On April 24, 2023, political commentator mogul Tucker Carlson was abruptly fired from his fourteen-year tenure with the popular and influential conservative news channel Fox News. This development was shocking to the political scene of America as Carlson’s numbers were superb; according to “Fortune,” Carlson averaged 3.03 million viewers per night the year prior, making his show, “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” the second-most popular cable television program in 2022, only trailing to Fox’s “The Five.”
As a result, his previously ambiguously-reliable reporting has now become much more dangerous, lacking journalistic quality and consideration of the public effect of misinformation and defamatory rhetoric. Of the interviews Carlson has uploaded to his X account, interviewees have included dangerously unreliable, unaccredited, or cunning characters who, given the stage to Carlson’s popular platform to perform their propagandistic parades to the whole of America, have already begun to rack in massive engagement numbers.
According to “Mashable,” within 24 hours of publication, Tucker Carlson’s interview with former President Donald Trump, posted on August 23, received a view-count of 14.8 million, nearly five times that of Carlson’s average nightly view-count with Fox prior to his expulsion from the channel. With over half a billion users on X, over 10 million of whom follow Carlson’s account, and the ability for said users to watch posted videos at any given time rather than having to catch specific program times as was necessary for his viewers at Fox, all in conjunction with the fact that X is a free platform on which anything can be seen with the click of a button makes it so that Carlson’s unrestricted and uncensored agenda is certainly now to become much more influential and prevalent.
Why might this be a problem? Carlson’s interview with Larry Sinclair, uploaded on September 6 of this year, is a perfect example. In January of 2008, Larry Sinclair publicly claimed that in 1999, he had smoked crack cocaine and had sexual relations with now-former President Barack Obama. The story was generally written off at the time, and for good reason: the discrepancies and falsehoods were overpowering and the story was almost immediately discredited.
Nonetheless, Carlson, in the preamble to his interview with Sinclair, argues, “… the claims weren’t absurd. We’re not claiming they’re true, but they were certainly credible.”
The credibility of such a report offered by such a man as Sinclair is ambiguous at best, whether one points to the logical absurdity of his claims, his failed lie detector test regarding the incident, or his extensive criminal past of deceit. Nonetheless, Carlson, described by The Washington Post as having a “cultlike following who believe his nightly rants,” certainly disagrees, a sentiment his large base of support most definitely reciprocates. The interview in full is nothing short of ludicrous, but Carlson’s reputation amongst members of his grandiose following as an established, reliable, and adulated beacon of the truth no doubt gives full credence to the story for many Americans.
Carlson’s angle is overwhelmingly transparent: in hosting such an interview, he is trying to elicit a public reaction to a fake story without publishing anything legally libelous. His goal is to defame Obama and to tarnish his reputation, but the manner in which he attempts to do this is, past the mere action of defamation on false pretenses being criticizable in itself, incredibly dangerous.
The caption of the teaser trailer posted a day before the actual interview reads: “A man who claims he had sex with Barack Obama in 1999 tells his story. Wednesday. 6pm ET.”
No mention of crack cocaine, only of homosexuality. The consumption of cocaine is, of course, a felony offense. Homosexuality, however, is certainly not in any way illegal in the United States. Carlson finds this allegation to be the most damaging of all, however, and it is this point exactly that demands change: Carlson’s rhetoric is harmful and dangerous. Not only is his reporting unreliable, classless, and borderline libelous, but also shamelessly perpetuates homophobia and general bigotry.
Carlson continues to set an incredibly dangerous precedent for the future of political commentary, though his cunning allows him to fly just close enough to the sun without burning himself. If he continues to get away with this type of suggestive and dangerous journalism, the future of reporting and politics could look very grim; what kind of a democracy is one plagued with misinformation and lies?
Carlson does not shy from other controversial figures. In Budapest, he met with Aleksandar Vučić, President of a genocide-denying Serbian government, and infamously anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, and xenophobic Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orbán in two respective sit-downs, oftentimes implying in the interview with the latter that the legal charges currently against former President Donald Trump are in some way falsified without any substantial evidence and giving a platform for both of these disgustingly bigoted figures to further perpetuate their hatred.
Other notably hosted guests include the aforementioned former President Donald Trump, former Chief of the United States Capitol Police Steven Sund, and Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy. In all of these interviews, among other things, the topic of the attempted insurrection on the Capitol Building of the United States on Jan. 6, 2021 was brought up, to which all three interviewees either denied the investigated and confirmed procession of events or justified the uprising.
Mr. Ramaswamy had a particularly incendiary remark during his interview, saying “You want to know what caused January 6? (It was) pervasive censorship in this country in the lead up to January 6. You tell people in this country they cannot speak, that is when they scream. You tell people they cannot scream, that is when they tear things down.”
Carlson also notably invited presidential candidate Robert Francis Kennedy Jr., who entered the race as an independent, onto his new show on X who, given the immense platform offered by Carlson, went on to perpetuate his transparently fraudulent and baseless anti-science claims in great detail.
Tucker Carlson is now posting, quite consistently, an interview per week, typically around 45 minutes long per installment and filled to the brim with similarly provocative and dangerous rhetoric, and as long as his fan base grows due to the overwhelming accessibility his content now has, the democratic process of this nation will suffer as a result of the misinformation he circulates.
It is, therefore, the responsibility of Elon Musk and the X team to establish guidelines that ensure the public is not misled whilst protecting the journalistic prerogative to share and explore, as offered and protected by the First Amendment. If the standards of ethical journalism that were once fundamentals of our democracy are not restored, the future of our system may very well end up looking bleaker than ever before.