The real reason Tucker Carlson should have been fired
Lies over the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election appear to be what finally finished off Tucker Carlson at Fox News. But the TV showman was an equal opportunist when it came to disinformation.
Carlson was axed on Monday, days after Fox agreed to pay $787.5m to settle a defamation lawsuit with Dominion Voting Systems over false election claims.
“Fox News Media and Tucker Carlson have agreed to part ways. We thank him for his service to the network as a host and prior to that as a contributor,” read a network statement. Carlson reportedly found out on Monday morning that he would be replaced in his primetime slot that night.
It was an abrupt, and unexpected, end for Carlson who emerged as Fox News’ biggest star in tandem with the rise of Donald Trump for his willingness to touch the third rail of right-wing extremist views.
No topic was off-limits for wild, unsubstantiated claims including electoral voting machines, Covid vaccines, migrants, racial justice protesters, abortion rights and gun control.
Carlson will also be remembered as one of the most prolific disseminators of misinformation on the climate crisis in recent memory.
“Will get lost amid the noise of his sudden departure, but it should not be forgotten that Tucker Carlson has been one of the very worst spreaders of misinformation, conspiracy theories and falsehoods about climate change over the past decade in the US media,” Leo Hickman, editor of climate-focused publication Carbon Brief, tweeted.
Tucker Carlson Tonight was a hotbed of fossil-fuel industry talking points, wackadoo conspiracy theories and monologues interwoven with racist, misogynistic, xenophobic and homophobic material.
He claimed that the “existence of winter disproves the science of climate change”; called climate science a “state religion”; said scientists and activists “bully” people like him and “hate the Earth... hate nature.”
According to New York Times analysis, Carlson’s most basic, fearmongering trope was “You vs Them”, a notion that he also used on climate topics.
In July 2021, for example, he claimed that Texas’ power companies were automatically raising the temperature of residents’ thermostats during a heatwave without permission. “Woo! That’s not creepy or anything,” he told his viewers.
(In reality, Texas’s smart thermostat energy conservation program has been around for 20 years and customers choose to enroll in the program in exchange for rebates, fact-checking site Politifact reported.)
While often scientifically and factually incoherent, the segments played well with his older, white, conservative audience by deploying such themes as government overreach, tax hikes, liberal elites, and globalism.
“Tucker Carlson and other hosts at Fox News have been prolific and influential spreaders of climate misinformation,” Dr John Cook, a senior research fellow at the University of Melbourne and an expert on misinformation, told The Independent via email.
“The problem is there’s no climate version of Dominion to hold them to account for misleading the public about climate change.
“Instead it’s the public and the environment that will pay the price for delayed climate action due to misinformation, in the years and decades to come.”
Perhaps most tragic of all, is that there’s serious doubt that Carlson believed a word of it.
The discovery process of the Dominion lawsuit revealed a glut of Carlson’s text messages and emails which exposed him as scornful of stories which he presented to his audience as “truth”.
But his primetime show keenly used exhaustive “minute-by-minute” ratings data, The New York Times recently reported, to keep close tabs on what kept people tuning in.
The Independent has contacted Carlson’s lawyer, Bryan Freedman, for comment.
Peddling outright denial of climate change has become a harder sell in recent years as Americans experience more deadly heatwaves, wildfires, hurricanes, droughts and floods.
Thus climate misinformation has morphed, becoming more insidious, and designed to confuse people with feelings of hopelessness, cynicism and mistrust.
So many lies, so little time. In memoriam of Tucker Carlson & Fox News, 2009-2023. pic.twitter.com/7CCXFCVbRt
— The Lincoln Project (@ProjectLincoln) April 24, 2023
“The misinformation arguments are that people can’t trust scientists, can’t trust models, can’t trust climate data. It’s all about building doubt and undermining public trust in climate science,” Dr Cook previously told The Independent .
Half of US adults now describe climate change as a major threat to the country, according to recent Pew surveys, but a deep political divide remains. The number of Democrats who view climate change as a major threat has risen to 78 per cent in the past decade while Republicans remain stuck at 23 per cent.
But younger people – the viewers most avidly sought by advertisers – are more likely than older adults to want action on environmental and climate issues, Pew also discovered.
In the wake of the Dominion settlement, Fox News doesn’t appear a network particularly ready to change course.
“We acknowledge the Court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false,” the network said, in a statement.
“This settlement reflects Fox’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards.”
Dr Michael Mann, one of the US’s leading climate scientists and director of the Penn Center for Science, Sustainability and the Media, described Carlson as “ one of the worst spreaders of climate change denial and disinformation” but also sounded a note of caution.
“Unfortunately, however, he will almost certainly be replaced by somebody equally bad,” he told The Independent, in an email.
“The real problem is Rupert Murdoch and his ties to bad petrostate actors, like Saudi Arabia. Until that larger problem is solved, we can expect more of the same.”