Who needs state-controlled media? Trump has Fox’s Tucker Carlson
Anyone who paid attention to the episode of "Tucker Carlson Tonight" on Friday, Oct. 19, 2018, is enjoying a good chuckle these days. The show's host, Tucker Carlson, sparred with a guest who argued that the United States must assert its influence with Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the killing of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
"This is, like, foreign policy by cable news — my favorite kind," sneered Carlson.
The urge to propagate a sick burn on a guest commentator clearly overwhelmed any sense of self-awareness in Carlson. Fox News, after all, is a premier source of policy ideas — and lies, misconceptions, conspiracy theories — for President Donald Trump.
More recently Carlson briefly transitioned from foreign policy adviser to pretend journalist. Carlson traveled to Japan for the Group of 20 meeting and taped an interview with Trump. Here's part of the exchange about the Iran decision:
CARLSON: You came very close to sending the U.S. military to strike Iran. You pulled back at the last moment. You were criticized by neo-cons in Washington for doing that. They wanted you to strike Iran. Why do you think they wanted that?
TRUMP: I was given a lot of credit by most people. A lot of people gave me credit.
CARLSON: The public was on your side for sure.
TRUMP: A lot of people said that was a great presidential moment, which was, you know, rather shocking to hear. ...
TRUMP: And they claim, it was over their territory, which it wasn't, but they would say that, so on top of it, they'll say, unmanned and over their territory, then we go in. Before I sent them out, they had to give me everything I wanted to know by 7 o'clock. They walked in, they gave me everything, but they didn't tell me how many people would die. How many Iranians — I know a lot of Iranians from New York City, and they're great people. They're all great people. We're all great, right? Iranian or not.
Carlson was present as Trump stopped at the demilitarized zone and set foot inside North Korea — part of a diplomatic effort to restart nuclear talks with North Korea. On his Monday night program, Carlson broadcast from Paju, South Korea, and appeared delighted to have witnessed history.
"The president held what turned out to be a momentous meeting impromptu with Kim Jong Un," said Carlson. "He was the first American president to set foot in North Korea. He walked with Kim alone across the border between the two countries. We stood a few feet away and then walked back and held a news conference standing in the middle of the road. We were there."
In a touch that made for excellent viewing, Carlson showed off his photos of very grumpy North Korean security guards in various states of stern.
As for the substance of Trump's visit, Carlson had a bit less in the way of goods.
"A few months ago, the president had a summit with Kim in Hanoi, as you know, of course that collapsed and his efforts to denuclearize (the) North Korean Peninsula looked dead," said Carlson. "Now in just a moment, those hopes may have been revived. In any case, it really was a remarkable scene and we have pictures that we took there. Here they are."
'Lead(ing) a country means killing people'
Others looked less favorably on the Trump visit and Carlson played some of the slams on his Monday night program:
BETO O'ROURKE (D-TEXAS), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: "Despite three years of almost bizarre foreign policy from this president, this country is no safer when it comes to North Korea."
JULIAN CASTRO (D-TEXAS), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: "I'm not quite sure why this president is so bent on elevating the profile of a dictator like Kim Jong Un."
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MINN.), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: "We've seen a history here, especially in this case, where Donald Trump announces the summit, and nothing really comes out of it. It's not as easy as just going and, you know, bringing a hot dish over the fence to the dictator next door."
REP. TIM RYAN (D-OHIO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: "I have no idea why he is shaking hands with a dictator. You don't reward that kind of behavior with a visit to your country from the president of the United States."
Here's how Carlson interpreted those remarks: "No war? We don't get to have a war?" In teeing up a comment by MSNBC contributor Elise Jordan, Carlson applied the same spin:
CARLSON: "Watch one of their analysts, Elise Jordan — whoever that is — tell you that it's just immoral not to have a war. Watch."
ELISE JORDAN, MSNBC ANALYST: "It makes me want to puke, just my visceral reaction as an American who cares about democracy and human rights. The fact that Donald Trump is going out of his way to kiss up just to this monster."
Clever stuff. In Carlson's formulation, any criticism of Trump's diplomacy equates to advocacy of a nightmare war with North Korea. It's the sort of attack that you might expect from ... a Trump foreign policy adviser!
Distinctions are everything when considering the oeuvre of Tucker Carlson. He may be antiwar, but not quite anti-killing. In a Sunday morning chat with the folks at "Fox & Friends Weekend," Carlson was asked about the prudence of hanging out with a dictator with a despicable record on human rights.
"I mean, there's no defending the North Korean regime, which is a monstrous regime. It's the last really Stalinist regime in the world. It's a disgusting place, obviously, so there's no defending it," said Carlson, who commonly says he's not defending the people he's defending. "On the other hand, you've got to be honest about what it means to lead a country. It means killing people, not on the scale the North Koreans do, but a lot of countries commit atrocities, including a number we're closely allied with. So, I'm not a relativist or anything, but it's important to be honest about that. And it's not necessarily a choice between the evil people and the great people. It's a choice most of the time between the bad people and the worst people."
Anyway, can we keep that clip away from Trump?
Erik Wemple is a media critic for The Washington Post.
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