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Why Isn’t Tucker Carlson's Hate Speech a Deal-Breaker?

In Trump’s America morality has been distorted and hate continues to have a place on television and in the White House—until the nation chooses another way

Tucker Carlson. (Gage Skidmore / Flickr)(CC BY-SA 2.0)

Tucker Carlson. (Gage Skidmore / Flickr)(CC BY-SA 2.0)

The recently revealed audio recordings of Fox News host Tucker Carlson spewing racist and misogynist rhetoric on a radio show years ago offers new evidence of the media outlet’s tilt toward hate. In clips originating from 2006 to 2011 available here and here, obtained by the watchdog group Media Matters for America, Carlson is heard ranting against women, Iraqis, blacks, immigrants and others, using the same language heard from white supremacists, male chauvinists, homophobes and old-fashioned racists.

For example, during a discussion of the U.S. war in Iraq, Carlson is heard saying, “Iraq is a crappy place filled with a bunch of, you know, semiliterate primitive monkeys.” When asked how the war could be salvaged, his answer was, “It’s beyond our control. I mean if, somehow, the Iraqis decided to behave like human beings or something.” He also envisioned a president who would say, “It’s these lunatic Muslims who are behaving like animals, and I’m going to kill as many of them as I can if you elect me.” Those are only three instances of many, each one as appalling as the next.

So far, the Fox News host has refused to apologize. Instead he has characterized his words on Twitter as “naughty” and dug in his heels. Fox News has refused to take action, simply re-releasing a statement from several months ago, saying, “We cannot and will not allow voices like Tucker Carlson to be censored by agenda-driven intimidation efforts.” The White House has ignored the recordings altogether. Staying with the examples cited above, if one were to replace the words “Iraqis” and “Muslims” with “Israelis” and “Jews,” the double standard becomes imminently clear.

As a nation, we rightfully no longer tolerate anti-Semitism. Even Trump, the Republicans and Fox News executives would have immediately distanced themselves from a person spewing hatred against Jews. But when it comes to Muslims in particular, why is there is no howl of protest at the use of dehumanizing language by a public figure? Carlson’s corresponding misogyny, anti-black racism and homophobia are also apparently not deal-breakers for his employers.

 Incidentally, days before the Carlson recordings became public another Fox News host, Jeanine Pirro, came under fire for blaming Rep. Ilhan Omar’s critique of Israel on Omar’s Muslim faith. Although Fox repudiated Pirro’s comments, she remains on the network.

Carlson offered a challenge in his Twitter non-apology: “I’m on television every weeknight live for an hour. If you want to know what I think you can watch.” Matt Gertz of Media Matters explained to me in an interview that although the specifics of Carlson’s contemporary political expressions may be less extreme than his unfiltered speech on the radio years ago, the views he routinely expresses on his Fox News show currently embody the same type of racist and misogynist sentiments heard on the recordings from 2006 to 2011. “Some of Tucker’s biggest fans are white nationalists. David Duke is a big supporter. Lots of other ‘alt-right’ figures … they all love him,” Gertz said. “They think he’s doing a great job bringing their messages about the dangers of immigration, the perils of somehow diluting the national culture by bringing in more people who aren’t white.”

Carlson, Fox News and Trump are central institutions within the ugly conservative universe of women-hating, racist white supremacist dinosaurs who desperately fight the empowerment of women and minorities, seeing them as threats to their fragile white male egos.

Carlson, Fox News and Trump are central institutions within the ugly conservative universe of women-hating, racist white supremacist dinosaurs who desperately fight the empowerment of women and minorities, seeing them as threats to their fragile white male egos. Gertz calls Fox News “a propaganda arm of the Trump White House at this point. It’s entirely in the White House’s interest to stick with them come hell or high water.” In short, Carlson is an intimate part of the political complex alongside Trump, who has made no secret of the fact that Fox News is the only outlet he trusts.

The backdrop for the Carlson revelations is striking. House Democrats have been desperately trying to paper over internal differences on the issue of Israel by passing a broad resolution denouncing hate last week. What leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would have really rather done is single Omar out, but they were stopped by other Democrats who saw it as hypocritical to censure a young hijab-wearing Muslim woman while giving a pass to Trump and his fellow Republicans who have made overtly racist remarks. To a lesser extent, the disease of Islamophobia and misogyny also infects liberal sectors of society.

In Trump’s universe, Omar is anti-Semitic, and by extension, so is her entire party. Since the outspoken, hijab-wearing, black Muslim immigrant symbolizes everything that his rabid base fears and despises, he has unsurprisingly decided to cast himself as a staunch defender of Jews, accusing the Democratic Party of becoming “an anti-Jewish party.” It appears to be one of Trump and the GOP’s latest tactics to manufacture a new reality that “Jewish people are leaving the Democratic Party.”

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On Monday CNN’s Jim Acosta reminded press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders during a White House press briefing that Trump in 2017 said of the marchers in Charlottesville, Va., which included neo-Nazi and white supremacists, that there were “very fine people on both sides.” To that, Sanders had the same sort of reality-defying reply Trump and Fox News have echoed: “That’s not at all what the president was stating, not then, not at any point.” She added, “The president has been incredibly clear and consistently and repeatedly condemned hatred, bigotry, racism in all of its forms whether in America or anywhere else and to say otherwise is simply untrue.”

There is a pattern to these things. First the racists (Trump, Carlson, Sanders, Pirro) spew their hatred aloud. When confronted with their own words, they deny that reality, as in the case of Trump and Sanders, or they downplay the facts using innocuous words like “naughty,” as Carlson has done. Finally, the racists declare that those making accusations of racism are themselves the real racists. In other words they are “gaslighting” the nation.

As the Urban Dictionary explains, “The classic example of gaslighting is to switch something around on someone that you know they’re sure to notice, but then deny knowing anything about it, and to explain that they ‘must be imagining things,’ when they challenge these changes.” It is a form of “psychological abuse.”

The only bright spot from the past three years of Trump’s gaslighting (and the many decades of Fox News’s propaganda and racism) is that the anti-racist backlash against Trump and Trumpism has put racists on the defensive. Conservative haters are at least trying to proclaim they are not racist rather than digging in their heels, criticizing “political correctness” and maintaining their right to be hateful as they have often done in the past.

But more is needed. Trump and Fox News have brainwashed many Americans into believing that white nationalists are plotting mass domestic terrorist attacks—as was the case of Coast Guard Officer Christopher Hasson. Their words literally inspire violence.

A tactic that has worked well in the face of hateful rhetoric in the media is a pressure campaign against advertisers. This is exactly what a March 13 protest called “Drop Fox” was designed to do. Even in the lead-up to the protest, more than a dozen advertisers had already dropped their sponsorship. Gertz shared that “This is all happening at a very dangerous time for Fox News,” and that Fox organized the meeting in March rather than in May—the more traditional time for ad buys—because of a “series of advertiser boycotts against their major hosts over a series of months.” In their call to “Drop Fox,” Media Matters and other organizations and activists are demanding cutting ties with the worst elements in American society.

That is not a big ask, but in Trump’s America morality has been distorted and hate continues to have a place on television and in the White House—until the nation chooses another way.

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Sonali Kolhatkar

Sonali Kolhatkar
Sonali Kolhatkar is a columnist for Truthdig. She also is the founder, host and executive producer of "Rising Up With Sonali," a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV (Dish Network, DirecTV, Roku) and Pacifica stations KPFK, KPFA, and affiliates. She is the former founder, host and producer of KPFK Pacifica’s popular morning drive-time program “Uprising." She is also the co-director of the Afghan Women's Mission, a U.S.-based non-profit solidarity organization that funds the social, political, and humanitarian projects of RAWA. She is the author, with James Ingalls, of "Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence" (2006).

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