commentators clashed over what many saw as a creeping invasion of the news divide by allies of the highest-rated pro-Trump primetime anchors.
While executives at Murdoch and Fox have often expressed their defense of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” as a protection of investigative freedom and controversial opinions, Mr. Carlson’s on-air provocations have long been something else: part of a painstaking, data-driven experiment that has been largely successful in bolstering Fox’s profit machine versus the long run. long-term decline in cable news subscriptions.
According to three former Fox employees, Mr. Carlson was among the network’s most avid consumers of what is known as minute-by-minute ratings data on the real-time ebb and flow of an audience. “It’s going to double down on white nationalism because minute by minute it shows that the audience is buying into it,” said a former employee who frequently worked with Carlson.
Network executives soon began applying the approach to daytime news programs. They pitched it as “Moneyball” for television: an audience-centric approach to deciding what to cover and how to cover it.
Journalists on Fox’s daytime shows saw a pattern of what audiences disliked: segments featuring Fox’s own reporters, stories seen as unfavorable to Trump, left-leaning guests, or independents. Immigration, on the other hand, was a success.
Network executives mandated so much coverage of illegal immigrants or nonwhite Americans caught up in criminal or violent acts that some employees referred to it by a grim nickname: “brown menace.”
Consternation and dissent within the network
A series of segments in 2018 about the gruesome killings of farmers in South Africa, which Carlson suggested were part of a campaign by that country’s black-led government to seize white-owned land, sparked a rare high-level dispute within Fox. .
Brian Jones, then president of Fox Business Network and the highest-ranking black man in Fox leadership, explained to senior executives that Mr. Carlson’s coverage had been drawn from far-right sites and that almost everything he Mr. Carlson said the air was wrong. But Mr. Jones was overruled and the coverage continued. Trump tweeted that his administration will “closely study” the seizure of white-owned land and the “large-scale murder of farmers.” Far-right and neo-Nazi figures cheered the propaganda coup.
Later that year, Fox reporters discovered another cause for concern. An organizational chart uploaded to the company’s new employee portal showed a controversial figure named Peter Brimelow, founder of the nativist website VDare, reporting directly to Rupert Murdoch. Employees who inquired about his apparent role at Fox were told that Brimelow was helping with the Murdoch memoir, a project most people thought his boss had abandoned in the 1990s, or writing speeches, or linked to some other Murdoch initiative. The chart soon disappeared. A Fox spokeswoman said Brimelow currently had no relationship with the company.
Chasing down his critics
Carlson’s popularity with viewers has allowed him to fend off critics outside of Fox and silence those inside, from news anchors to junior employees who have objected to his rhetoric.
After an on-air dispute with Carlson in 2019 over the impeachment inquiry and Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukrainian officials, Shepard Smith was reportedly warned not to criticize his fellow host. He departed from Fox that October.
After a Fox producer, Dan Gallo, raised concerns with human resources executives about recordings of Carlson advocating child rape and calling Iraqis “semi-literate primitive apes,” and Jeanine Pirro’s on-air comments questioning a Muslim congresswoman’s loyalty to the Constitution, Mr. Carlson learned of his grievances and confronted him face-to-face in Los Angeles, demanding that Mr. Gallo “do the honorable thing” and call him if he had a disagreement. Mr. Gallo offered to speak on the spot, but Mr. Carlson was not interested. “I’m busy,” the host said, and walked away.
Days after a mass shooting in El Paso by a white man protesting what he called the “Hispanic invasion of Texas,” Carlson declared that white supremacy was largely a “hoax.” A young Fox reporter, Cristina Corbin, tweeted, without mentioning Carlson: “White supremacy is real, as the facts show. Claims that it’s a ‘hoax’ do not represent my views.” The host called Ms. Corbin and yelled at her to “shut the fuck up,” according to a former Fox executive briefed on the episode. Fox questioned him about the incident, Mr. Carlson denied making the call.
His playbook sent sponsors fleeing, but he nearly doubled ad dollars.
Here’s the “Tucker Carlson Tonight” playbook: Go straight to the third rail, whether it’s race, immigration, or another hot topic; reap the inevitable backlash; come back the next night to criticize the critics for how they responded. Then do it all over again. This feedback loop boosted ratings and increased loyalty to Fox and Mr. Carlson.
What it didn’t do was endear Mr. Carlson to advertisers. As blue-chip sponsors fled, Fox filled the gap with internal promotions—using Carlson’s popularity to boost other Fox shows—and direct-to-consumer brands like MyPillow, whose CEO is a major promoter of stolen Fox products. Trump. – Electoral lie.
Last May, after promoting the “replacement” theory of white supremacy, Carlson had half as many advertisers as he did in December 2018. But he grossed nearly twice as much money.