Tucker Carlson's Latest Scandal is His Own Fault

Whataboutism is a helluva a drug, and when it comes to grotesque bigotry, there would seem to be nothing for respectable conservatives like a good...

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Whataboutism is a helluva a drug, and when it comes to grotesque bigotry, there would seem to be nothing for respectable conservatives like a good high.

Fox News primetime host and noted believer in the Great American Melting Pot Tucker Carlson is in hot water again, but this time it’s not for calling immigrants a “dirty” influence in America; instead, it’s for decade-old comments published by liberal organization Media Matters. Between 2006 and 2011, Carlson called women “primitive” and Iraqis “semiliterate primitive monkeys,” joked about supporting middle school teachers having sex with students, and defended Warren Jeffs, who is currently serving a life sentence in Texas for arranging and facilitating child rape, on the grounds that he had not personally raped any children (never mind that Jeffs had previously been accused by several nephews—one of whom committed suicide after disclosing—of raping them when they were children).

The liberal reaction was predictably and deservingly fierce. #BoycottTuckerCarlson trended on Twitter, and even more advertisers left Carlson’s show. The usual suspects―liberal op-ed columnists at Vice, Rolling Stone, and The Washington Post―swiftly penned condemnatory columns, even calling for the cancellation of Carlson’s shows.

But conservatives have taken a stunningly defensive and unapologetic stance. Carlson himself issued a statement on Twitter, refusing to “express the usual ritual contrition,” casting himself as just another player in the marketplace of ideas, and dismissing the whole situation as “Media Matters [having] caught [him] saying something naughty on a radio show more than a decade ago,” he said. When asked by Rolling Stone for comment, Fox just referred to Carlson’s statements.

This should go without saying, but what Carlson said was a whole lot more than “naughty.” If Media Matters had unearthed Carlson’s decade-old raunchy Reagan-Thatcher fanfiction (this writer is happy to inform you, gentle reader, that no such fanfiction exists to his knowledge, nor could it exist; Thatcher at her most prominent was far too old for Carlson’s tastes), that would have been “naughty.” What Carlson said was deeply racist and misogynistic, and disturbingly so. “Semi-literate primitive monkeys” is the sort of language one expects to hear from David Duke, not the host of 2018’s third most watched television news program.

Given Carlson’s history, neither the unearthed comments nor his responses are surprising. Carlson is fairly beloved by white supremacists, a prominent one of whom has called his hour “basically Daily Stormer: The Show” (the Daily Stormer is one of the most visited neo-Nazi sites on the internet). And Fox News has built a brand on being unapologetic about bigotry. The network hasn’t given anyone any reason to expect any better from them.

Far more disappointing has been the response from conservatives closer to the center. National Review’s David French, a leading voice of the “principled conservative” movement that claims to stand for real values rather than whatever nonsense Donald Trump is tweeting at any given moment, came out the day after Media Matters’s dump with an impassioned defense of Carlson, characterizing him as the victim of a “fake outrage mob.”

Instead of focusing on Carlson’s racism and sexism, French decided to focus on the fact that Media Matters had even tried to look into Carlson’s past comments in the first place. Media Matters, he argued, is nothing more than an anti-conservative smear job organization, didn’t really caring about Carlson’s comments except as a way to take him down.

French is probably right about that. Media Matters’ goals look pretty ideology-driven, and the organization is hardly consistent. Other parts of his argument fail on the merits―he points out, for instance, that no one was paying attention to Carlson’s comments when they were first made―but it certainly doesn’t look like Media Matters wants to be an impartial watchdog of media, scrutinizing equally figures on the left and the right.

But that shouldn’t matter. French’s claim that the response to Carlson’s comments has been not one of genuine offense but rather “one of vengeful glee” shouldn’t be true because he and other conservatives ought to be deeply offended. Instead, French brushed aside Carlson’s comments as banal, and despite claiming in a later tweet that he “did not defend Carlson’s words,” he did just that, writing that Carlson had just said “shocking things to a shock jock” and that far more dangerous than Carlson’s words is the culture of “ideological search-and-destroy missions” like Media Matters. I will admit that, as a liberal, a part of me played the GIF of John Oliver announcing “We got him!” But what struck me was the depravity of Carlson’s words, which should be enough to strike the conscience of any non-racist, liberal, or conservative.

First, it bears repeating that Carlson didn’t just say something racy or taboo. He called Iraqis monkeys. Had he said something else about Iraqis—and I wanted to say that it was very racist—I might say that it was as bad as calling Iraqis monkeys. That’s how bad calling Iraqis monkeys is. That would be enough to mark him as detestable on its own, but he also defended the facilitation of child rape, about the second-worst thing one can do, on the grounds that it was not itself child rape—the absolute worst thing one can do. Even if it were true that search-and-destroy missions are more dangerous than racist comments from powerful people, this particular case is one of such a mission uncovering truly vile beliefs from an influential figure. That he was vilely bigoted on shock-jock radio doesn’t dull the vile bigotry. The fact that one has made offensive remarks in an offensive arena does not excuse those offensive remarks.

It is the case that context matters, but there are limits to when and how context can function as an excuse. Actor Edward Norton, for instance, has said extraordinarily racist and anti-Semitic things, but no one thinks badly of him for that because he said them while playing a neo-Nazi in a movie. Tucker Carlson, however, was deeply racist—not as a racist character but as himself in a space where racism was excused. That doesn’t mean we should excuse it.

Of course, there will be the “that was a decade ago, and those comments don’t really represent him” arguments. Right off the bat, it is curious that this standard applies to Fox News anchors and presidents, but not Muslim congresswomen. Additionally, Carlson was in his mid-30s when he made the offending comments. Though 2006 is a fair while ago, 37 is too old to claim the Young and Foolish card. And the comments are hardly a shocker―they just provide context to Carlson’s nightly anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Second, when it comes to high-profile Fox News personalities, we absolutely should be conducting search-and-destroy missions. Fox News, as has been revealed over the past few years, is a cesspool of sexual misconduct, with a toxic culture of misbehavior and the enabling thereof stemming from the very top. Everyone who has power in the organization should be investigated. If the organization doing the investigating is doing so in bad faith, that’s unfortunate, but it doesn’t challenge the investigation’s results.

This particular investigation, whatever the motives behind it, found that Tucker Carlson said―once again, and without embellishment, because it’s not needed to emphasize the awfulness―that Iraqis are “semi-literate primitive monkeys,” that women are “primitive,” and that criminalizing the facilitation of child marriage as child sexual assault is “[EXPLETIVE].” The jump from that information to “Ah, but how did we come to know this?” is some quite remarkable sleight of hand, but it shouldn’t fool anyone.

Tucker Carlson is intensely, incontrovertibly racist. He is intensely, incontrovertibly sexist. He has intensely, incontrovertibly disgusting views on child sexual assault. There is a line between having a healthy marketplace of ideas and giving platforms to racists. Deplatforming works. It’s time for Tucker Carlson to become its next victim.