That’s just about right. But what’s truer is that with Trump gone, Carlson has become the most audible mouth in the agitation-provocation space.
Like Trump, he labors to produce the incendiary and infuriating to attract attention and the very commendations he found himself buried neck-high in after his monologue. He lives to generate outrage from Democrats and the hall monitors at Media Matters for America. Has the #firetuckercarlson hashtag started to trend on Twitter? From Carlson’s point of view, nothing could be better. Has Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple, who has become Tucker’s Inspector Javert, started making calls to child protective services to see if people are actually phoning in reports of children being abused because their parents have forced masks on them? Bait taken. The Anti-Defamation League has called for his sacking for his “replacement theory“ segment? All the better! The indictments against him, the hashtags, all of those Wemple pieces attacking him, and Media Matters’ saturation coverage of Carlson’s show work better to connect him to potentially new audiences and seal his appeal with regulars than a billboard in Times Square or on the Sunset Strip might. Like Trump before him, the fact that certain people hate Carlson only endears him to others. Like Trump before him, Carlson’s premeditated lunacy serves as a promise that newer, even more lunatic lunacy is forthcoming. And like Trump, Carlson has mastered the art of putting his audience on the edge of its seat in anticipation of what he’s going to say next.
Saying wild things to own the libs is not something Carlson just stumbled on. He’s been mining the outré vein for at least 15 years as this Media Matters chronology of his wildest comments on air shows (see also these round-ups at Insider and the Independent). If Carlson’s comments grate liberal ears more today than they previously did, perhaps it’s because he’s no longer competing with Trump for honors. It’s almost as if the kayfabe of news requires somebody like Carlson or Trump or Steve Bannon or Bill O’Reilly or Glenn Beck or Pat Buchanan to wave the flag of nuttism for the amusement of the red-staters and the protestations of the blues. If Carlson were to retire tomorrow, a new villain (or hero, depending on your political temperament) of discourse would rise to take his place.
Was podcaster Joe Rogan channeling Carlson this week when he recently advised young, healthy people to avoid the Covid-19 vaccine? It’s almost a miracle that Rogan beat Carlson to the half-logic of his formulation, which was guaranteed to produce howls from all the usual places. If you want to see liberals squirm—and what non-liberal doesn’t—then the media response to Rogan’s take was better than paid advertising. Even Trump nemesis Anthony Fauci reprimanded Rogan, which will work as a kind of counter-endorsement for the podcaster.
Half-baked ideas like those offered by Carlson and Rogan only stand to attract a minority audience, but in today’s media world, you can make a lot of money serving the correct minority. After all, we elected a minority president in 2016 and gave him the run of the country.
What do you do with a problem like Tucker Carlson? Well, to begin with, avoid framing your relationship with Carlson’s utterances as a problem. He depends on blue-state counteraction to his actions every bit as much as Trump did for his, and he’s no more likely to surrender his nightly revilements than our former president was to surrender his. Fox isn’t going to fire him for his effrontery, which was argued in this space last week. As long as Carlson can cause liberals pain and give his supporters a little pleasure by rolling his forefinger and thumb together, he will continue apace. Feel free to chart his outrages and publicize them, as we all must be accountable for what we say and do. Even call for his firing if that makes you feel good. But if you continue to give him access to your nerve tissue to do that thing that he does so well, then the onus is on you.
Everything Chris Cuomo says and does pinches my nerves, so I’m one to talk. Send analgesics to [email protected]. My email alerts admire Wolf Blitzer. Not his work. Just his name. My Twitter wears the same glasses as Jake Tapper. My RSS feed grew up on Joe Pyne.