In an unusual reproach, Fox News on Monday criticized one of its star personalities, Jeanine Pirro, after the host questioned if a Muslim lawmaker’s religious beliefs undermined her loyalty to the United States.
The network has not yet commented on remarks by another of its prime-time stars, Tucker Carlson, who faced a second day of scrutiny after left-wing advocacy group Media Matters for America exhumed offensive comments he made on a shock-jock radio program about a decade ago.
In excerpts published by Media Matters, Carlson, calling into the “Bubba the Love Sponge” show, mused in 2006 that “arranging a marriage between a 16-year-old and a 27-year-old is not the same as pulling a stranger off the street and raping her.”
On the Monday episode of his 8 p.m. program on Fox News, “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” the host cast himself as a target of a liberal “mob” and suggested that the political left wanted to shut down his network.
“Fox News is behind us as they have been from the very first day,” Carlson told viewers. He added: “We will never bow to the mob. Ever. No matter what.”
As Carlson was speaking, Media Matters released a second batch of excerpts from his appearances on the “Bubba” radio program, including a clip from 2008 in which Carlson described Iraq as “a crappy place filled with a bunch of, you know, semiliterate primitive monkeys — that’s why it wasn’t worth invading.” Calling into the show in 2006, Carlson said of Barack Obama, then an Illinois senator, “How is he black, for one thing? He has one white parent, one black parent.”
Fox News has long grappled with fallout from incendiary remarks by its commentators. In 2017, Pirro was criticized for saying that prosecutors investigating President Donald Trump “need to be taken out in cuffs.” Another host, Laura Ingraham, lost advertisers after she mocked students who survived the Parkland, Florida, school shooting, and after she referred to U.S. facilities holding immigrant children as “essentially summer camps.”
Still, the network has faced unusually sharp scrutiny over the past week, starting with an article in The New Yorker that chronicled the close-knit relationship between Trump’s inner circle and Fox News personnel. One network alumnus in the White House, deputy chief of staff Bill Shine, resigned from his position Friday after a brief, bumpy tenure.
On Saturday night, Pirro, the prosecutor turned politician turned TV host who is close to Trump, attacked Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., in the opening remarks of her weekend show, “Justice With Judge Jeanine.”
“Think about it: Omar wears a hijab,” Pirro said. “Is her adherence to this Islamic doctrine indicative of her adherence to Shariah law, which in itself is antithetical to the United States Constitution?”
Her comments were widely condemned as prejudiced, including by a Fox News producer, Hufsa Kamal, who wrote to Pirro on Twitter: “can you stop spreading this false narrative that somehow Muslims hate America or women who wear a hijab aren’t American enough? You have Muslims working at the same network you do, including myself.”
Fox News responded Sunday, about 24 hours after Pirro’s show was aired. “We strongly condemn Jeanine Pirro’s comments about Rep. Ilhan Omar. They do not reflect those of the network and we have addressed the matter with her directly,” the network said in a statement.
Pirro, whose fiery monologues have helped her show’s ratings, sounded less contrite. “I’ve seen a lot of comments about my opening statement from Saturday night’s show and I did not call Rep. Omar un-American,” she wrote in a separate statement. “My intention was to ask a question and start a debate, but of course because one is Muslim does not mean you don’t support the Constitution.”
Omar caused an uproar in Washington recently after making remarks in Congress that were attacked as anti-Semitic, leading the House to pass a resolution last week condemning intolerance.
Carlson came under fire late Sunday after the initial report by Media Matters, including a clip in which he used lewd language to describe Alexis Stewart, the daughter of Martha Stewart, and said, “I just wanted to give her the spanking she so desperately needs.”
Carlson, a provocateur who enjoys flouting notions of political correctness, has been called out for misogynist comments before. In 2015, he defended his brother after an email exchange showed his brother making deeply sexist remarks about a female aide to Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York.
In a statement before his Monday show, Carlson did not apologize for his “Bubba” comments.
“Media Matters caught me saying something naughty on a radio show more than a decade ago,” Carlson wrote. “Rather than express the usual ritual contrition, how about this: I’m on television every weeknight live for an hour. If you want to know what I think, you can watch. Anyone who disagrees with my views is welcome to come on and explain why.”
Fox News is not the only cable news network that has had to grapple with a star anchor’s troubling past remarks.
Joy-Ann Reid, the MSNBC host, apologized last year after revelations that she had published numerous homophobic posts and jokes on a blog that is now defunct. She also claimed without evidence that the homophobic remarks had been inserted by hackers intent on harming her reputation. MSNBC did not discipline Reid.