I really thought I’d written my last words on Tucker Carlson. Last week, after Fox fired him, I told him not to let the door hit him in the ass. But the New York Times article exposing a racist Carlson text, and suggesting that it’s what got him fired, demands at least a little context.
I don’t know what the last straw was for Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch. There may be other texts viler than the one the Times uncovered here, in which Carlson laments the fact that he enjoyed seeing three “Trump guys…pounding the living shit” out of an “Antifa kid,” at least partly because three against one “is not how white men fight.” Here’s the whole thing:
A couple of weeks ago, I was watching video of people fighting on the street in Washington. A group of Trump guys surrounded an Antifa kid and started pounding the living shit out of him. It was three against one, at least. Jumping a guy like that is dishonorable obviously. It’s not how white men fight. Yet suddenly I found myself rooting for the mob against the man, hoping they’d hit him harder, kill him. I really wanted them to hurt the kid. I could taste it. Then somewhere deep in my brain, an alarm went off: this isn’t good for me. I’m becoming something I don’t want to be. The Antifa creep is a human being. Much as I despise what he says and does, much as I’m sure I’d hate him personally if I knew him, I shouldn’t gloat over his suffering. I should be bothered by it. I should remember that somewhere somebody probably loves this kid, and would be crushed if he was killed. If I don’t care about those things, if I reduce people to their politics, how am I better than he is?
It’s odious. Yet Carlson said more racist things regularly on his former show. MSNBC’s Mehdi Hasan put together a compilation of his most ludicrous, white supremacist segments on Sunday. He frequently pitched the “great replacement” theory—that white Americans are being displaced by immigrants—that helped inspire several mass shootings, said immigrants were making the country “dirtier,” mocked “white supremacy” as a conspiracy theory, and never missed an opportunity to unfairly skewer Black journalists and elected officials, with a certain glee.
Also, the notion that a group of men savaging an individual is “not how white men fight” is ludicrous and offensive. Remember lynching, Carlson? Emmett Till? The white gang yelling the N-word who chased Michael Griffith into traffic, and beat another Black man almost to death, in Howard Beach, Brooklyn, in 1986? The Texas white supremacists who murdered James Byrd Jr. by dragging him behind their truck in 1998? I could go on, but you get the idea. Anyone remotely conscious knows that white cowards have regularly worked in packs to terrorize people, often Black people.
But the text also reminded me of a bizarre Carlson story from his relatively brief tenure at MSNBC, in 2007. He told his colleagues Joe Scarborough and Dan Abrams that a gay man once made a pass at him, in a Georgetown park bathroom, and that he and a friend went back and found the guy and “bashed his head.” If you watch the clip, you can see that Abrams and Scarborough find the claim ridiculous and laugh at Carlson, which is often what he most deserves. They don’t believe him, about any of it.
I was struck at the time that there was a whiff of gay panic in the story. Carlson, you’ll recall, memorialized in his high school yearbook that he was a member of the “Dan White society,” presumably commemorating the man who murdered San Francisco’s first gay supervisor, Harvey Milk, in 1978, and who later tried to claim he did it partly out of “gay panic.”
Carlson exudes a fragile, panicky masculinity in so many ways, most recently in his advocacy of “testicle tanning” to combat American men’s declining testosterone levels. In some ways, he’s the television equivalent of Donald Trump. They’re both soft, pampered white scions of wealth who delight in bullying others and degrading women—in Carlson’s case by regularly using the C-word and other slurs, in Trump’s by sexually harassing and even assaulting at least two dozen women. Men who are secure in their so-called manhood don’t do that. TFG and TFFG—the former Fox guy—are products of a misogynist and, yes, white supremacist culture that twists and destroys even white men, while making others suffer more.
Footnote? Carlson claims he and a friend went back and bashed the supposed gay guy. That was two against one, Tucker. Exactly the way white men fight. Even though I don’t believe that fight happened.
I’m not even dealing with the performative “horror” at his own enjoyment of the beatdown he watched, at the end of the text. If he had any of that self-awareness, he wouldn’t have hosted the show he did for six and a half years, which did nothing but reduce people to their politics, and bludgeon them, joined by his audience of millions. (My colleague Elie Mystal describes the violent threats that followed a Carlson mention here.)
Anyway, we know Carlson is a racist, a misogynist, and a liar. I’m going to try to ignore him from now on, but it’s important to understand why he got fired. I don’t know the exact answer, but I do know it wasn’t about racism. That was the essence of the White Power Hour that Fox let him host for far too long.