One of my newer acquaintances recently asked why it is that Tucker Carlson is considered unreliable by even his allies and in turn hated, despised, and reviled by those who oppose him politically. And it struck me that, while I’ve long stated his unreliability as fact, I’ve never taken the trouble to detail my reasons.
Who Is He?
Tucker Carlson is a political commentator who hosts an opinion show on Fox News. He started out in print media, moving to CNN and MSNBC before settling in at Fox. He helped found The Daily Caller and is presently the showrunner for “Tucker Carlson Tonight”, a talk show and current affairs program that airs weeknights.
His politics have been self-described as “paleoconservative”; others have called him a “Middle American radical” and a “more fervent advocate of Trumpism than Trump”. On air, he frequently employs the same rhetorical tricks as radio shock jocks, with a ‘joking/not joking’ manner that permits him to make outrageous statements without committing to him. In defending himself from slander, defamation, and libel lawsuits, he has frequently characterized his own use of extensive hyperbole, and with excellent success. In an interview he is extremely quick-witted, often shifting ground to attack his guests from several directions in rapid successions. Jack Shafer has described him as a “master of the scathing rebuttal” and Carville has named him “one of the world’s great contrarians”.
A great deal of the criticism against him is born of the misapprehension that his program is a news show rather than opinion, confusion that is reinforced not only by network framing and advertising but also by the host himself, a relentless self-promoter, who calls it “the show that is the sworn enemy of lying, pomposity, smugness, and groupthink”. Contradicting this is the view presented by Fox News in their legal defenses, that the “‘general tenor’ of the show should then inform a viewer that [Carlson] is not ‘stating actual facts’ about the topics he discusses and is instead engaging in ‘exaggeration’ and ‘non-literal commentary.’ “
In short, he’s a commentator and entertainer posing as a journalist.
What’s His Record?
Carlson has been the target of multiple lawsuits over false statements; most have been swiftly settled, and he has made several on-air corrections and engaged in public reversals. When taken before a judge, lawyers representing him describe him as an entertainer who employs hyperbole. In keeping with this, many of the statements that follow include temporizing language such as “might be”, “maybe”, “apparently”, and “virtually”. However, because he poses as a purveyor of information rather than opinion, these will be considered as hedges against lawsuit rather than any attempt to portray himself as at all uncertain.
This list is by no means to be considered comprehensive.
(1) COVID Vaccine Deaths / VAERS – 05 May 2021
“Between late December of 2020 and last month, a total of 3,362 people apparently died after getting the COVID vaccine in the United States. 3,362. That’s an average of roughly 30 people every day. The actual number is almost certainly higher than that, perhaps vastly higher than that. It’s clear that what is happening now, for whatever reason, is not even close to normal.”
The initial statement is technically true; over the course of four months, nearly 100 million Americans were vaccinated. The VAERS reporting system logged over three thousand that had died after getting the vaccine, and since those vaccinated toward the end of that period hadn’t had the chance to die yet, certainly the number is higher. So far, so good.
However, VAERS logs all deaths, related or not. If someone dies in a car accident, is shot, or dives off a bridge, and it’s known that they had been given a vaccine, it gets logged in VAERS. Given that number of Americans and the natural death rate in the United States, nearly 80,000 Americans who received the vaccine probably died afterward. The conclusion one should properly observe here is that the United States doesn’t track deaths well, and VAERS should not be relied upon for raw data unless you’re a statistician. The statement that “It’s clear… [it] is not even close to normal” is far beyond misleading and well into being a flaming lie.
(2) COVID Vaccine Effectiveness – 13 April 2021
“If the vaccine is effective, there is no reason for people who’ve received a vaccine to wear masks or avoid physical contact. So maybe it doesn’t work, and they’re simply not telling you that.”
No vaccine is 100% effective; that’s not how they work. They don’t prevent infection per se; they merely strengthen the body’s own immune reaction. So, no, the initial statement is fallacious. What’s more, there’s the implication that the CDC, thousands of epidemiologists, and millions of doctors would be willing to lie about whether the vaccine works, and that doing so would be simple. This isn’t merely false on its face; it’s absurd.
(3) Texas Power Loss / Windmills – 16 February 2021
“Unbeknownst to most people, the Green New Deal came to Texas, the power grid in the state became totally reliant on windmills. Then it got cold and the windmills broke, because that’s what happens in the Green New Deal.”
Turns out the small number of Texas windmills did underperform by about a third of expectations. However, the vast majority of the problem was power plants that burn natural gas, because the owners never considered bothering to insulate them. After all, how often does Texas suffer a deep freeze? So it’s a false statement — doubly so, since it not only blames non-existent windmill breakage but also the Green New Deal rather than the natural results of freak weather conditions on an under-regulated model based in pure capitalism.
Anyone making such a statement would need to be profoundly ignorant of the makeup of the Texas power generation structure as well as the general situation, and be willing to go on record making a completely unfounded statement. Bear in mind that every major network including Fox covered the freezing at gas-fired plants; the information was commonly available at the time of Carlson’s broadcast yet deliberately rejected for the sake of ratings.
(4) COVID / Masks – 13 October 2020
“Almost everyone — 85% — who got the coronavirus in July was wearing a mask, and they were infected anyway. So clearly this doesn’t work the way they tell us it works.”
There are two problems with this. Some people will get sidetracked proving how he misrepresented a study (which is true, and which must have been deliberate), but to my mind it’s far more important that he’s either hopelessly confused about what masks are intended to do or he’s intentionally lying about it.
The CDC issued a statement in response, which in part reads: “CDC guidance on masks has clearly stated that wearing a mask is intended to protect other people in case the mask wearer is infected… At no time has CDC guidance suggested that masks were intended to protect the wearers.”
Clearly, masks don’t work the way Carlson tells us they do.
(5) Litter In The Potomac / Immigrants – 15 December 2019
“I hate litter,” he said. For 35 years now, he said, he has fished in the Potomac River, and “it has gotten dirtier and dirtier and dirtier and dirtier. I go down there and that litter is left almost exclusively by immigrants, who I’m sure are good people, but nobody in our country—”
The original piece was printed in The Atlantic, and the quote is from an interview. Turns out, the Potomac is getting cleaner over the years, largely thanks to the efforts of cleanup groups like the Alice Ferguson Foundation, which collects trash. Their data clearly indicates that trash is down even though volunteers are on the increase. And, according to the Interstate Commission, most of the litter is washed in from neighborhoods and storm drains — from places like Montgomery County in Maryland, which is only about 14% immigrant and in which Carlson himself lives.
I can accept that Tucker Carlson detests litter. He is, however, clearly wrong about both the level of cleanliness and exactly how responsible immigrants are for it — and expresses himself, overtly and unapologetically, in a manner that suggests deep-seated prejudice.
Caveat: It’s much easier to find fictions, idiocies, inanities, and outright pants-on-fire lies uttered by any public figure than to list honest or insightful statements. The Internet is full of fact checkers, and very few of them concentrate on self-evident truths. However, the sheer volume of utter and evidently deliberate falsehoods presented by Mr. Carlson in the guise of reporting compared to the relatively few controversial statements later found to be true or even partly true is nonetheless telling.
Tucker Carlson is a would-be shock-jock entertainer posing as a serious journalist. He frequently, even routinely, expresses opinions as facts, often neglecting evident and even obvious truth in favor of an inflammatory lie. He does this for ratings, which are consistently high.
Given that some of his deliberate falsehoods are on the order of seriously advising people to disregard CDC advice during a pandemic, I would personally consider labeling him deliberately murderous in addition to mendacious. I would not by choice let him hold my wallet, watch my children, drive my car, or mind my drink in a bar while I was in the bathroom. That any network gives this man airtime boggles the imagination.
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