Tucker Carlson’s disgusting new low
I can say this because I know: There’s some seriously dangerous, high-level trolling going on in right-wing media.
Having come from this space — I used to be a Fox News regular, a guest on outlets like Newsmax, an employee at The Blaze, a columnist at The Daily Caller, Townhall, and others — I know a thing or two about how it works.
For many, there is of course a genuine interest in bolstering and defending conservative ideas, promoted by people who genuinely believe them. I was one of those.
Then there are folks who willingly spread racism, xenophobia and bigotry because they either believe in it, or believe their consumers want to hear it.
Finally, there’s a good-sized cadre of outrage-peddlers who follow the money, the center of power and attention, and who say things they know to be untrue just to get people fired up, angry and afraid.
That kind of gaslighting and irresponsibility in right-wing media has become an increasing mainstay at places like Fox, where former President Donald Trump turned it into a ratings bonanza, and personalities like Lou Dobbs and Laura Ingraham made it a fixture. Telling viewers COVID-19 was a hoax or promoting the Big Lie — things they knew to be false — was a way to keep viewers hooked on the outrage dopamine.
On Monday night, Fox host Tucker Carlson participated in the worst kind of outrage-peddling — the kind that is completely dishonest, intentionally incendiary, and designed to turn Americans against each other just so he can get attention.
In a segment on mask-wearing, he called on his millions of loyal viewers to call the police on parents whose children wear masks, saying, “As for forcing children to wear masks outside, that should be illegal. Your response when you see children wearing masks as they play should be no different from your response to seeing someone beat a kid in Walmart. Call the police immediately, contact child protective services. Keep calling until someone arrives.”
He went on to equate it with actual child abuse, telling his viewers that they’re “morally obligated to attempt to prevent it.”
It’s hard for me to imagine a universe in which Carlson, a father of four and person I know, actually believes parents of mask-wearing children should be incarcerated, and their children taken away from them. Nor one in which he believes that could legally happen. This isn’t a genuine policy suggestion.
The more likely scenario is that, like much of what Carlson says on Fox, this is itself a hoax, a trick played on his own viewers to see how gullible they are, and a ploy to see how outraged he can make the rest of us. Like I said, high-level trolling — just because he can.
Lest you doubt this interpretation, I remind you that Fox’s own lawyers have argued this — that Carlson says things that are intentionally false, and you, the viewer, should be able to tell that from the “general tenor” of the show.
As the U.S. District Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil wrote in an opinion dismissing a lawsuit against Carlson and Fox, “Fox persuasively argues, that given Mr. Carlson’s reputation, any reasonable viewer ‘arrive(s) with an appropriate amount of skepticism’ about the statements he makes.”
It’s a good warning, and one that should perhaps accompany every Carlson broadcast.
But it’s far too generous. I know many Fox viewers. I know them intimately. Some are family and close friends. And while individually some are reasonable and skeptical, as a bunch, they are not. They are irrational and unquestioning.
Only 18% of Fox viewers accept the 2020 election results. A majority of Fox viewers believed the threat of COVID-19 was exaggerated. Fox viewers were more likely to risk their own health and avoid safety precautions in the pandemic. A full half of those who consider Fox their primary news source believe that Bill Gates is using a coronavirus vaccine to inject people with a microchip.
In toto, this isn’t a population we should expect to bring reason and skepticism to Fox broadcasts.
Which is why Carlson’s disingenuous, irrational and ludicrous war cry to call the police on the parents of mask-wearing children is so dangerous. His viewers will believe him. Just last week, in fact, anti-maskers lined up to berate elementary school kids for wearing masks.
I can’t think of anything more abusive and insidious than using your platform to make political pawns of children, and to do so just to incite anger and outrage. Just remember: He doesn’t believe it, and neither should you.
S.E. Cupp is the host of "S.E. Cupp Unfiltered" on CNN.
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