Tucker Carlson ‘passionately’ hates Donald Trump. But that’s not all

It’s a mistake to see Tucker Carlson solely as a man who knows better but who is driven by the nonpartisan lure of money

Noah Berlatsky
Thursday 09 March 2023 04:09 GMT

Tucker Carlson has long portrayed himself as a Trump true-believer. Based on new documents, though, his enthusiasm for Trump appears to have been a lie – or, at the very least, greatly exaggerated.

In new January 2021 texts released as part of a defamation lawsuit against Fox News by Dominion Voting Systems, Carlson declared that he “passionately” hated Donald Trump. He fantasized about the day when Trump, defeated by Joe Biden, would become irrelevant. “We are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights,” Carlson said in text messages, according to legal filings. “I truly can’t wait.”

These texts, and other materials, show that Carlson and other Fox News hosts were leery of Trump’s claims about voter fraud, and did not believe the election rigged. But they feared that if they told the truth they would lose viewers to other right-wing networks like Newsmax. So they lied, and reassured their viewers that Trump was the rightful victor in 2020 in hopes of retaining their market share.

Most coverage of the Dominion revelations has focused on the hypocrisy. That’s understandable – but it also, in some ways, ends up emphasizing Carlson’s relative rationality and (private) reasonableness. He appears to have understood that Biden won the election, and that Trump himself was spreading lies and disinformation. Like the majority of the country (given polls), Carlson was tired of Trump. Who could blame him?

I think it’s a mistake, though, to see Carlson solely as a man who knows better, but who is driven by the nonpartisan lure of money. He has an extensive history of hateful statements and of mangling of the truth. Dominion has found evidence of Tucker deceiving his audience in order to secure his bottom line. But that doesn’t mean he’s solely motivated by his bottom line, or that he never believes the ugly ideology he presents on air.

First, it’s worth remembering that Carlson has said horrific things in situations where he didn’t seem to have much, or any, financial incentive. Media Matters unearthed audio from 2009 in which, as a guest on Bubba the Love Sponge’s shock jock radio program, he said women like being told to “be quiet and kind of do what you’re told.”

He may not always believe the specifics of what he says, but he probably believes that the people he targets deserve what they get. His untruths may be designed to advance his career. But they’re also designed to hurt those who he genuinely wants to hurt.

One recent example is his coverage of transgender medical care. Carlson, in an inflammatory segment, accused Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) in Tennessee of providing what he argued was unnecessary health care to trans children because “it’s just too profitable to destroy the lives of kids.” There is little to no evidence to support the argument that VUMC is knowingly harming children for profit. Given that the hospital had already had to lockdown because of a bomb scare, Carlson surely knew that he was encouraging further threats.

Was Carlson promoting falsehoods because he wanted to bump his ratings? Or does he genuinely believe that trans children, their loved ones and their health care providers should suffer? The answer could easily be “both“.

Another even clearer instance occurred in 2018, when a small group of protestors gathered outside Carlson’s house. Many mainstream media figures (including Media Matters and Stephen Colbert) condemned this protest, partially because Carlson characterized it as violent and threatening. Carlson claimed that protestors battered his door and “cracked” it. But police found no evidence of an assault on the door. When asked to confirm his claims, Carlson responded belligerently, saying the questions were “a disgusting attempt to minimize an attack on my family.”

Again, we can’t know Carlson’s motives here. Perhaps he was so upset that he thought for a moment the door was cracked, and then doubled down when confronted. Perhaps he wanted to demonize and delegitimize further protests at his home. Perhaps he thought that exaggerating the violence of the protest would garner him positive attention and boost ratings.

At the least, it’s clear from the Dominion filings and from Carlson’s career that he sees truth as an optional virtue. He’s willing to stretch it, or ignore it, for various reasons: to boost his ratings, to glorify himself, to harm his enemies. When he (for example) endorses racist conspiracy theories, he may or may not believe them. The important thing is that he thinks they serve him – montetarily and ideologically –and doesn’t really care whether they’re true or not.

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