As we start a new year in the land of the free, in lieu of resolutions, which I am duty-bound by way of experience to ignore, some observations instead.
So, where do we start? How about the Baghdad Bob of modern American political discourse, Tucker Carlson. The Tuckster has gone in so many fanciful directions in his broken-field running on behalf of Vladimir Putin, there has to be some sort of Heismanovich Trophy waiting at the goal line. After all, if you were Putin for a moment, what would you dearly like to see spouted from the pie hole of an American political commentator?
Oh, how about the President of these United States is a senile old anarchist who hates this country, your religion and our way of life? How about the institutions of justice in this country are hopelessly corrupt and can’t be trusted? The JFK assassination, 9/11 and January sixth? Well, of course, you’ve been lied to. I actually heard him the other night mention that “...we are the country that supposedly put a man on the moon.” Where is the avenging right fist of Buzz Aldrin when you really need it?
And then there is Ukraine, a hotbed of (Jewish?) Nazis that Putin had no choice but to try to decimate. In December the Fox News host declared with that lipless, stern visage of his, that Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, is a “dictator” and “a dangerous authoritarian” waging a war on Christianity. Seriously. This is after describing his military fatigues worn while visiting Washington, the garments of a “strip club manager,” though I have no idea what a strip club manager would wear. I had pictured an Hawaiian shirt and neck chains, but I could be wrong here.
When the Queen died earlier this year, Tucker was appalled that anyone might mention the legacy of cruelty wrought by the British Empire. Carlson declared them an empire with a heart as big as Tanganyika, apparently. Despite being ostensibly a citizen of a nation that around 250 years ago declared it had had a bellyful of this kinder, gentler colonialism, he declared, “We will see many empires going forward, but we will never see one so benign.” It’s enough to make Gandhi take a swing at him.
Now, to be fair, she seemed a charming and gracious lady and the heyday of the empire is long over, but even in this era of figurehead monarchy, this kind of historical whitewash would do Tom Sawyer proud. I can only imagine his defense of manifest destiny and our benign treatment of native Americans and Africans. Oh, wait, I don’t have to imagine.
With that look of puzzlement that resembles a chimp figuring out a locked suitcase, he compared the removal of statues celebrating a group who turned on their own country, our country, to defend the enslavement of fellow humans, to the Taliban tearing down religious monuments. So those who don’t support monuments to treason are the intolerant ones? Got it. Oh, and the violence involving the "Jews will not replace us," gang in Charlottesville? That was all instigated by the left, according to his expert analysis.
And, if you are sitting Putin’s chair at the end of that long and terribly impressive table we see in newsclips, you would want the American public to see those in the opposite party as traitors who want to take their country away. The so-called “Great Replacement Theory” has a long and dishonorable history going back to the 19th century. But it gained momentum, and a name, early in this century in France as they dealt with immigrants from the middle east. From Wikipedia...
"The Great Replacement (French: Grand Remplacement), also known as replacement theory or great replacement theory, is a white nationalist, far-right conspiracy theory disseminated by French author Renaud Camus. The original theory states that, with the complicity or cooperation of "replacist" elites, the ethnic French and white European populations at large are being demographically and culturally replaced with non-white peoples—especially from Muslim-majority countries—through mass migration, demographic growth and a drop in the birth rate of white Europeans. Since then, similar claims have been advanced in other national contexts, notably in the United States."
So where does Monsieur Carleson fit in? Right where it will do the most good in generating anger among the booboisee. For example... He argued that Democrats were intentionally “importing more obedient voters from the third world" to "replace the current electorate” and secure their own power.
In fact, he has a phrase for people like me, you know, glow-in-the-dark Irish white guys. We are "Legacy Americans." And, well, we could go on and on with the racist, misinformed and incendiary nonsense that is his stock and trade these days, including potentially deadly conspiracies about covid. My question is why? He has literally taken Putin's side in the genocide occurring in Ukraine, and actively undermined our faith in the institutions of government here at home. Why?
A couple of things seem obvious. As someone who practiced the broadcast news trade for over half a century, I understand the dynamics involved. Staying alive in the media biosphere these days is much tougher than when I started back in 1970 doing weekend news at KTRH in Houston while finishing school.
Now the problem with the 24-hour news cycle introduced by Ted Turner at CNN is that you must continually feed the beast. Thus began features and opinion shows filling in between repetitious newscasts. Those opinion shows were much like public affairs programs at first, lengthy interviews with newsmakers about the affairs of the day. Then came Crossfire, a left/right debate program that pitted political opposites against each other in staged disagreements that came to resemble the parodies they inspired ("Jane, you ignorant slut."). Then came MSNBC and Fox, and now whole networks were involved in "Crossfire" on a much larger stage. But now, these partisan opinion hatcheries faced a problem I once described in reference to Howard Stern of all people. When you deal in outrage on a daily basis, the public becomes inured to it. So, you have to keep pushing the envelope. You can't just have a porn star on your show to talk dirty, you have to spank her. And then, well, how do you follow that?
Tucker McNear Carlson had a privileged upbringing in San Francisco, attending all the right schools and wearing all the right bow ties, and for several years, actually did some reputedly good journalism for several publications on both the left and the right. When his parents divorced, his reporter father married the heiress to the Swanson's frozen food empire, thus ensuring that whatever happened to him career-wise, there would be an ample supply of fish sticks to tide him over.
He worked, believe it or not, for both MSNBC and CNN before discovering the fertile conservative bottom land that is Fox News. He was at one point, the co-host of Crossfire along with political speed-talker Paul Begala. That lasted as long as they didn't invite frequent critic Jon Stewart, then the hugely popular host of The Daily Show. But, in an abundance of ill-conceived bravado, they did. In the ensuing battle of wits, the Tuckster gave new worlds of meaning to the words, Little Big Horn.
So, where to go from there. The obvious choice was Fox, and to be absolutely fair, the network is monstrously popular, and I mean that in every sense of the word.
But once you get to Fox, how do you outmaneuver the established apparatchiks like Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and the charming Laura Ingraham? Well, he laid low, and sure enough, both O'Reilly and network head Roger Ailes tripped over their zippers and found themselves on the beach career-wise.
With O'Reilly gone, flanking Hannity, whom one media consultant described to me as someone who would have benefitted from just one more year of college before dropping out, was easy. Ingraham, whose specialty is snide, carries her own glass ceiling with her. So all Tucker had to do was ratchet up the outrage and that means trekking out to the hinterlands of sanity, which might have seemed scary at first. But never underestimate the willingness of the Fox audience to buy into anything as long as it is perceived as "owning the libs." Add to that his ability to suck up to Donald Trump, for whom every day is the first day of Festivus, like a remora and you have the recipe for success.
So, side with Putin? Defend colonial imperialism? Don't trust the FBI, DOJ and CIA? Defend racism, demonize brown people, gay people, and an entire political party? Defend attacking the US Capitol? It's the Howard Stern strategy only without the sex.
And make no mistake, it will get farther and farther "out there" until spanking the porn star isn't enough. After all, there are a lot of angry guys short on melanin, and Walmart has a lot of tiki torches. So, I understand the motivation. It's a very competitive media landscape and pushing the envelope is part of the job description.
But as Jon Stewart said about the more benign, though equally annoying version of Tucker on Crossfire, at what price? Like everything in life these days, from climate to mass extinctions to continued life on this planet, everything is transactional. If I'm OK, and won't be discomfited within my lifetime, then why worry about consequences? As John Maynard Keynes said, "in the long run, we'll all be dead." My ratings are good. I'm making beaucoup bucks peddling this bilge and that insulates me from any results of my fear-mongering. Like climate, when it all hits the fan, I'll be long gone, so why should I worry now?
Does he believe any of it? Of course not. It's a means to an end. But, he finally ditched the bowties, so perhaps he isn't a lost cause.
Oh, come on, who am I kidding?
Now, he is part of the Texas Outlaw Writers, and if this doesn't pan out, the outlaw part will still work as he will indeed resort to robbing banks.