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Every night more than 3 million people tune in to Tucker Carlson's show on the Fox News channel – the most-watched cable news show last year. A new analysis from The New York Times explores how Carlson is using his platform. Nick Confessore, a Times' political and investigative reporter and the author of the assessment, joins Amna Nawaz to discuss.
Every night, more than three million people tune in to Tucker Carlson show on the FOX News Channel. It is the most watched cable news show last year. Last year, it was.
A new analysis from The New York Times explores how Carlson is using his platform.
Amna Nawaz has more.
Judy, as The New York Times describes it, for the past five years and more than 1,100 hours of TV, Carlson's ratings success has been built by weaponizing fears and grievances of his audience to create — quote — "what may be the most racist show in the history of cable news."
To help explain Carlson's influence, Nick Confessore story joins us. He's a political and investigative reporter at The New York Times and the author of that assessment.
Nick, welcome back to the "NewsHour." Thanks for making the time.
I think it's fair to say part of Mr. Carlson's reading success is built on leaning into sort of an us-vs.-them narrative. He seems to relish the fight and the criticism and attention, so much so, in fact, when your articles came out, he tweeted a photo of himself sort of gleefully holding up the front page of The New York Times.
I guess my first question is, why devote so much time and energy to him? Are you worried at all about feeding that narrative?
Nick Confessore, The New York Times:
It's a great question, Amna.
Look, he's a singularly important person in the modern right, right now. He is the inheritor of the MAGA tradition, of the nativist tradition that Donald Trump seized and rode to the White House. He's the highest rated cable show host in history.
And it's also the most racist show in history. He has done something that no other host has ever done. And I'm not saying that lightly. It's a big claim. And I will tell you what it's based on services.
Every night, that show teaches fear and loathing. He may claim to be a person who opposes racism and prejudice, but what the show tells you every night is to be afraid, to be afraid of people who are in the street asking for police officers to not shoot Black people, be afraid of Afghan refugees who helped us in the war who are coming over here now, to be afraid of Dr. Fauci, and to be afraid of immigration in general, which he posits is part of a cabal, a plot to destroy Western civilization.
Nick, it's interesting, because these have not always been his views.
We should remind folks he's had a long history, a long career in television. He's been through multiple networks. He had show at MSNBC and CNN, right here on PBS, a short-lived show as well. He was offering sort of a conservative, libertarian point of view.
But you have written that he's never written extensively about exactly when and why his views changed, but clues are sprinkled throughout his career. So tell me about those clues. How do you understand that evolution of what brought him to his views today?
Well, if you watched his stated views over time, what really surprised me in the reporting we did was how far back it goes.
For the first few years of his careers in his 20s, when he was a rising magazine writer, he wasn't much of an ideologue. He was more of a humorist. And then, after 9/11, pretty soon after that, he was staking out pretty stern views on immigration, at the time, more conventional views against immigration, saying, we need better border security after 9/11, not a crazy idea, widely shared at the time.
Within a few years after that, on his MSNBC show, he's saying, of course, immigration at the Southern border is an invasion. How could you deny that? It's an invasion. And over time, after that, he bombs out of cable for the first time. He starts "The Daily Caller."
And within "The Daily Caller," that magazine, there's a debate there among the traditional kinds of conservatism, the Reagan era style conservatism, and the new populism that even before Donald Trump kind of runs for president is bubbling up on the right and is sort of becoming the dominant force.
He sees that. He seizes it. He's early to see that Donald Trump has what it takes to win the nomination and the presidency. And he more or less embraces the core idea of Trumpism, which is that these people are coming and taking your country away from you, and you should be afraid.
So, among some of that messaging, right, featured prominently and frequently on his show, phrases and ideas that are really core to the racist white nationalist movement, right, the idea that people who believe this should be a homeland just for white people.
You actually feature a sort of montage of some of those moments in your reporting. Just take a listen to this clip.
Tucker Carlson, FOX News:
So anti-white racism is exploding across the country.
White men, they are the problem. They hate white men more than they hate global warming. Those white men, Raytheon said, must — quote — "step aside" for a minority.
As soon as we get rid of all these white men, everything will be great. White backlash. White resistance, white, white, white, white, white, meaning evil, cruel and bigoted. So shut up, white man.
Nick, why is this a message that FOX would want on its air?
It's great for ratings. FOX's audience is only 8 percent nonwhite.
And it's — I believe it's 80 percent 55 and older. So it's predominantly an old white audience, people who grew up in a time when this country was much less diverse, when white people were 80 percent of the country, 70 percent of the country. And I think there's fear there. There's anxiety about losing power, of losing preeminence in American public life and politics.
And what he's done — and the reason — it's not just the anti-white racism kind of rhetoric on the show. He's literally taking ideas that began on the very far right, on arcane corners of the Internet, on neo-Nazi sites, replacement theory, the idea that there's a cabal in America of elite leaders and business leaders and politicians who are not just in favor of more immigration.
They're trying to populate the country with obedient voters from the — quote, unquote — "Third World," so that they can have control of the country. That's not having an argument about borders and immigration policy. That's taking a white nationalist conspiracy theory and putting it on the air on TV's top rated cable show.
Nick, he's also aggressively defended January 6 insurrectionists and played down how violent that day actually was.
On that point, actually, like a lot of programming on FOX, he's very much in line with the Republican Party and their message. What did your reporting find about that relationship between the GOP and Tucker Carlson?
Look, I would say he is the high priest of Trumpism.
President Trump has been out of office since January 2021. He's been banned from Twitter and Facebook for a while. I think Tucker Carlson has filled the vacuum, kind of the media vacuum Trump's absence. And one way he has done it is to re-spin what happened on January 6 as a new lost cause. And he's done it on half the episodes he did.
Almost half the episodes in 2021, he basically kind of recaptured and restated what happened. He said that these people were victims, they were lured in as part of a honeypot scheme entrapment by the FBI, they had real grievances because the election really was stolen, and nothing really bad happened that day.
He's told that story over and over and over again. He's tried to make the aggressors on January 6 into the victims.
What about a response from Tucker Carlson himself or from FOX? Have you gotten that in response to your reporting?
Yes, he declined an interview. He said on his show last week that I was trying to shut him up, that I'm a bad dinner party guest, which is really unfair. I mean, I'm a really fun dinner party guest. I'm a really good time at dinners.
He says now he hasn't read the story. He seems very well-informed about the story from comments he's made since it came out. I don't know if he's read it. FOX defends him. But, of course, they defend him.
He's the money guy. He's brought in more advertising revenue in every year since 2018 than any other show on FOX, despite all those ad boycotts.
That is Nick Confessore, investigative reporter from The New York Times, joining us tonight.
Nick, always good to see you. Thank you.
It's a pleasure. Thank you.
Watch the Full Episode
Amna Nawaz joined PBS NewsHour in April 2018 and serves as the program's chief correspondent and primary substitute anchor.
Matt Loffman is the PBS NewsHour's Deputy Senior Politics Producer
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