Ideas

Opinion | Luke O’Neil

Hey Fox, give Tucker Carlson a raise

FILE - In this March 2, 2017, file photo, Tucker Carlson, host of "Tucker Carlson Tonight," poses for photos in a Fox News Channel studio in New York. Some advertisers say they are leaving conservative host Carlson's show following his remarks referring to immigrants as “the world’s poor.” It’s the latest example of sponsors leaving a Fox News Channel show after controversy, but experts say the flap is likely to blow over. So far, the biggest advertisers are sticking with him and his show, “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
RICHARD DREW/ASSOCIATED PRESS/FILE
Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

TUCKER CARLSON ISN’T going anywhere. Despite some confusion this week over whether or not the embattled Fox News host would take some time off after Media Matters unearthed sexist, racist, and otherwise offensive comments he made on a shock jock radio program several years ago, it appears that Carlson — unlike Bill O’Reilly and Laura Ingraham during past controversies — won’t be taking a spontaneous breather to regroup. Why would he? In the eyes of Fox News he’s done nothing wrong.

The sustained pressure on those who advertise on Carlson’s program — their numbers steadily dwindling since December when he said on his show that immigrants made America “poorer and dirtier,” among other things — comes as Fox News was set to have a big advertisers’ pitch meeting in New York on Wednesday. On Tuesday night’s program, Carlson’s show aired only 11 and a half minutes of commercials, down two minutes from the night before.

It remains unclear if the recordings that have since emerged — including clips posted on Wednesday of Carlson fantasizing about having sex with, and degrading, teenage beauty contestants — will ultimately convince the network to reconsider.

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But I think Fox should keep him.

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Better yet, Fox should be discussing giving Carlson a raise.

Nearly everything that Carlson said in the past — from delighting in the idea of the statutory rape of young boys, to calling women “extremely primitive,” to casual homophobia and racism — fits well within the parameters or discourse on the right everywhere from popular sites like Barstool Sports to the mutterings of Donald Trump. Statements Carlson made on the radio program about Iraqis being “semi-literate primitive monkeys” who should “shut the f--- up and obey,” are only somewhat blunter than the run-of-the-mill xenophobia and Islamophobia you can hear on his white nationalist hour every night.

What’s more, they’re in line with what almost half of the country thinks. A Pew Research study from 2017 found that half of American adults said Islam was not a “part of mainstream society.” Forty-four percent said that there is a “natural conflict between Islam and democracy.”

So what’s Fox News got to be nervous about? Carlson’s regular demonization of migrants hoping to find asylum in the US are virtually indistinguishable from the official policy line from the White House, and if anything, not quite as harsh as those of the president. Just before the 2018 midterm elections, “illegal immigration” was ranked as the number one national problem, according to likely Republican voters, Pew found.

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Ask yourself this: If Fox News had been able to secure Donald Trump for an hourly talk show every night, what do you think it would sound like? Would they fire him for saying things that 42 percent of Americans are in support of? Of course not. They’d move Heaven and Earth for such a chance.

Nor have any of the controversies surrounding Carlson seemed to have hurt his ratings. Throughout 2019, Carlson’s program has averaged almost 3 million viewers per episode, “41 percent more than Chris Hayes on MSNBC and a whopping 122 percent more than CNN’s Anderson Cooper,” according to the Wrap. That audience is larger than anything else on cable in that time slot.

Fox News viewers aren’t tuning into Carlson or Hannity or Pirro’s shows in spite of the steady stream of xenophobia and racism and jingoism. They’re tuning in because of it. And efforts to boycott Carlson’s program are likely to embolden the Trump base, who are motivated by nothing more now than owning the libs, and see nothing worse than a show of weakness. Roughly half of Americans last year said they prefer politicians who stick to their positions, and 54 percent of Republicans said they preferred ones who refused to compromise.

So he’s saying all the right things. Why would he be fired?

On Monday, Carlson made it clear that the station was supporting him, at that point, anyway, much as Fox had been after the December uproar.

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“It is a shame that left-wing advocacy groups, under the guise of being supposed ‘media watchdogs,’ weaponize social media against companies in an effort to stifle free speech,” Fox said at the time.

Carlson reiterated later in the week, “Fox News is behind us, as they have been since the very first day.”

As of midweek Carlson is saying he’s being attacked by a George Soros-funded leftwing mob, and that he won’t be censored. This is a boon to his ratings too. Never mind all the racism. If anything else, it’s personal victimization that motivates everyone on the right, from the president, to aggrieved white men, to Fox News’s entire lineup of hosts.

That sort of thing doesn’t always play well with advertisers, who of course want to sell things to the worst people alive but don’t like being directly associated with them. But it shouldn’t matter to Fox News, because many of Carlson’s lost advertisers have simply shifted their buys to elsewhere on the network.

Fox would do well to think of Carlson then as a loss leader, the product a business may lose money on, but motivates customers to walk through the door. You can make a lot of money selling the most vile opinions imaginable in America. It’s a formula that’s served Fox News very well for decades. There’s no reason for them to stop now.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated Tucker Carlson’s whereabouts. The article has been updated to note he is not on vacation.

Luke O’Neil is a journalist from Massachusetts who writes the newsletter “Welcome to Hell World.” Follow him on Twitter @lukeoneil47.