By Eden Levitt-Horne & Elad Levy
Graphic by Kristine Lee, photo courtesy of nbcnews.com
With US politics often playing out with more lies, melodrama and surprise reveals than an episode of The Kardashians, the national media has plenty of material to cover.
Even as political Tiktok influencers and Youtube channels become more mainstream, cable news remains a staple of American culture.
To compete with the shorter-form content and capture viewers, however, media personalities rely on their brands as ultimate authorities to monopolize accuracy and create cult-like followings.
In an increasingly saturated media climate, socio-political commentator Tucker Carlson rose to fame by validating conservatives’ fear on his Fox News show, Tucker Carlson Tonight.
To retain viewers, he used a vicious cycle of fear-mongering through rhetorical lines of questioning and selective reporting of events. Following Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Carlson constructed a flattering narrative for the dictator commended by the Kremlin. Rather than addressing the active invasion of a neighboring country, Carlson asked if Putin was making fentanyl or trying to snuff out Christianity in a false comparison to other world leaders.
Carlson sowed seeds of distrust of other news outlets. By telling his viewers that his skewed version of events was the only truth and labeling those who called him out or corrected him as vindictive liars and enemies of conservative media, he monopolized the legitimacy of news.
During the golden era of Trumpism, Carlson capitalized on the opportunity of building a brand from previously fringe voices, propelled and emboldened by the shifting Overton window, the range of ideas deemed acceptable by the general public.
With over three million viewers tuning in each night, it became the highest-rated primetime program and in turn, Carlson became the face of conservative “reporting”.
Until, of course, Carlson lost his 8 p.m. slot, following Dominion Voting System’s defamation lawsuit against Fox News, which culminated in a $787.5 million settlement and Carlson’s abrupt departure from the network.
When Fox announced Carlson’s discharge, shock echoed across the political spectrum.
But the defining image Tucker Carlson presented to his viewers was beginning to fade even before his firing. As part of Dominion’s lawsuit, several of Carlson’s text exchanges were made public, including multiple messages in which he was critical of the former president he adulated on air.
“We are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights, I truly can’t wait,” Carlson wrote to a Fox employee.
Concerning the stolen election lies he staunchly defended when the cameras were rolling, Carlson told a Fox executive producer that Trump’s lawyer and the largest perpetrator of election lies, “Sidney Powell, is lying.”
Carlson had three million nightly viewers, but in them, he also had three million loyal consumers paying for cable and watching ads each night, reigning in massive profits. He understood the performativity behind the sea of misinformation he spewed to millions. Radical media generates vastly more revenue due to its dedicated fanbase devoting more money and time to the outlet. The profit motive leads many media companies to prioritize ensnaring an audience over factual, quality reporting.
Carlson crossed the line between entertainment and news by valuing sensationalism over legitimacy. Perhaps one of the most devastating occurrences in America in the past few decades has been the failure of the American media.
The media progressively overemphasized an “us vs them” mentality — one that has ignited mass polarization and even violence throughout the country. Because of this, it is vital to understand the external influences on the media and process how they might be influencing the stories you read.
Despite his firing, Carlson is nowhere near obscurity. He recently announced the moving of his show to Twitter because of its looser regulations on speech. Carlson will, no doubt, be in the public spotlight for the foreseeable future. To many, it’s not exactly clear how to deal with Carlson moving forward. On one hand, people should be informed of the dangers of hateful media with Carlson being used as a prime example. On the other hand, bringing attention to this issue may only skyrocket Carlson to the peak of his fame. A peak which is, personally, definitely a worthy sacrifice to such a vital issue. In an age where mass media is more accessible than ever before, education on its dangers is essential; Especially if America wants to maintain its democracy.