On Monday night, Fox News aired a segment about the threats that Matt Taibbi had received from House Democrats, and how journalists like him increasingly must choose to stay silent under pressure or face the consequences. The report was spot on—except, on that day of all days, it felt out of place. What made that day special, of course, was that Fox News itself had just fired Tucker Carlson, its highest-rated single personality.
Tucker Carlson—willing to report stories no one else would touch. Speaking up when no one else in the mainstream media would do so. Highlighting issues barely mentioned elsewhere. The voice and conscience of a large chunk of the conservatives in the United States.
Speculation abounds as to the reasons for the break with Fox, and the days ahead may bring more clarity. But one thing that remains certain is that left-wing media outlets have heaped scorn on Carlson for a long time, with New York’s Intelligencer calling him a “fake populist and genuine racist.” No wonder multiple media outlets pounced when news of the firing broke. The View celebrated by singing “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye,” echoing similar sentiments elsewhere. In a Washington Post op-ed, Erik Wemple wrote that “Carlson’s on-air pronouncements were replete with racism, sexism and an undisguised hatred for people with whom he disagrees. In his quest for ratings and fame, Carlson proved willing to run over otherwise powerless people.” The New York Times called him “a polarizing and unpopular figure.” Raw Story claimed that Carlson “repeatedly aired falsehoods,” added that “[n]ight after night, Carlson launched into what American media pundits and researchers described as divisive, racist and conspiracy-laden monologues to millions of viewers.”
Take certain positions, and you will be labeled a racist. Or a conspiracy theorist. Or a xenophobe. Or a right-wing extremist. Who would want that? But these and other labels get tossed around so easily now whenever one disagrees with some hard-left line of reasoning that they have lost some of their bite. Not all of it, to be sure: most journalists still fear having such labels applied to them. But Carlson almost gleefully invites them, and then laughs them off.
I began watching Tucker Carlson Tonight in mid-2020. He had just defended me when I became the focal point of a storm of opposition over tweets questioning Black Lives Matter and the defund-the-police agenda. At the time, who else on television was doing what Carlson was doing? Who else was willing to defend a BLM critic and question the sanctity of the organization and movement? Who else raised doubts that the police were not part of some systemic-racism governance scheme? Not many.
Carlson did this a lot: he brought in guests and viewpoints that had come under fire. In the fall of 2020, Glenn Greenwald, the independent-minded journalist and co-founder of The Intercept, questioned the mainstream media line that the Hunter Biden laptop was Russian disinformation. But The Intercept—his own organization—refused to allow him to write about the subject as his conscience demanded. So, he resigned. Time has vindicated Greenwald on this issue. You can find him on Substack now. And you could find him—frequently—on Carlson’s show. Not because he was a conservative; far from it. He was there because he was unafraid to speak his mind. We need journalists like Greenwald and Taibbi, and we need hosts like Carlson who are unafraid to give their reporting an airing.
The point here is not to defend or condone everything on Tucker Carlson’s show, or anyone else’s. One can argue about instances where Carlson may have gone too far, or where the perspectives he platformed were wrong. I cannot condone what he did to Ray Epps, for example. And I often watched his show with a good dose of skepticism—as I do any news media these days—and checked on one thing or another. Some checked out, and some did not. But they all got me to think.
Many celebrate Carlson’s departure, but they shouldn’t. His show was important because it aired a perspective hard to find elsewhere. The expression of diverse viewpoints is crucial to free debate. Journalists who are unafraid and, yes, who occasionally cross lines that shouldn’t be crossed are an important part of a functioning free press. Hate them or love them, they are foundational to the freedom we enjoy. Debate and disagreement are essential for resolving differences through democratic means. Tucker Carlson Tonight was an important part of that. Now it’s gone, and that’s a loss for the country.
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