This week I’m down with the flu. I read Jane Mayer’s article on Fox and Trump, sold as a journey from partisanship to propaganda, but more readily a reminder to take these freaks seriously. Sean Hannity seems to be running things, he is very docile which pleases his master greatly. His square dog face could be inside the White House in another world in place of Trump, but instead he gets to do it from the studio. As Mayer argues, it is the culmination of years worth of effort on behalf of the Murdoch empire, to get so close to a President that you can make him dance.
Because TV culture is so pervasive and so insidious we have to constantly remind ourselves of reality. Even the most horrible incidents have to be dressed up nicely, so racist attacks are “racially charged,” Nazis on the internet are the alt-right, the most terrible people can have a go in front of the cameras as long as they don’t look scruffy. There are so many of these instances, making things palatable so they don’t make you recoil from the screen, it becomes tiring and offensive.
Fox News is home to the most extreme part of this phenomenon, it is a machine of hate that has now become impossible to separate from the Trump administration. Here is Mayer’s description which I have changed the order of slightly: “The White House and Fox interact so seamlessly that it can be hard to determine, during a particular news cycle, which one is following the other’s lead. … “It’s a radicalization model.” For both Trump and Fox, “fear is a business strategy—it keeps people watching.” It keeps people hating too, and the two outrage factories seem to pump things out symmetrically; Jeanine Pirro thinks that Ilhan Omar’s hijab might be unconstitutional in a week where Republicans (and some Democrats) are trying extremely hard to misrepresent every word that comes out of her mouth. So what began on Fox; that horrible campaign in 2016, has become more and more dissonant a loop, and now we have the constant grinding and feedback of a TV presidency.
One person who wasn’t much of a focus in Mayer’s article was Tucker Carlson, and I have a quite morbid attachment to his brand. Even up close on screen he appears isolated in the middle of the pavement begging people to take out their headphones and join the Latter-day Saints. I remember when I first saw Carlson, in an old video of Crossfire where Jon Stewart is the guest – only first impressions were that he wears a bow-tie. But we have to suffer more than his appearance, as well there are the stupid ideas that he spits out for the audience. Contrarian posturing, more so than any TV bastard he’s just pissing off the other kids so they’ll talk to him. I had planned to riff on Carlson a bit more but with tonight’s unearthing of his version of locker room talk it might be best to let him speak for himself.
CARLSON: Because in TV, you have to take the most popular point of view all the time. That’s the whole idea… Whatever the public is for, whoever the majority is for, you gotta be for. So you know what I mean? You’re not allowed to take like unpopular or confusing points of view.
Usefully then he admits what a total hack he is and saves me a lot of work. But the main takeaway from these interviews is far more pertinent. He reveals an incredible condescension towards women, disgusting attitudes about rape, underage girls, power relations, abuse, everything…
TUCKER CARLSON: By the way, women hate you when they do you wrong and you put up with it.
CARLSON: Because they hate weakness. They’re like dogs that way. They can smell it on you, and they have contempt for it; they’ll bite you…
CARLSON: I mean, I love women, but they’re extremely primitive, they’re basic, they’re not that hard to understand. And one of the things they hate more than anything is weakness in a man.
The most stunning part of this might be his defence of Warren Jeffs, which I will not be the first to point out even made The Love Sponge feel uncomfortable.
In light of the fact that Fox News seems to be one of the most aggressive places where sexual harassment takes place, it is not that surprising that every single man in a position of power there seems to hold disgraceful views towards women. There is a culture of belittling, obscuring, denying, and spending obscene amounts of money to make sure those women’s stories are not heard, and every time we hear the private thoughts of the men making these decisions it becomes harder to be impressed by the presentation they put on. There is no surprise that they killed the story on Trump and Stormy Daniels, because it is the same story for the rest of them.
Here is the response from Carlson:
A very strange reaction, Carlson invites us to watch a bit more Fox if we’re disgusted. Advertising might his best chance to keep the gig going at this point. But how strongly must the feeling of impunity run through the halls of Fox News? He is right that he doesn’t need to bother apologising, and that the “ritual contrition” doesn’t change anything, but that’s because there is no accountability if you are in his class, not because people don’t know what he thinks. So much of his rhetoric is loaded with meaning that it’s impossible not to understand his point of view. People are making a direct challenge to that, to racist and misogynistic hate speech, they are saying that you are accountable. A week of hate, a week of spewing bile, I’ll finally stop coughing but Fox will stay as sick as ever.
Keep reading: Fox News couldn’t care less that Tucker Carlson is a misogynist. Erik Wemple in The Washington Post
Some great stuff from a while ago: “Sexual harassment, and the sexism it’s predicated on, involves more than the harassers and the harassed; when the harassers are men with loud microphones, their private misogyny has wide-reaching public consequences.” – Jill Filipovic in The New York Times
“This tsunami of stories doesn’t just reveal the way that men have grabbed and rubbed and punished and shamed women; it shows us that they did it all while building the very world in which we still have to live.” – Rebecca Traister in New York
Photo: USA Today