Photo: Seth Wenig/AP
“I hate him passionately.”
Thanks to new lawsuits in a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News, we now know exactly how the network’s star host, Tucker Carlson, really feels about Donald Trump. Two days before the U.S. Capitol riot, about the same time Carlson was publicly singing Trump’s praises to his audience of millions, he was also sending private texts to members of his staff about how much he despised the man. It’s almost like Carlson doesn’t believe a single word he says on TV.
That text message wasn’t a one-off: The court documents are full of juicy little examples of Carlson bashing Trump. For example, during the 2020 presidential election, Carlson told his producer that Trump was a terrible businessman. “Everything of [his businesses] fail,” he texted. “What he’s good at is destroying things. There he is the undisputed world champion.” In another text, sent the day after the Capitol riots, Carlson described Trump as a “demonic force, a destroyer.” And in yet another text, he called Trump’s presidency a “disaster.” Oddly enough, none of those opinions made it onto his show.
While these text messages were only recently revealed, it’s hardly a revelation that Carlson’s public and private views often diverge. Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s prodigal son, for example, is a frequent subject of mockery and anger on Fox News. In the real world, however, Carlson seems to have quite different views of Hunter. While Tucker Carlson has admitted to being close to Hunter in the past, he wasn’t exactly thrilled about publicizing how cozy their relationship was. It was revealed last year that in 2014, Carlson and his wife sought Hunter’s help in getting their son, Buckley, into Georgetown University. Hunter graciously agreed to write a letter of recommendation.
Buckley didn’t end up in Georgetown. However, as the Washington Post noted at the time, Carlson’s emails with Hunter show “how Carlson once tried to take advantage of Washington’s elite political circles, which he now regularly rails against as the ‘ruling class’.” Carlson, let’s not forget, also likes to rail against “affirmative action” in college admissions, saying that “a meritocracy is the only fair way to run a society.” I’m not sure it’s “meritocracy” to ask the (then) Vice President’s son to get your spawn into college.
Who is Carlson anyway? What does he actually believe? It seems unlikely, but I hope news of his feelings for Trump will lead Carlson’s viewers to ask those questions — and question his credibility. After all, the court documents not only make clear Carlson’s opinion of Trump, they also show that he has no respect for his viewers. Like journalism professor Jay Rosen tweeted: “If you feel you have to hide such a view from your viewers night after night, you develop a deep contempt for them because night after night they fall for what you know in your heart to be an act.”
At one time, Carlson was publicly disgusted by journalists who put on an act for their viewers. The Internet has a very long memory and, in light of the new court documents, a 2003 video has surfaced of Carlson criticizing Bill O’Reilly, then a huge name on Fox News. “Bill O’Reilly is really talented,” said fresh-faced Carlson in the clip. “…[But] O’Reilly’s success is based on the perception that he really is who he claims to be. If he ever gets out of character, it’s over. There is a deep falseness in the center of his shtik.
Carlson has been taken out of character. Is it over for him? Somehow I don’t think so. The world is a very different place than it was in 2003; the increase in political tribalism means that hypocrisy is more rampant and more easily forgiven. New York University professor Jay Van Bavel, an expert on the “partisan brain,” has observed that presenting examples of someone on “their side” being a hypocrite rarely changes behavior.
Rather, people “often double down on their beliefs or ignore evidence that their behavior is inconsistent with the past.” In other words, Carlson’s viewers will probably just ignore the court documents. Which won’t be very difficult since they are unlikely to get much attention on Fox News.