Politics & Policy

Capital versus Tucker Carlson

(Lucas Jackson/Reuters)
How the cable-news host predicted the advertiser boycott against him

Advertisers do not advertise on Tucker Carlson’s show to endorse the views of Tucker Carlson. They advertise on his show for the same reason they advertise elsewhere: a captive audience — in Tucker’s case, the second-largest one in cable news — might spare thirty seconds of attention that will, they hope, increase corporate revenue.

But things are different now. American capitalism in 2019 is no longer, if it ever was, merely the field where the perpetual duel between scarcity and want plays out. It is the altar upon which corporate rituals of awareness and activism commingle with the accidents of free exchange. Woke capitalism is decadent — and while it is neither moral nor profound, its practitioners pretend to be both. The woke corporation places itself above the marketplace through all sorts of pseudo-religious sacraments (“mindfulness,” “cultural-sensitivity training,” “human resources”) meant to sanctify the pursuit of Mammon. It is no longer enough to sell ice cream; the modern corporation insists on selling “Pecan Resist” to encourage buyers to help “build a future that values inclusivity, equality, and justice.” The corporation has resolved: If it is to be a person, it wants to be a tolerant one.

As such, advertisers are finally listening to Media Matters and the chorus of left-wing pundits who have spent years calling for the outright cancellation of Tucker Carlson’s show. More than 70 of his advertisers, per GQ, have stopped running ads on his program altogether since last December.

The campaign to pressure advertisers into dropping Tucker’s show is obviously intended to starve it of revenue. It is a tag-teamed rebuke of his viewers’ preferences by the two-headed hydra of a political nonprofit and a corporate boardroom. If Media Matters and Pacific Life don’t like Tucker Carlson’s show, you can’t either.

This partnership is nothing new. Media Matters declared its “War on Fox” long ago, and its founder, David Brock, insisted in 2011 that it would employ “guerrilla warfare and sabotage” to sack the conservative network. But this particular effort against Carlson has been rather effective, even considering the great compendium of faux-controversies and boycotts ginned up by Media Matters since its inception in 2004.

Why? One answer presumes that Carlson is getting what he deserves after years of employing anti-immigrant rhetoric that, by design or effect, foments discord and violence. It has been an operative theory on the left for some time now that conservatism is an intellectual façade meant to advance the unspoken racial animus of the unwashed masses, but Tucker, the argument goes, has made those appeals overt. On this view, his polemical support for a restrictionist immigration policy and a history of genuinely inflammatory remarks combine to make his show too risky for would-be advertisers.

But a second answer, and one I think is closer to the truth, can be found in Carlson’s own book, Ship of Fools: How a Selfish Ruling Class is Bringing America to the Brink of Revolution. There, Carlson advances an argument not unlike that made by Thomas Frank in his 2004 book, What’s the Matter with Kansas? To Frank, Republican politicians employ social issues like gun rights and abortion as a ruse to induce hapless Appalachian proles to vote against their economic interests. All the while, the GOP apparatus lines the pockets of its plutocratic donors. Carlson’s story is similar, but with different characters: Members of the “ruling class” (corporations, “establishment” politicians, cultural tastemakers, etc.) pay indulgences to the secular faiths of diversity, tolerance, and inclusion to obviate decades of corporate exploitation. Play identity politics with enough ferocity, and the Left — which once consisted of class warriors who policed the excesses of capitalism — will ignore the ill-gotten wealth you’ve amassed while society is ablaze with racial division.

In Frank’s telling, the plutocrats are dissolving the class consciousness of impressionable Midwesterners with the false promise of a reactionary social policy. In Carlson’s, corporations hawk fashionable cultural politics to avoid the scrutiny of the once-voracious class-warfare wing of the Democratic party. Both put egg on the face of some duped third party: to Frank, it’s the working-class Republicans who vote against their supposed self-interest; to Carlson, it’s corporate and congressional Democrats who have been supposedly conned into replacing class grievances with racial ones. Which constituency is more likely to be duped?

Which is more dangerous for a marketing department to piss off?

The ritual of condemnation that companies boycotting Carlson’s show are engaged in is precisely the signaling he highlights in his book. Nestlé can both employ child labor in its supply chain and ceremonially renounce its advertising relationship with Tucker Carlson Tonight because, by the magic of corporate awareness, they are absolved of their actual sins by their abstract commitment to left-wing priorities.

Woke capital, in other words, is woke capital. Which shouldn’t be news to Tucker Carlson.

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