Conservative host Tucker Carlson has held his own at Fox News. Carlson’s show has a high share of 21-54-year-olds (the “key demographic”) in the United States. Tucker Carlson also has a majority share of conservative ears.
Liberal activists and political candidates know that too. This is why #HeyTucker is still trending on social media sites like Twitter.
My mother-in-law watches your show every night & she is hesitant (understatement) to take the vaccine
Could you please say on air that you have taken it?
I believe it would change her mind
I think this could save her life
Her name is June if you want to say hi
— Diedrich Bader (@bader_diedrich) July 16, 2021
So what has Tucker Carlson done?
To be short and sweet, he has done nothing. And that inaction is his main problem.
“Tuckems,” as MSNBC host Joy Ried so often calls him, is not talking about the vaccine. However, he is laying out a nightly formula for creating massive distrust and seeding panic.
First, Carlson’s audience of widely conservative viewers hears him explain the government’s role in vaccine distribution. He claims not that it’s bad but that there remain “unanswered questions.”
Journalists and scholars are quick to point out this “bad faith” tactic. Carlson’s questions, to most participants, read as harmful and coercive rather than genuine. To viewers, however, Tucker is a trusted source wondering aloud about their safety.
Tucker Carlson Tonight is compelling. Not because it is politically bent in one direction, but because it is absolutely building on fear-mongering detailed again and again in research.
— 🌱 Ivy Lyons 🦁 (@theIvyLyons) April 27, 2021
Then, he follows these questions with actual fear-mongering. More direct claims of what the government can and will do. Wondering aloud about the ability of the federal government to force you to get a shot.
So why does it matter?
Well, first, it creates distrust. Let’s be real. Of the more than 300 million people in the US, less than 1 million reside in the District of Columbia.
You need to be able to trust your news outlets because you can’t be there. We all agree that the government keeps secrets and can make mistakes. We all know the government has a history of not publicizing or fixing those mistakes.
Fox News has relentlessly undermined the effort to get Americans vaccinated. Over two weeks, 57% of segments about coronavirus vaccines on the network included claims that undermined vaccination efforts.
— Media Matters (@mmfa) July 16, 2021
Journalists can pressure public figures through reporting and transparency. That act can lead to fair consequences — see my cancel culture analysis. However, it requires your knowledge and your trust.
Tucker Carlson can erode trust. And that can’t always be fixed.
Once that trust is gone in media or out of reach for local and national viewers, power shifts to bad actors. People who thread conspiracy theories into newsy-looking shows.
"He sanitizes and legitimizes right-wing conspiratorial thinking, dodges when you try to nail him down on the specifics, then wraps it all in an argument about censorship and free speech…" https://t.co/B4CZQP3Zsj
I read all the Tucker Carlson profiles. None quite gets there.
— Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) July 15, 2021
Those conspiracies then transition into actions. You may feel called not to get a life-saving vaccine because of a segment. Or maybe feel that an election was rigged despite evidence abounding. Maybe, just maybe, you will feel a call to action.
And that is one purpose of journalism.
Journalism doesn’t just exist to inform you. Tucker Carlson, Joy Ried, and all the voices at Politicus don’t just talk about the news, share the news, and then expect nothing.
As a viewer, we expect that knowledge to impact what you do, how you think and make you a little smarter. And as viewers, we tend to follow suit on occasion unconsciously.
The press cannot return to its posture as as disinterested or neutral, writes @perrybaconjr. "Nor should it if Trump and Trumpism remain threats to democracy. It needs to chart a new path forward for a United States with a Trumpian Republican Party." https://t.co/oKy75poC0x
— Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) July 14, 2021
Don’t believe me? See this example.
During the week, I enjoy a side hustle working at a pizza place. This week, a supervisor comes into the restaurant amid a hectic shift. While he’s there, he talks about Carlson’s show and how people on unemployment will find a job here.
I talked about how the minimum wage doesn’t allow full-time workers to pay rent in all fifty states. He then flags that he wouldn’t raise the wage at any establishment. His reply?
“Tucker Carlson’s got you there. They were talking about [economics and] these people on employment are going to need to work. Maybe 80 hours is what we have.”
And that isn’t even close to a discussion on his show’s flirtation with racist dog whistles and undertones. (Sometimes overtones, as is apparent.)
Happy Birthday, MSNBC pic.twitter.com/SeZflIEVrb
— Tucker Carlson (@TuckerCarlson) July 16, 2021
Now, did I expect to hear a direct correlation at a pizza joint? Absolutely not! However, the sprinkling continues.
A patron sparked a conversation on how they won’t be getting vaccinated. They would continue going to work and never answer questions.
They had just gotten off work at an elderly care facility.
The young woman noted that Fauci “isn’t touching her.” And murmured something about the vaccine that I walked away from. (No, there aren’t microchips, I know if. If one appears, I’ll tell the bionic half of me to let the human half know.)
Tucker Carlson floats some if not all of these ideas. And the insidious nature aside, we have to consider what we should do.
Carlson’s words are indefensible, including in courts of law. If you’re listening to him, you’re hearing the words of an often scrutinized host.
A host who wanted us to talk less about race in his early years. (Read his books at your own discretion.) a CNN to MSNBC to Fox host would retell stories of hometowns devoid of culture.
Now, Twitter is trying to change his mind. They want him to talk about the vaccine and convey if he even got it. (He has avoided the question when reporters ask.)
Running out of ways to say this is evil and is getting people sick and killed.
(Vaccines are not declining in their effectiveness very quickly, though they could if these people get their way and it keeps spreading and mutating!) https://t.co/92XePhkca1
— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) July 17, 2021
Or better yet, to admit what scientists already overwhelmingly agree to. To say that these vaccines are lifesaving efforts that have cut our death toll down substantially. And to stop poisoning the discourse.
Because this poison kills.
I’ve enjoyed being an excitable “Gen Z Themfluencer,” working in politics, writing as a student journalist, and discussing what matters most. I currently produce and host podcasts, contribute to hyper-local news outlets and continue my education as a Ph.D. student at the University of Maryland.