Award-winning American playwright Edward Albee riffed on an old song written for the Disney cartoon The Three Little Pigs when he titled his volcanic stage play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? It’s a question worthy of being asked about a particular FOX News host and political pundit: who’s afraid of Tucker Carlson?
The answer is almost literally everyone on the American left.
Since the debut of his show, Tucker Carlson Tonight, five years ago on FOX News, when he replaced Bill O’Reilly, Carlson has gone on to create arguably the smartest, best-written, and most incisive conservative commentary on television – as well as the most incendiary. He’s been reading the tea leaves of the current, unprecedented progressive power grab and the left’s all-out assault on amendments one and two for years – and has pulled no punches in that fight. His oft-repeated tagline proudly states that he is “the sworn enemy of lying, pomposity, smugness, and groupthink,” an ethos that now seems too mild, if anything, in these days of blitzkrieg overhaul of traditional American values.
This willingness to punch back against the well-coordinated hailstorm of leftist attacks on the country and on him personally is something Carlson has in common with another indefatigable warrior of the right – former President Donald J. Trump. Both men know the stakes have never been higher, and both men have thrown themselves into the fray without apology – again and again. They are both primary targets of woke progressives. Also, they both reserve withering scorn not only for the fascistic encroachments of the left and the Biden administration but also for members of the Republican party they see as weak, indifferent, or sell-outs to the cause of conservatism and the concerns of the middle and lower classes.
Popularity Has Its Price
Carlson reigns as the current king of cable news, routinely holding the top spot as the number one most-watched cable news show in America – a distinction he sometimes jockeys for against network colleague Sean Hannity. Both men – and the network as a whole – lost viewership in the months following the controversial FOX News election night debacle when it called the state of Arizona early enough to have directly impacted voter turnout in the waning hours the polls were open in that state. This was unforgivable to a vast swath of conservatives and caused a flight from FOX News from which the cable news channel is only now recovering – and one from which MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow temporarily benefited.
But being number one comes with a target Carlson wears on his back nightly. In 2018, an Antifa-organized group of thugs doxed Carlson and then sent a mob to surround his former home while he was at work. His wife had to call 911 while hiding in a closet. Carlson refused to flee. But after a year of receiving daily death threats and his house being vandalized, he decided that with four children, it just wasn’t worth it. He moved from the neighborhood in which he’d raised his kids, even as The New York Times was preparing an article which would include pictures of his new residence – because that’s what a formerly respected newspaper that has mutated into a propaganda machine does in 2020 and 2021. Carlson called out the “paper of record” on-air – and the story never ran.
Some might even consider Carlson the smartest man in cable TV news, and he is undoubtedly impassioned. He sees the hypocrisy on both sides of the political aisle and the American middle class atrophying in between from a concerted effort by the elite and the government to punch down – and it boils his blood. He is usually justifiably alarmed, blisteringly insulting to those in power, and regularly treads a line that he likely knows will inflame his detractors.
Recently he discussed “replacement theory” on-air – the well-established idea embraced by the left for over a decade that increased immigration would ultimately hand Democrats keys to Washington, D.C. they’d never have to turn in. However, the theory’s trajectory has been circuitous as increasing numbers of Black and Hispanic Americans are defecting from a radicalized Democratic party with which they’ve become disenchanted.
But the Biden administration appears to be doubling down anyway on the promise of handing a permanent supermajority to Democrats and the control of all three branches of government. The chaos on our Southern border is at once the direct result of progressives trying to both repudiate Trump and his “America First” policies and to make voting in the future a meaningless act with a foregone conclusion.
Carlson sees it for what it is – a humanitarian crisis with a profoundly cynical objective – and spoke the phrase he isn’t allowed to say: replacement theory. Naturally, he was immediately attacked as racist by organized groups he identifies as funded by George Soros, Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg, and the Ford Foundation. And naturally, in concert, they all postured virtuously in a loud but abbreviated media scream that he should be taken off the air – to no avail.
This profoundly anti-American impulse to silence rather than debate one’s ideological nemeses strikes at the heart of the First Amendment – something of which Carlson is a staunch defender, as he insists every American should be. That something as obvious as our right to free speech needs to be defended nightly on-air by a cable TV news host is proof of how close to the edge we are in America and how quickly we’ve arrived here.
Successive efforts to destroy this influential pundit have managed to strip him of advertisers in an America in which woke corporations now genuflect to the left. Mike Lindell’s My Pillow now seems like the last advertiser standing – another conservative who refuses to apologize.
The Murdoch family, which owns FOX, has continued to support Carlson under withering criticism and flights of flaming, Fourth Estate arrows from all sides. The Murdochs have actually tripled down on their bet. They seem to understand that Carlson is seen by his viewers as giving voice to the voiceless – which is good for ratings and profits.
Along with a just-announced docuseries streaming on Fox Nation called Tucker Carlson Originals, the host recently launched another show, slotted for daytime, called Tucker Carlson Today. This format allows him to take off his coat and tie and engage in sustained, in-depth conversations with sundry thoughtful Americans. A recent conservative guest, Glenn Elmer, asked, “what’s left to conserve?” He seemed to be insisting that it is time for Republicans to stop trying to conserve an America that no longer exists in this age of galloping socio-fascism and begin the hard work of counter-revolution before it’s too late. Whether he derived his urgency from Carlson or the other way around, both men are sounding the alarm.
Carlson tries hard to keep his sense of humor in a mirthless age. His strange chuckle often cuts through at the oddest moments – a natural reaction to the Kafka-esque absurdities of this American moment. He was the first conservative host to take COVID-19 seriously. Once the data was in, he was also among the first to excoriate the poor decision-making that resulted – including lockdowns, masking, and giving professional old person, Anthony Fauci, a platform to serially contradict himself. Carlson nightly exposes the lies of the left, including “Russian collusion,” “armed insurrection,” “peaceful protests,” and “Jim Crow racism.”
Some have whispered of a run for the presidency – but this seems unlikely at present. Carlson appeared to have the ear of the previous president while causing those of our current president to burn nightly. He traffics in the territory – but as a pedestrian observing the break-neck race rather than as a driver. After having founded the Daily Caller and being let go at a long-gone CNN stint called Crossfire – which featured an anachronism known as debate between a conservative and a liberal – Carlson has arrived where he may have belonged all along.
He is the only cable news host of any stripe willing to admit when he’s wrong. He apologized to liberal feminist Naomi Wolf on-air recently for having made reductive assumptions about her beliefs and, earlier this year, for having falsely stated that a particular deceased individual had voted in the election. These admissions and his refusal to back down against the sustained and coordinated assaults of woke cancel culture might even look like a kind of courage.
Is Tucker Carlson uncancelable? Unlikely. The forces arrayed against him are myriad and mighty. But is he brave? That is for America to decide – but he would probably laugh his strange laugh at the suggestion.
Read more from Pennel Bird.