I want to tell you a story about Tucker Carlson, the serial liar and useful Putin idiot who has now pulled off the hat trick of being fired by three media outlets: CNN (in 2005), MSNBC (in 2008), and Fox News (this week, without warning).
Since nobody with real knowledge has yet surfaced to explain why he was summarily yanked off his primetime perch, I’ll content myself with this traipse down memory lane.
Back in 2009, Tucker was feted as a guest speaker in the august quarters of St. Anthony Hall – a University of Pennsylvania fraternity heavily populated by comely young preppies dressed in rep ties and blazers and beige chinos. They all looked like Tucker, albeit several decades younger; it was a veritable callback to a bygone era when WASP bros ruled the land. The frat brothers signaled their approval for Tucker not by clapping, but by snapping their fingers. Whenever he got off a good line, I felt like I was dwelling in a forest of crickets.
This line was a finger-snapper: “I’m a radical small government guy.”
Right, because it’s “small government” to defend and celebrate a genocidal dictator who uses government muscle to jail and poison his dissenters. As Tucker remarked on the air shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, “Why do I have to hate Putin so much? Why does permanent Washington hate him so much?”
Another 2009 finger-snapper: We need the press to tell us the truth.
Right, because recently this was Tucker’s truth: The Jan. 6 insurrectionists were persecuted victims of corrupt law enforcement provocateurs who, in cahoots with “elites,” suppressed a noble uprising. Or something like that.
This too was a finger-snapper: “The Republican party doesn’t know what it is…completely pathetic…The Republicans have failed in truly every sense.”
He didn’t float any ideas for a Republican comeback, but rest assured that if he had done so, during that gig in 2009, the message would not have been fascist-adjacent (as evidenced in his MAGA years) or trivial to the point of pitiable hilarity (like this culture-war harrumph a few months ago: “Woke m&ms have returned. The green m&m got her boots back, but is, apparently, a lesbian maybe? And there’s also a plus-size obese purple m&ms, we’re gonna cover that of course. ‘Cause that’s what we do”).
So as we continue to speculate about why Tucker was fired (did the private messages unearthed in the Dominion lawsuit do him in? Are there unexploded bombshells in the impending Smartmatic lawsuit?), and as we speculate about where he might pop up next (memo to self: I don’t care), it does seem fair to wonder what the hell happened to his mind.
Seriously, he used to be sane. He didn’t lament about the so-called crisis of masculinity and pitch a solution he called “testicle tanning.” Back in the late 1990s he was a highly credible magazine writer. He didn’t publicly lie with every breath. The guy started his career as a fact-checker, for Pete’s sake.
Columbia Journalism Review gave us the road map a few years ago: “If we can figure out how an intelligent writer and conservative can go from writing National Magazine Award–nominated articles to shouting…on Fox News, perhaps we can understand what is happening to this country.”
Ah, there it is!
Fox spent three decades crafting – and monetizing – a safe space for older white under-educated snowflakes to nurse their racist and cultural grievances. Tucker saw the state of play; he put his brains in storage and followed the money. In the words of ex-Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, “Tucker Carlson wasn’t a zealot who held extreme beliefs. Tucker Carlson was a con man who held no beliefs. He was singularly, besides Donald Trump, the most cynical performer on all of television.”
Now he has been stomped by the beast he rode. Whatever actually precipitated his downfall – Fox is also being sued by a former Tucker producer who says she was bullied by anti-semitism – what is abundantly clear is the Murdochs decided he was hazardous to their beleaguered bottom line.
On Friday night Tucker concluded his show by telling viewers, “We’ll see you Monday.” How sweet it is to lodge that for history as his last Fox lie.
Copyright 2023 Dick Polman, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at DickPolman.net. Email him at [email protected]