The TV host paid the price because he tried the impossible: straddling the divide between corporate media and critical journalism
Jonathan Cook is the author of three books on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and a winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His website and blog can be found at www.jonathan-cook.net
While the left is busy hating on Tucker Carlson, and not without reason, it is missing the bigger picture. Carlson was a genuine aberration in US corporate media. Which is why he is gone – sacked by media “titan” Rupert Murdoch.
Yes, over the years Carlson played on white fears, placing him firmly on the right. But he also gave over his massive corporate platform at Fox News to some of the most critical and thoughtful independent journalists and pundits around – from Glenn Greenwald and Aaron Mate to Jimmy Dore.
Carlson not only brought them into the living rooms of Main Street, but he undoubtedly helped them grow their audiences and influence.
In that way, he exposed ordinary Americans to critical perspectives, especially on US foreign policy, that they had no hope of hearing anywhere else – and most certainly not from so-called “liberal” corporate media outlets like CNN and MSNBC.
And he did so while constantly ridiculing the media’s craven collusion with those in power.
But all that is being ignored. Media analysis of Carlson’s departure has focused so far almost exclusively on his clashes with Fox News management, and a series of disrespectful tweets, that have come to light as a result of the recent Dominion court case, in which Murdoch was forced to settle with a massive payout.
But those clashes cannot be understood outside a wider context in which Carlson was pushing against institutional media constraints at Fox designed to prevent the real work of journalism – holding the powerful to account.
Nord Stream silence
Here is just a taste of some of the highlights of his time with Fox News:
* While the rest of the US media ignored a major investigation by the legendary journalist Seymour Hersh, or deflected attention to a crazed, semi-official conspiracy theory involving a rogue crew on a yacht, Carlson dared present evidence that the US blew up the Nord Stream pipelines – an act of unprecedented industrial and environmental terrorism directed against Europe:
* Uniquely among corporate journalists, Carlson gave airtime to the testimony of whistleblowers from the OPCW, the UN body monitoring chemical weapons. The testimony confirmed that, under US pressure, the OPCW rigged an investigation into a gas attack in Douma, Syria, to blame President Bashar Assad and retrospectively provide the pretext for illegal US, UK and French air strikes:
* Carlson recently broke with the corporate media consensus by highlighting the substance of the Pentagon leaks, not least that US soldiers are covertly fighting in Ukraine. He went further, berating fellow journalists for colluding with the White House in helping to track down the leaker and cover up the most significant revelations:
* And he gave an open mic to Jimmy Dore to explain that the US is currently waging unprovoked wars against Russia and China: “Your enemy is not China. Your enemy is not Russia. Your enemy is the Military Industrial Complex. … The United States is the world’s terrorist.”
As Dore tweeted after Carlson’s sacking: “No one else in all of corporate news ever brings on anti-war voices, [and] the one that did just got axed. Doesn’t matter that he’s the most watched show in all of news – much like when MSNBC fired Phil Donohue for his anti-Iraq War coverage when he had #1 show on network.”
Rather than welcome this record, blinkered tribalists on the left preferred instead to accuse Greenwald, Mate and others either of outing themselves as rightwingers by appearing on Carlson’s show, or of providing legitimacy to Fox’s white fearmongering.
It even reached the absurd depths that any retweet of a Carlson clip was denounced because, supposedly, the left was poisoning its own well. We would soon convert ourselves from socialism to national socialism.
But if Carlson’s firing by Murdoch suggests anything, it is that the corporate media had grown increasingly fearful of the extent to which Carlson was becoming a loose cannon, and that the kind of independent journalism he hosted and amplified was gaining traction.
Through a rapid rise in his ratings, Carlson proved that there is an appetite, a big one, for stories that question the consensual narrative imposed by the rest of the corporate media, for stories that actually hold the powerful to account – rather simply claiming to – and for stories that refuse to assume Western meddling around the globe is necessarily a good thing.
If it was only white fearmongering that drew audiences and propelled network news hosts to the top slot, then Sean Hannity would surely be king of the ratings, not Carlson.
The reality, the one Carlson confirms, is that there is an audience ready to listen to critical, independent journalism – when it can be found. The job of the corporate media is precisely to stop viewers hearing dissident views, a rule that Carlson played fast and loose with for too long. Now, it seems, he has paid the price.
It is interesting to consider too, if we are debating the effect of exposing Fox News audiences to leftwing and dissident perspectives, what impact Greenwald, Mate and others had on Carlson himself.
Those who know him well, such as Greenwald, have argued that he is on political path away from the views he once held. There is certainly evidence for this. And it may be that it was just such evidence that sealed his fate.
Sounding more like Noam Chomsky, Carlson refers in the clip below to the media as a “control apparatus” and admits “I spent most of my life being part of the problem”, including by promoting the 2003 Iraq war.
Carlson: “The media are not here to inform you. Really! Even on the big things that really matter like the economy, wars, Covid… Their job is not to inform you. They are working for the small group of people who actually run the world. They are their servants… and we should treat them with maximum contempt because they have earned it. ”
Presumably Murdoch understood that he was very much included in “the small group of people who actually run the world”, a group that should “earn our contempt”.
But beyond speculating about Carlson’s motives, the more significant point – the one we should celebrate and highlight – is that media “consumers” are slowly becoming less passive and more critical of traditional sources of information.
Carlson understood that trend and tried to straddle the divide. He had a foot in both the corporate media camp and the independent camp. Through his sacking, he has proved just how untenable that position is.
One – the corporate media – is there to entertain and distract us, and keep us locked into tribal identities, banging heads against each other in utter futility. The other – independent media – is there to help us think more critically about power and about our responsibilities as citizens.
You can’t serve those two masters – as Tucker Carlson just found out the hard way.
If the foundations of tyranny in the West are starting to crumble, the same process will be underway in the East, notably Russia and China. On 23rd March 2020 I said “WWIII has started”. It is only a matter of time before she’ll be on for young and old. Only a miracle will stay the course the totalitarians in charge in the West have set since the early Nineties.