Media Matters for America incited public backlash this week when it published a series of vulgar comments that Fox News prime-time host Tucker Carlson made as a guest years ago on a shock-jock radio program.
In an admittedly organized effort beginning Sunday against Fox News and its popular political commentator, the liberal media advocacy group published two batches of audio clips that contain remarks Carlson made as a regular caller to The Bubba the Love Sponge Show in Tampa, Fla., between 2006 and 2011, before he worked for Fox News. In the tapes, Carlson, who professed to be a Christian in a 2013 interview with WORLD’s Marvin Olasky, uses sexist and racial slurs, mocks Iraqis and Muslims, and defends convicted child sex abuser Warren Jeffs.
Carlson responded on Twitter that he was caught “saying something naughty,” but he stopped short of an apology. “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 tweeted. “Anyone who disagrees with my views is welcome to come on and explain why.”
He has since accused Media Matters and other liberal groups of trying to silence both Fox News and his show but promised, “We will never bow to the mob.”
In November 2018, a literal mob of about 20 people protested outside Carlson’s home in Washington, D.C., chanting “Tucker Carlson, we will fight. We know where you sleep at night” and spray-painting an anarchy symbol on his driveway. The incident, which Carlson called chilling and upsetting, further evidenced an ongoing campaign by his opponents not just to counter Carlson’s ideas, but also to keep him from expressing them at all.
Media Matters has hinted it will publish more damaging audio of Carlson. The group pushed companies to sever ties with Fox News and admitted it timed the release of the clips with the network’s Wednesday meeting with advertisers, even organizing a small protest outside Fox News headquarters. So far, the bedding company Sheex and pharmaceutical maker Astra Zeneca have pulled ads from the program, according to The Washington Post. Fox News also has lost some advertisers recently because of critical statements host Jeanine Pirro made about U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and her adherence to Muslim teachings. Fox News executives publicly rebuked Pirro, but have stood by Carlson.
“My intention ultimately is to enforce a change of behavior, not to eradicate Fox,” Media Matters President Angelo Carusone said. But he has learned that the outrage machine can turn in both directions: This week, The Daily Caller dug up old blog posts in which Carusone made degrading references to Jews, transgender people, and Bangladeshis. Rather than debating the merits of each other’s ideas, the two sides in the Carlson-Carusone showdown have fixated on the question, “Who is a bigger sinner?” The answer, of course, is neither—or both, as the Bible says, “There is none who does good, not even one” (Psalm 53:3).
National Review’s David French wrote this week that more than Carlson’s and Carusone’s reputations are at stake in the debate. “Our nation cannot maintain its culture of free speech if we continue to reward those who seek to destroy careers rather than rebut ideas,” he wrote, emphasizing that the outrage machine has much more tolerance for liberal pundits than conservative ones. Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker agreed, writing that though she disagreed with Carlson’s comments, silencing him was not the solution: “When it comes to free thought and expression, the remedies are always worse than the original offense.”