For years now, Tucker Carlson has groomed himself into the perfect far-right propaganda machine. For that, he was rewarded handsomely. Fox News' audience flocked to his show, eager to soak up his curated paranoias, far-right hoaxes, and talking points lifted brazenly from white nationalist and neo-Nazi communities so Carlson could pump them into the heads of viewers already primed to believe anything any televised lout was willing to shout at them.
If Tucker Carlson isn't the most destructive political propagandist in cable news history, it's difficult to imagine who would take the prize instead. And Tucker fell into the role entirely of his own accord, and by his own plan. His previous persona, a sneering pseudo-geek devoted to defending the corporate conservative status quo on shows like CNN's “Crossfire,” became a stale trope long before CNN gave up on the format.
He then reinvented himself as a more openly racist, sexist, paranoid far-right misanthrope, was granted new pundit life on Fox News, and experimentally slid further and further to the right as he explored what the Fox audience would reward and what it would not. By the late Trump era, he was borrowing more from Alex Jones' conspiracy shows than from the Republican Party's thinning policy stances.
And Fox News stuck with him. The whole way.
A very partial list of the things Fox News was absolutely fine with, apparently up until the point where it cost them $787 million:
Fox News stood by Tucker's promotion of neo-Nazi "Great Replacement" claims. Perhaps the most consequential of Tucker Carlson's hoaxes is his promotion of overtly racist "great replacement" theories lifted from neo-Nazi circles. These declare that non-white immigration into the United States and Europe is an intentional effort by "the elites" or "globalists," typically Jews, to overwhelm and "replace" white "culture." Tucker has both endorsed the theory directly and engaged in countless variations of those claims, at regular intervals spouting off about fringe-right claims such as an alleged "race war" against white people.
While Tucker's promotion of Republican election hoaxes might have had the most visible impact, his overtly racist claims are ones responsible for worldwide mass violence and terrorist acts. Fox News, however, has continued to promote his show through all of those racist claims.
Fox News stood by Tucker's promotion of anti-democratic election hoaxes. Never one to steer clear of a propaganda campaign, no matter how brazenly crooked it is, Carlson was of course a promoter of even the most nonsensical of election conspiracies.
Tucker Carlson has continued to promote hoaxes meant to delegitimize Republican election losses, even promoting them in advance of the 2022 midterm elections.
Fox News stood by Tucker's promotion of anti-vaccine and anti-public safety hoaxes that led to increased pandemic deaths. From the "Died Suddenly" hoax to snake-oil cures, Carlson’s only seeming concern during the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has been how to use it for his own narrative purposes. From the beginning, Carlson sneered at social distancing and other safety efforts. Whether viewers died—and they did—didn’t matter to either Carlson or to Fox.
Fox News stood by as Tucker elevated far-right figures associated with violence. From white nationalist groups to a far-right Twitter account that has stoked bomb threats against U.S. hospitals, Carlson used his show to elevate fringe far-right figures and their rhetoric. That was the point of the show; it was not enough for Tucker to simply crib from white nationalist talking points. Tucker used his platform to signal-boost the extremist websites and leaders that would lead his viewers down rabbit holes of further conspiracy claims.
Fox News stood by as Tucker himself stoked conspiracy claims against conservatism’s perceived enemies. From the IRS to public school teachers, Carlson’s show regularly engaged in demonization of supposed conservative enemies in ways seemingly designed explicitly to stoke violence against them. And he repeatedly boosted even more conspiracy theories justifying or misrepresenting conservative political violence after it happened.
Fox News stood by Tucker's bizarre fixation on ending the Russia-Ukraine war in Russia's favor. Again and again, Carlson used his show to spread claims that it was Russia that was being victimized by Ukraine, rather than the reverse. He has promoted QAnon-premised anti-Ukraine hoaxes, regularly advocated for withdrawing U.S. support for Ukraine, and pressured U.S. officials to withhold that aid.
Even before the invasion began, Carlson was promoting Russian talking points belittling and condemning Ukraine. He then simply gaslighted his audience with claims that he hadn't.
Fox News stood by Tucker even as he demanded retaliation against Fox News reporters who dismissed and discredited the Republican "Big Lie." Fox News retaliation against reporters who debunked the Republican-promoted hoaxes led directly to the increased acceptance of those hoaxes by the Fox-watching public, and to an attempted violent insurrection inside the U.S. Capitol.
Fox News stood by Tucker's defenses of the Jan. 6 coup attempt and resulting violence. Tucker has been relentless in defending participants in the Jan. 6 insurrection, largely by portraying the rioters as nonviolent while insisting that the government is conspiring to frame them. He's promoted bizarre hoaxes claiming that rioters were in league with the FBI. Carlson's moves are meant to immunize acts of real-world conservative violence from consequences, and it demonstrates that Tucker's extremism, regardless of how preplanned it may have been, does indeed include support for even seditious acts.
Carlson's show doesn't always delve into such lofty topics. His more standard fare is garden-variety conservative cultural paranoia of the sort that Alex Jones and other conspiracy cranks have long used to promote themselves to only the most gullible of Americans. Tucker's themes have even included evaluations of the perceived sexual availability of candy mascots.
Like Donald Trump himself, Tucker Carlson's brand of fascism is steeped in absurdity. The paranoia demanded by the conservative base is all-encompassing. And yes, Fox News stood by that too.
Texts would eventually show Carlson lifting conspiracy theories for his show directly from Alex Jones' Infowars—repeatedly. He's also increasingly used his power for strange side hustles promoting "testicle tanners" and other bizarre and dubious conservative-pushed products, some of them linked to white nationalists.
And Fox News stood by all of it. The breaking point wasn't stoking acts of terrorism, promoting neo-Nazi conspiracies, flooding the network with brazenly false claims and hoaxes, supporting anti-democratic conspiracies, or any of the rest. It seems that it wasn't until Tucker Carlson cost Fox News money that the network decided to bow out, far too late to do the country any good. And the damage Tucker Carlson has done to Republicanism, in helping to drag it to the fascist brink, is probably even more existential.
Markos and Kerry are joined by Aaron Rupar today to discuss what he is seeing in the right-wing media landscape. Rupar is an independent journalist whose Public Notice Substack is a must-read for those who want to know how truly outrageous the conservative movement is. We are addicted to his Twitter account, with its never-ending stream of Republican lunacy all captured on video.