Flags versus Fingers
In Defence of Tucker Carlson
This video shot Sunday by New York Times correspondent, Mike Baker, perfectly illustrates the current American social discourse: streams of cars and SUVs sporting Trump banners and American flags are driving along Portland’s SW Alder Street with their horns honking, engines revving. Then when the light changes, the Republican stream of traffic stalled at the red light, is given the parade of their opposition heading north on SW 4th Avenue: a flow of cars whose drivers are flipping off the trucks at the intersection. It’s the reduced version of the American political situation today where Democrats happily see their fellow party members giving the finger to Trump supporters and laud this as a reasonable reaction to a political show of solidarity from the right. I guess there never was the option to let the Trump supporters just have their car honking parade and be done with it given that Kenosha is both a city and the administrative centre for Kenosha County which is among the most hotly contested counties in the swing state of Wisconsin. Where political discussion has been reduced to a theatre of symbols and gestures, the emotions surrounding the recent police and civil violence as well as the upcoming elections are tense.
This traffic scenario is the perfect meta-narrative for the larger political theatre in the United States to include the wilful participation of media that has long abandoned any pretence to objectivity. CNN and almost every major media have, in a quite partisan manner, decided that this is the epic battle of the millennia: it’s bigots versus the open-minded, it’s bad versus good, it’s them against us. Looking at this dynamic, it’s no small wonder that those who consider themselves politically on the left have been pushing for the sacking of Tucker Carlson for having asked two clear and simple questions last Wednesday about the killings that took place in Kenosha, Wisconsin the day before: “So are we really surprised that looting and arson accelerated to murder? How shocked are we that 17-year-olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order when no one else would?” The response to these questions was immediately condemned by left-leaning media and pundits as they quickly hammered together the claim that Carlson was defending Kyle Rittenhouse, the teen who was charged with two counts of first-degree intentional homicide during last Tuesday’s protests along with five other charges. The protests took place in the aftermath of the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha just two days earlier.
As much as I have found some of Carlson’s statements over the years incendiary and troubling, I cannot find any fault with his questions last week. Indeed, what the leftish media claims Carlson said bears no resemblance to reality. For those of us who trust that words still mean something, Carlson’s questions distinctly criticise the state of looting and arson in Kenosha and they ask why anyone would be surprised—within the context of public disorder and chaos—that a teenager with a rifle would take it upon himself to create order albeit violently. Carlson proposes no defence of the killer, nor does he offer any veiled intimation or whiff of support for Rittenhouse. So why were all the left-of-centre publications framing this episode as Carlson giving a nod to violence?
First, I am purposefully not going to make a gracious explicandum that would generously have me attribute “coincidence” to every single left-of-centre publication that just happened to have drawn the exact same misinterpretation about Carlson. Two articles or TV segments are a coincidence—but the fact that most every neoliberal publication has made the same misinterpretation is simply not. Too many news sites seemed to have orchestrated among themselves—either directly or with the tacit direction of social media followers (more likely the latter)—the lie about Carlson. Titles like “Fox News host defends actions of teen charged in Kenosha shooting” and “Calls grow for Tucker Carlson to be fired from Fox News over accusations of ‘inciting violence’” lend to the fiction that Carlson defended Rittenhouse and they have trumpeted this lie repeatedly such that readers and viewers allow themselves to be duped. What is clear from the reporting of Carlson’s show is that USA Today, Vanity Fair, The Guardian, the Los Angeles Times, and Mother Jones all received a similar memo likely emanating from social media subscribers. The one “hero” among liberal media is The New York Times which sagely reports the media misrepresentation as its own story—because it is.
The New York Times reports the various Fox broadcasters’ statements about the crimes beginning from last Wednesday just before Carlson’s show and it followed up with a range of statements to include Chris Wallace’s the next day. The Times also states: “Carlson's commentary drew an angry response online because it was seen as sympathetic to Rittenhouse or offering justification for murder.” This is the story, folks. A bunch of people watched Tucker Carlson’s show last week, they noted their anger on social media which was set ablaze by tens of thousands of others who hadn’t seen or read anything other than angry social media commentary. The twitterati had only to click on links to articles entitled “Tucker Carlson defends vigilante shooter” and “Tucker Carlson defends actions of teen charged in killings of Kenosha protesters” and a truthism is born.
We are living in the era of parallel media universes: the one where news is factually reported and the other, dominant today, which reports feelings as facts. So for the good people working at leftist media organisations, it is clear that their mandate is to guard the public opinion of the moment with little care for facts. Had Tucker Carlson defended the shooting at all? Of course, he had not. Again, that is if you believe words actually mean something. And instead of the media running a thoughtful coverage of this matter as had The New York Times, we were bombarded with the majority of liberal media that outright lied.
Worse, the media created its own secondary news story such that there was the initial story of accusations made about Carlson which were completely unfounded, and then there is this new story about leftish readers upset by what he said. Instead of allowing this Fox news pundit to have his words represented honestly, left-leaning media happily indulged in promulgating a lie. And the media did so repeatedly for days while pundits called for Carlson to be sacked.
The best part of Carlson’s presentation was not that which was cited within the left-wing press. In fact, none of the leftish media offered any links to Carlson’s show. One can only wonder if the “woke adjacent” journalists thought that by not giving a link to the actual evidence that they were either not handing Fox any click revenue or perhaps they were simply used to readers and viewers not looking at the source material. You know, facts. Instead, each media publication online linked to their cousin media organisations that ran the same fake news story of how Carlson “defended” the shooter. Here is the link from Fox’s website where we can easily watch Tucker Carlson’s entire monologue. I suggest everyone watch this now. It’s both excellent political commentary and it demonstrates what is wrong with journalism since now the war between media giants is taking the form of sheer misrepresentation in the effort to wokeily criticise good political commentary merely because it comes from your opponent’s mouth.
For instance, The Intercept ran a piece more accurately analysing some of the scenes with Robert Mackey claiming that right-wingers like Carlson had formed a “consensus explanation” that allowed for the possibility that in the 24 hour period after the shooting, “pro-Trump YouTubers, bloggers, and commentators, who decided, after studying slow-motion imagery and still photographs, that the young man who had traveled to Kenosha from his home in neighboring Illinois to defend the city from residents enraged by the shooting of Jacob Blake, was merely acting in self-defense.” While I would like to buy Mackey’s explanation, there is no evidence that Carlson was invested in a self-defence argument as he was clearly focussed upon the fatal cocktail of a public armed with weapons mixed with anger and civil unrest, all in the absence of a police presence. It becomes clear while watching the footage, in fact, that nothing is clear about the events in Kenosha. Moreover, Mackey’s claim of “consensus explanation” is precisely what left-leaning media engaged in by concocting the sham of Carlson’s alleged defence of Rittenhouse.
Here is Carlson’s introduction to this segment:
The chaos that began with the first George Floyd protest on Memorial Day has reached its inevitable and bloody conclusion. Last night, three people were shot in the streets of Kenosha, Wisconsin. Two of them have died.
Police say they've charged a 17-year-old with murder. Here's what Kenosha looked like last night. Two people have died, many of the details remain hazy. Big media organisations have done their best to downplay and ignore the violence in Kenosha and around the country. But there were a few reporters on the scene that night. One of them was Richie McGinniss from the Daily Caller, was standing nearby when a man was shot in the head. McGinniss ripped off his t-shirt and tried to use it to staunch the bleeding. Here’s the scene.
Carlson then shows lengthy tracts of video that show much of the chaos and violence in Kenosha with no police presence. He comes back to narrate:
Two people have died, many of the details remain hazy. Big media organisations have done their best to downplay and ignore the violence in Kenosha and around the country. But there were a few reporters on the scene that night. One of them was Richie McGinniss from the Daily Caller, was standing nearby when a man was shot in the head. McGinniss ripped off his t-shirt and tried to use it to staunch the bleeding.
Carlson runs another clip which shows this interaction between McGinniss and the victim lying on the ground lifeless. “Sorry for the painful video but it's real,” says Carlson, adding, “That man later died. At one point, the 17-year-old who's been charged tried to run from the mob. He tripped and fell in the middle of the street. A man ran up and smashed him in the head with a skateboard. The 17-year-old then fired his gun.” Carlson then shows the footage of a man falling in the middle of the street and being attacked with a skateboard. Keep in mind there is other footage that shows Rittenhouse shooting a man who was pointing a gun at him. Much of the footage is shaky and difficult to see anything clearly after this point. This is when Carlson asks:
So what does that amount to? We're unsure. A court will decide whether what you saw amounts to self-defence. As of tonight we really don't have more details. We do know why it all happened though. Kenosha has devolved into anarchy because the authorities in charge of the city abandoned it. People in charge from the Governor of Wisconsin on down refused to enforce the law. They stood back and they watched Kenosha burn. So are we really surprised that looting and arson accelerated to murder? How shocked are we that 17-year-olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order when no one else would. Everyone can see what was happening in Kenosha, it was getting crazier by the hour.
Make what you will about the footage and his narration, but Carlson asks questions that little of the media elsewhere is asking as he holds authority on both the left and right accountable to scrutiny. And here’s the real rub for those who consider themselves leftists: Tucker Carlson offers a remarkably—albeit unintended—leftist reading of what is going on in the country, focussing in on the tribalism that is being cemented within class politics:
Our leaders want us to believe this is a racial conflict. They’re always telling us it is. They’re lying. It is not a racial conflict. At its deepest level, the chaos they have unleashed has very little to do with race. Most American are not bigots. Unlike CNN, they are not fixated on skin colour. They don’t care, most of them. What you are watching is more sinister than that. What you are watching is an effort by the academic left, funded by big business to crush the last remaining resistance to their control of the country and that resistance is an independent American middle class. That’s who they really hate. This is not a race war. This is a class war. Remember that.
How is it that almost all the centre and left-of-centre media missed Carlson Tucker making a very provocative class analysis? That’s a news story in and of itself! Certainly, such vituperation of American academia’s hold over what he calls the “independent American middle class” is something that we have only seen from left-wing critics such as Adolph Reed who has consistently criticised academia as “one of the last strongholds of the professional and managerial class.” While Carlson surely is hardly a leftist given his position on many other issues, his is an interesting critique and one that feminists have been making past five years regarding the swift and all-encompassing ways in which gender identity has been foisted upon the masses with the help of academia and big business. It also seems to me that trenchant criticisms of the failure of government agencies completely absent during civil unrest should not be beyond the purview of CNN and other media. So too, it appears that discussing the issue at the heart of Carlson’s vituperation—class—ought to have made a blip on the radar of ostensibly leftist publications. But it didn’t.
Instead, we were given the most fatuous straw man argument of the year with Carlson having been painted as a defender of murder. None of this is evident in his presentation.
So while most media have skated around the facts of Carlson’s segment, namely the civil chaos on the streets in the absence of police presence, Carlson contends that this situation alone created the scene for even more dangerous situations. Carlson’s segment does not present a defence of the shooter, but most definitely asks the necessary questions about what is going on in the United States today such that violence is allowed to happen.
For those like myself on the left, I heard about Carlson’s alleged defence of Rittenhouse and I immediately looked up the Fox News segment and I watched it. I didn’t take anyone’s word for what they claim he had stated. The dissonance between what liberal media claimed he had said and what he actually said is riveting. So too is the willingness of an entire swathe of self-proclaimed leftists to repeat a lie in whose construction they were all too eager to participate.
Even John Oliver’s response bizarrely got caught up in much of the fake news coverage of this story. Don’t get me wrong, I often enjoy John Oliver’s insightful media takedowns of Trump. But Oliver is a comedian and not a political analyst. How did we arrive at 2020 where much of the leftish media is relying on comedians for political analysis instead of doing the groundwork and trying to make sense of Carlson’s most salient observations? It’s almost an inverse to the Crossfire episode from 2006 where Jon Stewart tells Tucker Carlson that “the news organisations look to Comedy Central for their cues on integrity” explaining that his role is in comedy, not investigative journalism. Stewart went on to accuse right-wing media of “doing theatre when [it] should be doing debate.” It would seem that in the years since this interaction, Carlson took on the criticism, to include ditching his bow tie, since Tucker Carlson is seemingly one of the few journalists asking the necessary questions.
American economist and social theorist, Thomas Sowell, made this strikingly beautiful observation yesterday on Twitter: “We seem to be getting closer and closer to a situation where nobody is responsible for what they did but we are all responsible for what somebody else did.” No truer words could emulate the bizarre recent coverage by the American media of the looting, arson and other acts of violence taking place around the country. We need media to hold institutions to account for their actions. Or, in this case, their lack of action. It is not enough to create protective brackets around the protests for certain left-leaning groups while lending them positive representation when laws are broken, yet when Trump supporters march on the streets or attend their convention, the focus of left-of-centre media is: “Are they practising social distancing?”
There are many human-made disasters that flourish because governments allowed them to happen even in the presence of other contributing factors. The aftermath to Katrina is one of many examples of how governments fail people from the errors of civil engineering to leadership. We cannot overlook the absence of police in Kenosha any more than we can wonder what a protest that night without guns present might have looked like. Journalism should not be focussing upon what John Oliver turns into a comic deconstruction of the news as this approach does not fall within the purview of serious journalism. Instead, we are given headlines from CNN that read “Fiery but mostly peaceful protests after police shooting” as the reporter, Omar Jimenez, falsely reports a violent protest as peaceful while standing in front of a burning building.
We cannot dismiss individual responsibility for actions any more than we can ignore the fact of media abdication of its responsibility towards reporting—and not becoming—the news. And this includes and extends far beyond the recent condonation and misrepresentation of violence as “peaceful” in recent weeks. In the absence of media honesty, we most certainly must ask ourselves, “Are we really surprised that looting and arson accelerated to murder?” When arson is called “peaceful” little does it matter how Tucker Carlson asks the question or on what side of the political aisle he is seated.
In response to Bari Weiss’ explosive resignation letter from The New York Times in July which provoked much necessary debate by those writing and reading the news, Elliot Leavy astutely describes a deeper analysis of this situation, relayed to him by Kyle Pope, publisher at the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR), and Gabriel Snyder, CJR’s contributing editor, as much more profound than bare journalism by Twitter proxy. Leavy details how the subscription model of revenue has resulted in editors becoming the “punchbags of their subscribers” which parallels Weiss’ observations of Twitter becoming The New York Times “ultimate editor.” We must not allow for hurt feelings and difference of opinion to be the basis of curating journalism any longer. Instead, we have an ethical obligation to support journalism that does not coddle our pre-conceived notions and inner identities, nor that mitigates opposing political commentary through misrepresentation.
Our challenge as consumers of media must necessarily be to engage with the outlets that make us the most unhappy given our proclivity to turn journalism and media at large into religious orthodoxy cum encounter session.