I am all in favor of having a statute of limitations for dumb things we’ve said, written, or posted in the past, especially in our callow and stupid youth. But I’m not sure even a generous amnesty for past dumbf***ery would cover Tucker Carlson, whose performance of bravura awfulness took place in 2006.
We’re not talking about a night of binge drinking bad liquor at St. George’s. His serial insults, slurs, and bad takes on Bubba the Love Sponge’s show, were made when Tucker was a grown man, an established professional, and the host of a cable television show.
As a result the outrage mobs were martialed with the goal of getting him fired from his job as a Fox News host. In turn, the outrage mobs rallied to his defense after Carlson refused to apologize and defiantly accused his critics of trying to censor his unpopular ideas.
“The left’s main goal, in case you haven’t noticed is controlling what you think,” he said in his defensive monologue. “In order to do that, they have to control the information that you receive.” Fox News is, at least for now, standing behind their top-rated host.
And, indeed, the source of the embarrassing audio is the bounty-hunting Media Matters for America, which quite explicitly does want to shut down Tucker Carlson by having his show cancelled and the host fired. There’s nothing covert or secret about their motives or their agenda.
So, the usual tribes are rallied for our latest ritualized Two Minutes Hate; imprecations are hurled, boycotts threatened, postures struck. And in a few days we will likely forget about it. We’ve been to this play before.
Given all that, it’s probably a very bad idea to weigh in on this. But I’d still like to make a quite modest point, if you can bear with me.
Two things can be true at the same time: (1) MMFA does not want to debate ideas with Tucker Carlson, they want to destroy him and (2) What Carlson said was appalling and vile, running the gamut from racist to crudely misogynistic.
It is also possible to think that (1) Carlson ought not to be fired, (2) he ought to be held accountable and apologize, and (3) conservative shouldn’t die on this hill.
A handful of commentators have tried to stake out this no-man’s land. “Do I think Carlson should lose his job?” wrote Tré Goins-Phillips on Faith Wire. “No. Do I think he should publicly admit he was wrong? Yes, because James 5:16 encourages Christians to ‘confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.’
These opinions will undoubtedly be unpopular and generate outrage from the outrage artists on both sides, especially those that insist that any conservative under fire (especially the Trumpian ones) must be defended at all costs.
Which leads me to this question: how are Carlson’s comments helpful to any cause that he and his fans support? Carlson obviously cares about ratings and keeping his job, but he also evidently cares about advancing some set of values and ideas he and his fans regard as worthwhile. Right?
How do his musings on Bubba Love Sponge’s show further that mission? How does it make his ideas more palatable or attractive? Does it bolster the pro-life movement? Will it strengthen his hand in the 2020 campaign? Or does that even matter?
Carlson now insists that he is standing on principle and, as we know, his fan base loves the fact that “he fights.” But fight for what?
Let’s be clear here: his appearances on Bubba’s show were not about “ideas,” or certainly not ones that he wants to defend now. The Oxford Debating Society this was not; Carlson’s riffs were more Tourette’s than Demosthenes; more shock jock than William F. Buckley. He mocked minorities, crudely insulted women, and seemed to minimize the seriousness of child rape. His rants were so over the top that even Bubba seemed taken aback at times.
On the show, he called Martha Stewart’s daughter, “extremely c*nty;” Arianna Huffington a “pig,” and said that other celebrities were the “biggest white whores in America.” Warming to his gig, he mocked Supreme Court justice Elena Kagan’s appearance, saying “I feel sorry for unattractive women…physically, the problems with her are fundamental. She’s never going to be an attractive woman.” He jokes about abusing women, saying at point that rather than be more sensitive men should tell women “you just need to be quiet and kind of do what you’re told.” In 2007 he branched out to making crude comments and unsubstantiated allegations about a Teen USA contestant.
And then there’s his comments on race. He shares his insight with Bubba that “White men” deserve credit for “creating civilization.” Of Barack Obama, he said: “I don't know how Black he is, but I'm sure he's a good basketball player -- he says he is, anyway.”
In the midst of the Iraq war, Carlson referred to Iraqis as “semiliterate primitive monkeys,” and said that he had “zero sympathy” for Iraqis because they “don’t use toilet paper or forks.” Carlson suggested that Iraqis should “just shut the fuck up and obey” us. He yearned for a presidential candidate who would target “lunatic Muslims who are behaving like animals” and who would say that “I'm going to kill as many of them as I can if you elect me.”
This really only scratches the surface, but suffice it to say that it warrants (at minimum) an apology, which would at some level be sincere, because this is cringe-worthy stuff. Carlson is a smart guy; on some level he has to be embarrassed by this asshattery.
And conservatives have to wonder where defending this sort of thing leads. Perhaps they already know.