The revelation that Fox News prime-time star Tucker Carlson's top writer had posted racist, sexist and homophobic sentiments online for years under a pseudonym has led to renewed scrutiny of Carlson's own commentaries, which have inspired a series of advertising boycotts.
On Monday, Carlson is set to address the growing controversy, which led to the resignation of the writer, Blake Neff, after questions were raised by CNN's Oliver Darcy. It also led to a condemnation of Neff's views by the network's chief executive.
In a statement, Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott and President and Executive Editor Jay Wallace called the postings "horrific racist, misogynistic and homophobic behavior." Neff had, among other things, assailed the intelligence of Black Americans, Africans immigrants and Asian Americans, according to CNN. He also repeatedly demeaned a woman, posting details about her dating life and mocking her on personal terms.
Carlson has publicly cited the importance of the value of Neff's work on his show and for Carlson's earlier book. The host has courted criticism repeatedly for severe rhetoric, especially toward people of color, immigrants and women.
"I think his show is very close to what his writer, Blake Neff was doing, apparently anonymously for five years," former CNN and NBC host Soledad O'Brien, who is Black and Latina, tells NPR. On his program, she says, Carlson is "anti-immigrant, he's frequently racist. He says despicable things about women, he says despicable things about Asians. He says despicable things about Latinos. He talks about the kind of people who 'hate' America."
President Trump is known to be a frequent viewer and often cites Carlson's arguments publicly. In recent days, some Republican strategists have even looked to Carlson as a Republican presidential candidate in 2024 should Trump lose this November.
The irony is that even as Carlson has just set a record for viewers for any cable news show in the history of the industry in this country, sponsors are peeling away.
An estimated 4.3 million Americans tuned in to watch his program each night for the second quarter of this year — more than anyone ever in cable news. And yet Disney, Papa John's, and T-Mobile are among the most recent major advertisers who have pulled commercials from the show, in their cases, citing his remarks about Black Lives Matter protests.
"This may be a lot of things, this moment we are living through, but it is definitely not about Black lives," Carlson said in early June. "Remember that when they come for you. And at this rate, they will." (A Fox News spokesperson told reporters that "they" referred to Democrats, not Black protesters.)
Fox did not comment beyond the statement from Scott and Wallace, offering neither support nor criticism for Carlson. The two executives also announced that Carlson would address the controversy on his program Monday. Carlson declined several requests for comment from NPR.
These concerns are not new, along with pressures on and from advertisers.
Back in 2018, for example, Carlson told his viewers: "Our leaders demand we shut up and accept this. We have a moral obligation to admit the world's poor, they tell us, even if it makes our own country poorer and dirtier and more divided."
Fox News is part of Rupert Murdoch's larger media empire. Last year, Joseph Azam, a former lawyer and senior vice president for Murdoch's publishing arm, told NPR that Carlson's comments on immigration and rhetoric from other Fox News hosts led him to leave the company. Azam is Muslim and an immigrant from Afghanistan.
Just last week, Carlson questioned the patriotism of two Democratic members of Congress who are both women of color: Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, who immigrated from Somalia, and Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, whose mother is Thai of Chinese descent.
Duckworth is a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army. She lost both her legs and partial use of an arm when a helicopter she was piloting was shot down by Iraqi insurgents in 2004. After Duckworth tweeted in response that Carlson should "walk a mile in my legs and then tell me whether or not I love America," Carlson escalated his attacks the next night, calling her a "coward" and a "fraud."
On his show, Carlson has hosted Pete D'Abrosca, who has expressed sympathy for alt-right leaders; the British commentator Katie Hopkins, banned from Twitter for violating its hateful conduct policy and who told his viewers that white Christian women were "endangered"; and disgraced then-U.S. Rep. Steve King of Iowa, who Carlson defended for tweeting that America could not "restore our civilization with somebody else's babies."
Similarly, the Daily Caller, a publication which Carlson co-founded and in which he owned a major stake until last month, has repeatedlyfaced public outcry over various contributors and staffers who were revealed to have written white supremacist rhetoric on other platforms and outlets.
White nationalists including David Duke and Richard Spencer have hailed Carlson's show as echoing their own talking points. For his part, Carlson has called the idea of white supremacy in the U.S. a hoax.
"Tucker's show itself skates that line very closely," says O'Brien, now an independent television host, reporter and producer. "He's a guy who's beloved by white supremacists. I mean, clearly, they say so. That is an indication that he says the kinds of things that they like to hear. He frames arguments that are basically white supremacist argument. He's not going to use the N-word on TV, certainly. But I think he goes right up to that line."
Last year, when the liberal watchdog Media Matters published a series of offensive past remarks Carlson had made about women on radio shows, the Fox News host issued his own challenge in return:
"Rather than express the usual ritual contrition, how about this: I'm on television every weeknight live for an hour. If you want to know what I think, you can watch."
His Monday show, on which he is to address his former writer's writings, begins 8 p.m. ET.
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