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Fresh Scrutiny For Fox's Tucker Carlson As Top Writer Quits Over Bigoted Posts

Jul 12, 2020
Originally published on July 14, 2020 9:32 am

Updated at 9:35 p.m. ET Monday

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.

The writer, Blake Neff, resigned on Friday after questions raised by CNN's Oliver Darcy led to the posts becoming public.

Carlson addressed the controversy on the air Monday night, saying Neff's comments were wrong and "have no connection to the show." After noting Neff had paid the price for his actions, Carlson also spoke about what he called the costs of self-righteousness.

"When we pretend we are holy, we are lying," he said. "When we pose as blameless in order to hurt other people, we are committing the gravest sin of all, and we will be punished for it, no question."

In an internal memo, 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, African immigrants and Asian Americans, according to CNN. He also repeatedly demeaned a woman, posting details about her dating life and mocking her in personal terms.

Carlson has publicly cited the importance of the value of Neff's work on his show and for an 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, told NPR. On his program, she said, 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 memo from Scott and Wallace, which was shared with reporters and offered neither support nor criticism for Carlson. Carlson declined several requests for comment from NPR.

These concerns are not new, along with pressures on and from advertisers.

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 emigrant from Afghanistan.

Just last week, Carlson questioned the patriotism of two Democratic members of Congress who are both women of color: Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who emigrated from Somalia, and Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, 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 U.S. Rep. Steve King of Iowa, whom Carlson defended for tweeting that America could not "restore our civilization with somebody else's babies."

Similarly, the Daily Caller, a publication that Carlson co-founded and in which he owned a major stake until last month, has repeatedly faced 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 arguments. 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."

Carlson said at the end of Monday's show that he would take the next four days off to go fishing on a long-planned vacation.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Tucker Carlson is enjoying the best ratings for any cable news host in U.S. history. He also has faced a wave of advertiser boycotts over his remarks on people of color, immigrants and women. On Friday, Carlson's longtime chief writer resigned over revelations he had written bigoted posts for years. Carlson addressed the controversy on his tonight. NPR's David Folkenflik reports on the stakes for Fox's brightest star.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: This moment is - how do we say this? - nothing new for Tucker Carlson. Carlson has, in the past, referred to Iraqis as, quote, "semi-literate primitive monkeys." On a radio show, he insulted Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan's looks. Immigrants, Carlson argued on his Fox show back in 2018 - they don't get the job done.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TUCKER CARLSON TONIGHT")

TUCKER CARLSON: Our leaders demand that you 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.

FOLKENFLIK: A slew of advertisers dropped after that.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Listen. He's anti-immigrant. He's frequently racist.

FOLKENFLIK: This is former NBC News and CNN host Soledad O'Brien, who is Black and Latina and a first-generation American.

O'BRIEN: He says despicable things about women. He says despicable things about Asians. He says despicable things about Latinos.

FOLKENFLIK: And there is an irony. For the past three months, Carlson has drawn an estimated 4.3 million American viewers each night, a record for cable news. President Trump frequently watches Carlson and tweets praise of him. Yet major advertisers are peeling away again. In June, Disney, Papa John's and T-Mobile were among the companies that said they would avoid his show, though their commercials still appear on Fox. They cited his commentary about the Black Lives Matter movement.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TUCKER CARLSON TONIGHT")

CARLSON: This may be a lot of things, this moment we're living through, but it is definitely not about Black lives. And remember that when they come for you, and at this rate, they will.

FOLKENFLIK: A Fox spokesperson told reporters the they Carlson was referring to was Democrats not protesters, not Black Americans. Carlson most recently questioned the patriotism of two Democrats, both women of color who were born abroad. Sen. Tammy Duckworth and Congresswoman Ilhan Omar had both criticized President Trump's Mount Rushmore speech.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TUCKER CARLSON TONIGHT")

CARLSON: The problem is there are many of us here who do like this country. We live here. We don't want to destroy it. We have every right to fight to preserve our nation and our heritage and our culture.

FOLKENFLIK: That from last Monday. Duckworth is a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who lost her legs in 2004 after the helicopter she was piloting was shot down by Iraqi insurgents. Duckworth tweeted that Carlson should walk a mile in her legs, which happen to be made of steel and titanium. Then on Friday came the resignation of Carlson's top writer Blake Neff. CNN's Oliver Darcy revealed that Neff had posted racist, homophobic and sexist commentaries online under a pseudonym for at least five years. Carlson didn't address it last Friday but instead condemned cancel culture, in which he said liberals silence people they oppose. Soledad O'Brien nevertheless notes that several white supremacists, including David Duke and Richard Spencer, have embraced Carlson's show.

O'BRIEN: That is an indication that he says the kinds of things that they like to hear. He frames arguments that are basically white supremacist arguments. He's not going to use the N-word on TV, certainly, but I think he goes right up to that line.

FOLKENFLIK: This evening, Carlson spoke directly about Neff for the first time, distancing himself from the hateful remarks.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TUCKER CARLSON TONIGHT")

CARLSON: What Blake wrote anonymously was wrong. We don't endorse those words. They have no connection to this show. It is wrong to attack people for qualities they cannot control.

FOLKENFLIK: Carlson did not back down or address his own rhetoric, which remains under attack.

David Folkenflik, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE WAR ON DRUGS SONG, "UNDER THE PRESSURE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.