Tucker Carlson Rise

Tucker Carlson Rise: A Times examination of the host’s career and singular influence at Fox News shows how his trajectory traces the transformation of American conservatism itself.

By Nicholas Confessore

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Night after night on Fox, Tucker Carlson weaponizes his viewers’ fears and grievances to create what may be the most racist show in the history of cable news. It is also, by some measures, the most successful.

An Inside Look at Fox News

The conservative cable news network is one of the most influential media outlets in the United States.

  • Tucker Carlson: The star TV host stoked white fear to conquer cable news. In the process, he transformed Fox News and became Donald J. Trump’s heir.
  • Empire of Influence: ​​A Times investigation looked at how the Murdochs, the family behind a global media empire that includes Fox News, have destabilized democracy on three continents.
  • What Trump Helped Build: Together, the channel and Donald Trump have redefined the limits of acceptable political discourse.
  • How Russia Uses Fox News: The network has appeared in Russian media as a way to bolster the Kremlin’s narrative about the Ukraine war.
  • Leaving Fox News: After 18 years with the network, the anchor Chris Wallace, who left for the now-shuttered streaming service CNN+, said working at Fox News had become “unsustainable.”

Talking With Tucker Carlson, the Most Powerful Conservative in America

He put Trumpism over Trump

In the White House, Mr. Trump had a symbiotic relationship with Fox: watching, tweeting, talking frequently to the network’s hosts. But that presented Mr. Carlson with a programming problem as his new show ascended to Fox’s marquee 8 p.m. time slot: He wanted to reach the Trump base, he told friends and co-workers, but without being beholden to the mercurial president. The solution: embrace Trumpism, not Mr. Trump.

The show would grasp the emotional core of Mr. Trump’s allure — white panic over the country’s changing ethnic composition — while keeping a carefully measured distance from the president. Mr. Carlson sometimes even criticized the president, and in private, he mocked Mr. Trump’s habit of phoning to head off on-air attacks.

With singular influence — reaching far beyond Fox and the viewers who tune in to his show — Mr. Carlson has filled the vacuum left by Donald J. Trump, championing the former president’s most ardent followers and some of their most extreme views. As fervently as he has raced to the defense of the Jan. 6 rioters, so has he sown doubt and suspicion around immigrants, Black Lives Matter protesters, or Covid-19 vaccines.

A New York Times examination of Mr. Carlson’s career, including interviews with dozens of friends and former colleagues, and an analysis of more than 1,100 episodes of his Fox program, shows how he has grown increasingly sympathetic to the nativist currents coursing through U.S. politics, and how intertwined his rise has been with the transformations of his network and of American conservatism.

Here are some key takeaways from “American Nationalist,” The Times’s three-part series on Mr. Carlson.

Years of talking points from the far-right fringe

Last spring, Mr. Carlson caused an uproar when he promoted on air the notion of the “great replacement” — a racist conspiracy theory, once relegated to the far-right fringe, that Western elites are importing “obedient” immigrant voters to disempower the native-born. The Anti-Defamation League called for his firing, noting that such thinking had helped fuel a string of terrorist attacks.

A look behind The New York Times reports on Tucker Carlson

But this was hardly something new for Mr. Carlson. In more than 400 episodes, the Times analysis found, he has amplified the idea that a cabal of elites wants to force demographic change through immigration.

Mr. Carlson’s producers often trawl the web for supporting material. In the show’s early years, clips would sometimes be sent to the network’s fact-checkers, who would occasionally discover that a story had actually originated farther afield, on a racist or neo-Nazi site like Stormfront.

In a statement, Justin Wells, a senior executive producer overseeing Mr. Carlson’s show, defended the host’s rhetoric and choice of topics: “Tucker Carlson’s programming embraces a diversity of thought and presents various points of view in an industry where contrarian thought and the search for truth is often ignored.”

An Inside Look at Fox News

The conservative cable news network is one of the most influential media outlets in the United States.

  • Tucker Carlson: The star TV host stoked white fear to conquer cable news. In the process, he transformed Fox News and became Donald J. Trump’s heir.
  • Empire of Influence: ​​A Times investigation looked at how the Murdochs, the family behind a global media empire that includes Fox News, have destabilized democracy on three continents.
  • What Trump Helped Build: Together, the channel and Donald Trump have redefined the limits of acceptable political discourse.
  • How Russia Uses Fox News: The network has appeared in Russian media as a way to bolster the Kremlin’s narrative about the Ukraine war.
  • Leaving Fox News: After 18 years with the network, the anchor Chris Wallace, who left for the now-shuttered streaming service CNN+, said working at Fox News had become “unsustainable.”

He put Trumpism over Trump

In the White House, Mr. Trump had a symbiotic relationship with Fox: watching, tweeting, talking frequently to the network’s hosts. But that presented Mr. Carlson with a programming problem as his new show ascended to Fox’s marquee 8 p.m. time slot: He wanted to reach the Trump base, he told friends and co-workers, but without being beholden to the mercurial president. The solution: embrace Trumpism, not Mr. Trump.

The show would grasp the emotional core of Mr. Trump’s allure — white panic over the country’s changing ethnic composition — while keeping a carefully measured distance from the president. Mr. Carlson sometimes even criticized the president, and in private, he mocked Mr. Trump’s habit of phoning to head off on-air attacks.

 

 

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