I’ll never deny it: I enjoy watching Tucker Carlson. Granted, if you’re aware of my political inclinations, such a revelation is hardly a revelation at all. However, it is clear that Tucker’s popularity cannot be reduced to conventional political parameters.
It’s far from hyperbole to say Tucker is extremely popular. As far as I know, he’s the only commentator to be universally known by his first name – a testament to the public’s familiarity with and affinity for his work.
Much to the dismay of his critics, and regardless of his abrupt departure from Fox, Tucker Carlson Tonight remains the most popular cable news show.
You don’t get those numbers by appealing to half or less-than-half of the US electorate. Even left-leaning and/or liberal-minded individuals are occasionally forced to admit a passing fondness for the paleoconservative pundit. The overarching question is: why?
For decades, Tucker has been part of the corporate cable network in America, giving him a great deal of exposure, both to American people and to the wider world, yet it’s evident he’s managed to retain a kernel of ideological independence.
In addition to opinions which are standard in such circles (trans women aren’t women, Democrats are bad, free speech is a good thing, etc.), Tucker has voiced opposition to displacement-level immigration, expressed scepticism about American foreign policy, criticised ‘neoliberal’ economic orthodoxy, attacked the shortcomings of the GOP establishment, and taken aim at liberal presuppositions about the nature of politics – all of which have a mass cross-ideological appeal.
He’s also complained that the Green M&M’s new shoes aren’t sexy.
Yes, Tucker’s reputation is something of a double-edged sword; the guy pushing the boat out on subjects that people actually care about (at the very least, subjects that need more attention than they’re getting) is associated with some of the weirdest segments of commentary.
For many, this is enough to dismiss Tucker entirely. Such people tend to be disgruntled by Tucker’s comments on other – that is, more serious – topics, so will latch onto anything that can be used to belittle those that admit to liking his content.
Then again, it’s worth remembering that the ridiculousness of such moments isn’t exactly Tucker’s fault. For every case of “CRAZY CONSERVATIVE CULTURE WAR BACKLASH”, there’s an utterly bizarre, but completely earnest, decision made by PR shitlibs beforehand.
Consider this: Mars could’ve saved themselves a lot of trouble if they’d just taken a step back and realised that trying to pass-off anthropomorphic chocolate as civil rights advocates is, in all actuality, a really stupid idea.
Nevertheless, on the whole, Tucker can be credited with casting light on various issues of fundamental importance, simultaneously articulating sentiments which, although largely unrepresented in mainstream or elite circles, resonate with swathes of ordinary people.
Considering this, we can put to rest the idea of Murdoch’s media empire as a right-wing propaganda factory. The views accrued by Tucker’s show, whether fans or haters, aren’t insignificant to say the least. No thoroughly ruthless media mogul would so willingly – or temperamentally – get shot of one of the organisation’s major assets.
The plain reality is that Murdoch & Co. were prepared to get rid of Tucker for financial and political reasons. Despite the viewership, advertisers weren’t scrambling to fill the evening slot as quickly as Murdoch would’ve liked; that and Tucker’s willingness to give the slightest amount of oxygen to figures on the dissident right, as well as providing pushback against the dominant Western narrative of the Russo-Ukrainian war.
However, it’s apparent that opponents wanted to twist the knife, with Media Matters for America (a left-wing media organisation) feeling the need to leak ‘off-camera’ footage of Tucker complaining about the Fox Nation website.
This supposed Gotcha, like Tucker’s departure, seems to have only made things worse for his rivals. Why would the public care that the candid man on the TV speaks candidly? Besides, the fact he seems to behave the same way in private as he does on the air works in his favour.
If anything, Tucker’s forthrightness is part of the reason he’s landed in hot water (at least, with MSNBC viewers). Details published during Fox’s defamation battle with Dominion revealed that Tucker had (God forbid) called someone a cunt. Far from an expose, this detail was left unredacted at his request.
In addition to his use of Anglo-Saxon, Tucker was reprimanded for being acute to the opinions of his “postmenopausal” fans (finally, a man that acknowledges the input of women!) and having the sheer audacity to be funnier than every striking late-night host.
Tucker was also frustrated by the producers’ insistence to adopt a more casual dress code. Too right! The expectation to be relatable is endemic and trying to make the son of Dick Carlson an average dude is short-sighted at best.
Every major outlet, in one form or another, has produced something explaining in a smugly matter-of-fact way that Tucker isn’t your average joe; that he is from a relatively comfortable, well-connected background – completely unlike themselves, of course!
Unfortunately for them, nobody cares. Nobody cares that he’s a yuppie, nobody cares that he wore a bowtie back in the day. By his own admission, Tucker is an elitist, not a populist, and intuitively understands the implications of a dissatisfied populous.
For a Fox News host, he’s shown more ‘class consciousness’ than any leftist politician, commentator, or intellectual in recent history.
An aristocratic project from the outset, nobody in the United States seriously expects the people on TV, just as with people in Hollywood movies or the White House, to be ‘just like them’.
What matters to the American people is that they have a voice; what matters is that someone, somewhere, at the apex of their society, acts as an avatar for their hopes, aspirations, and interests.
In this regard, Tucker is to mainstream media what Trump is to mainstream politics: their imperfect, but sufficient, representative in a world which they otherwise cannot access.
Just as America’s media and politics has been globalised, so too has this principle, encompassing those of us that cannot rely on our domestic media apparatus to get ideas and concerns into public circulation.
Even if the cynics are vindicated, even if Tucker is just another opportunist, running the circuit of American media for his own private benefit, at least their concerns may be articulated as a consequence. In a world run by gangsters, the best you can hope for is a gangster that offers security.