Politics & Policy

Tucker Carlson’s Misleading Attack on Prominent Conservatives

Fox personality Tucker Carlson speaks at a Business Insider conference in New York, N.Y., November 30, 2017. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)
A recent monologue by the cable host misquotes or misunderstands its targets.

Tucker Carlson’s monologue Monday night opened strong. “The nation went up in flames this weekend. No one in charge stood up to save America. Our leaders dithered. They cowered. They openly sided with the destroyers. In many cases, they egged them on.

“Later, they will deny doing any of this. They are denying it now. But you know the truth because you saw it happen.”

During the monologue, Carlson paused to give five examples of “conservative leaders” who had illustrated his thesis. In each case, though, his description of what the target of criticism had said did not match up well with what he actually said.

First up: “On Friday, as American cities were being destroyed by mobs, the vice president [of the] United States refused to say anything specific about the riots we were watching on television. Instead, Mike Pence scolded America for its racism.” (I’m quoting the written adaptation of the monologue on FoxNews.com here and throughout.)

What Pence said on Friday was that “we have no tolerance for racism in America. We have no tolerance for violence inspired by racism in America.” He immediately followed this comment by saying, “Now, while we also believe in law and order in this country, and we — while we condemn violence against property or persons, we — we will also always stand for the right of Americans to peacefully protest and let their voice be heard.” Perhaps the second part of that passage was insufficiently specific for Carlson, although it was no less so than what came before it. But nothing Pence said amounted to calling America racist or scolding America. If “we” is understood to mean the country, what he said was very nearly the opposite of that.

Second: “Carly Fiorina, once a leading Republican presidential candidate, tweeted that — and we’re quoting, ‘It’s white America that now must see the truth, speak the truth and act on the truth.’” This is Carlson’s best example of the five. The quote is accurate. Fiorina was referring to “the systemic racism in this country.” She didn’t condemn riots and looting. But it’s still a leap to say she was encouraging it merely by saying that whites should recognize systemic racism.

Third:

Meanwhile, Kay Coles James, who is the president of the Heritage Foundation — that’s the largest conservative think tank in the country. You may have sent them money, hopefully for the last time. Kay Coles James wrote a long scream denouncing America as an irredeemably racist nation: “How many times will protests have to occur?”

Got that? “Have to occur.” Like the rest of us caused this by our sinfulness.

The message from our leaders on the right, as on the left, was unambiguous: Don’t complain. You deserve what’s happening to you. 

James’s op-ed appeared on FoxNews.com. It would be pretty surprising if the head of a conservative think tank wrote on FoxNews.com that America is “irredeemably racist” or that Americans deserve to be victimized by violence. But she didn’t say any of these things. Check out the second and third sentences of her op-ed: “While I understand the frustration and anger, I do not condone the violence spreading across this country in response to Floyd’s horrific killing. Rioting tearing apart Minneapolis and cities coast-to-coast will never lead to anything but more suffering.”

Fourth:

No one jumped in more forcefully or seemed angrier in America than former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. “Tonight I turned on the news and I am heartbroken,” Haley wrote. “It’s important to understand that the death of George [Floyd] was personal and painful for many. In order to heal, it needs to be personal and painful for everyone.”

But wait a second, you may be wondering, how am I “personally responsible” for the behavior of a Minneapolis police officer? I’ve never even been to Minneapolis, you may think to yourself. And why is some politician telling me I’m required to be upset about it?

Haley tweeted that all Americans should take the killing personally, not that all Americans are “personally responsible” for it. These are separate concepts. Whether the tweet seemed extremely angry — as compared, for example, to a Fox News monologue — I’ll leave to the reader’s judgment.

Carlson continues, “During the 2016 campaign, [Haley] compared Donald Trump to the racist mass murderer, Dylann Roof. How is Donald Trump similar to a serial killer? Nikki Haley never explained that.” She didn’t say he was similar to a serial killer, and she explained exactly what she meant. The Associated Press summarized it accurately at the time: “South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said Thursday she wishes Donald Trump communicated differently because bad things result from divisive rhetoric, as evidenced by last June’s massacre in Charleston.” In the same interview, she said that Trump’s followers were angry at Washington and added, “The way he communicates that, I wish were different.” Not quite what she would say to a serial killer, I imagine.

Carlson then said, “She wasn’t trying to educate anyone.

“Her only goal was political advantage. Nikki Haley is exceptionally good at getting what she wants. She is happy to denounce you as a racist in order to get it. She just did.

“In this case, Nikki Haley’s wish came true. The riots were indeed ‘personal and painful’ for everyone. And then the pain kept increasing. Two days after she wrote that, dozens of American cities had been thoroughly trashed, some destroyed.” Again, this attack is based merely on Haley’s having said that Americans should be pained by Floyd’s death. She didn’t impute racism to America, Americans, or fans of Carlson’s show.

Fifth: National-security adviser Robert O’Brien is in the dock because he said, “We’re with the peaceful protesters.”

Carlson comments: “Really? Can you be more specific about that? Who are you talking about exactly? Is it the people spitting foam as they scream, ‘F the police’? Is it the one standing next to the arsonist doing nothing as they set fire to buildings? Is it the kids laughing as they film the looting and the beatings on their iPhones?”

Ummm . . . No? I’m pretty sure the answer is no.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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