The fact that I frequently point out when Fox News’ Tucker Carlson makes a false statement makes it fair to notice when he makes a true statement. On Thursday night, he did so.
As has become a familiar pattern for the network, he began the show enthusiastically promoting a Republican who faces a difficult race in the upcoming midterms. The candidate endorsements Carlson has made tend to be more closely aligned with his own far-right politics, whereas his colleague Sean Hannity has endorsed a broad range of candidates. During his show Thursday, Kari Lake was featured as the Arizona gubernatorial candidate.
Prior to her entry into politics, Lake worked as an anchor for local television news in Phoenix for over a decade. According to Carlson, this provided her with a unique insight into the dangers of the American media.
According to Carlson, the candidate has spent 30 years in the television news industry. In other words, when Kari Lake claims that the media is corrupt, she is not making a guess. Over the course of decades, she lived right in the center of the action.”
With his prior stints on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, as well as print and online publications, Carlson has lived right in the center of “the media” for decades.
(I would be curious as to whether he had any knowledge of Lake’s work before she ran for office.) However, Carlson wanted the audience to comprehend Lake as a true media insider so he could establish his desired rhetorical point, which is a common fate for those who are honored on his show. In other words, the news media fear Lake as a result of her challenge to their hegemony.
“They are more than just annoying,” he said of the “liberal media.” They are the key to the functioning of the entire system. As a result, he said, “it is essential to the people in power that the so-called news coverage they see and read is true, that it conveys facts rather than crude, North Korean-style political propaganda. However, Kari Lake knows better.”
Now we get to the point where Carlson made a valid observation. During the segment, Carlson showed a clip of Lake insulting a CNN reporter who had hoped to ask her questions. Is there any reason why she should not insult them? It is entirely the respect accorded to outlets such as CNN that determines the power of those outlets.
“They only have power because we grant them it, because we treat them as real people,” he explained. “…They are only possible if we participate in them.”. By attacking the media, Kari Lake is really standing up to institutional authority.”
There is no doubt that that paragraph right there is accurate. Media power is derived from the fact that their – our – audience accepts them as legitimate. Moreover, Lake is attacking the institutional power held by the media.
Where Carlson is dangerously wrong is in how he explains the importance of that power. Among the roles of the media is to challenge power and help Americans understand what is true and what is false. Media respect is in part a function of tradition and in part a function of recognizing the importance of this role.
There should be institutions outside the government willing to examine the power held by elected officials, businesses, and even those in the media.
There is no doubt that this is an ideal, and the media have sometimes failed to live up to it. Nevertheless, Carlson is not saying that the media do not deserve respect because they have not adhered to their ideals.
He’s simply waving them all away as biased and political and grasping because, in keeping with a lengthy tradition of powerful people unwilling to be held to account, he doesn’t want the media to challenge those with power or to tell the truth.
Just as he is trying to eviscerate every other institution that stands in the way of his desired political outcomes, he is dealing the final blow to an industry that is already struggling to maintain the confidence of its intended audience.
In fact, Carlson, not Lake, is the media insider who is determined to rip the industry apart from within. His power is derived from the collapse of public confidence in the media, often put down to isolated and cherry-picked examples of mistakes, but more likely the result of fragmentation of the media.
By now, there is no shortage of outlets or television hosts willing to provide solely that type of accountability for their opponents.
Okay, that’s fine. According to Carlson, the media should be gutted, and he is using Lake to describe the process in which he is personally involved. What is the next step?
The question was also answered by Carlson.
“Assuming that all votes are counted — and we should never take that on faith. We should never take that on faith; if this is a democracy, we’ve an absolute right to have it proven to us that the election was fair,” said Carlson. “If it is fair, Kari Lake’s going to win.”
Though I am aware of the futility of typing these words, I must do so anyway: That is not true. Polling indicates that Lake does not have a consistent or wide lead; even pollsters with a right-leaning bias indicate that the race is close.
Lake has a chance of winning. According to FiveThirtyEight, that’s a bit more likely than her losing. However, she might lose, even in a fair election – and I don’t see any reason why this isn’t a fair election.
It’s amazing how Carlson opened the door. In the event that you do not trust myself or FiveThirtyEight, but do trust Lake and Carlson, then that will seem reasonable to you. As Carlson pointed out earlier in the segment, Lake’s rejection of the 2020 election results is eminently reasonable, despite her obvious inconsistency and misguided position.
In order to argue that the 2020 election was tainted by fraud, one must ignore the available evidence. There is no need to prove that an election was fair if there is no evidence of impropriety; the burden should rest with those who claim that it was not. Nevertheless, now that we have cast the entire media in a negative light, there is no need for that caution, and Lake is perfectly entitled to make false statements regarding the election.
The moment you reject objectivity and accountability, you enter a realm where emotion and rhetoric are dominant – and that is precisely where Carlson wishes to operate. In order to enable him to reshape American politics as he sees fit.
As a member of the media, Carlson possesses power only as a result of the power he receives from his audience. He is pursuing a fantasy that can only last as long as we continue to participate in it. Including myself, I am strengthening his position by writing this.
However, it is my responsibility to question his authority and to challenge it, to judge his words in light of reality. The fact that you are reading this indicates that you find it valuable. Nevertheless, this dynamic is unbalanced in his favor, and thus his desired outcomes are favored.