Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt finally got his wish. He’s been advocating for the firing of Tucker Carlson for years. And that’s what happened earlier this week when Fox News fired the host of its most popular and influential program. In the absence of any explanation from the network or its parent corporation, News Corp., the public and Carlson’s millions of fans have been free to speculate about the proximate cause of the decision. There is also great uncertainty as to how or when he will return to the spotlight and resume his role in public discourse, which, perhaps as much as any other individual in the media, he has helped shape since “Tucker Carlson Tonight” began appearing on Fox in 2016.
Though Greenblatt and other partisan liberal Democrats deplore the very existence of Fox News and have sought to de-platform it since they seem to think that having a news channel—let alone one whose viewership dwarfed that of its competitors—that dissented from liberal orthodoxies was an outrage not to be tolerated. But Carlson was a particular object of scorn and anger.
They accused him of, in Greenblatt’s words, using “his primetime show to spew antisemitic, racist, xenophobic and anti-LGBTQ hate to millions.” In particular, the ADL claimed that Carlson was guilty of “spreading the Great Replacement Theory,” and in so doing, was an ally of the neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville, Va., in the summer of 2017.
Though most of those accusations are untrue, Carlson is still a problematic figure.
That’s especially true for a Jewish community that is rightly fearful of anyone hostile or indifferent to the fate of Israel or unfazed by antisemitism. And yet the debate about him isn’t really about those concerns. That is why even those who disagreed with him on some issues or were unhappy with the tone of some of his monologues shouldn’t be cheering his departure from the Fox lineup.
Carlson’s importance is something that both his fans and those who despise him agreed about.
Liberals saw him as more than just another media mouthpiece for their political foes. Though his show was a hit from its inception, it became must-watch TV for political observers in the summer of 2020 as he became the tribune of populist conservatism, pushing back against the corporate media consensus parroting the propaganda of the Black Lives Matter movement and the woke Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI) catechism that has come to dominate so much of public life.
As such, he became something of a symbol of the discontent of the approximate half of the public that regards with dismay the way that so much of the nation’s public and cultural life have bowed to the dictates of radical ideologues, and that have branded America as an irremediably and structurally racist nation.
The fights Carlson picked were more often than not partisan in nature, as one might expect for a conservative talk-show host. But they were also rooted in the battle that has been brewing over the way Americans think about the fundamental ideas at the foundation of the United States. At a time when so much of the academy and those who operate our cultural outlets—both popular and the fine arts—believe that the great works of Western civilization are to be rejected because they were largely produced by “dead white men,” Carlson was the rare figure that regarded their defense and the debate about this as supremely important.
In that same context, the ADL’s attempt to brand Carlson’s concerns about the spread of transgender ideology or the way it has been used to endanger children as homophobic is equally wrongheaded. It’s also out of touch with the concerns of ordinary citizens who view the way mainstream liberals have embraced this trend with alarm.
Nor should his opposition to further American involvement in the war in Ukraine classify him as a foe to Jewish interests, let alone a Russian propagandist. The latter is a smear that brings to mind the years of Russia collusion hoax disinformation spread by the left.
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Sounding the alarm on social issues
That’s why the arguments about him are not as simple as people like Greenblatt, who want to dismiss him as a hatemonger, would have the public believe.
To say that is not to ignore Carlson’s failings.
Carlson’s neo-isolationism extended from positions opposing American involvement in unnecessary wars or for spreading democracy, which are now largely shared by most Republicans, to indifference about the threat that a nuclear Iran posed to the West. But as I have noted on many occasions, his unsupportive attitude towards the fight to defend Israel and the threat from Iran made him a rarity on the contemporary political right.
Moreover, he tended to regard antisemitism as not being a disqualifying trait when it came to guests on his show.
He hosted BDS advocate and rabid antisemite Roger Waters of Pink Floyd fame on his show. Though in a sign that Carlson knew that platforming hate for Israel would go over poorly with a conservative audience that loves the Jewish state, the two managed not to mention it in that interview.
Far worse, was his bizarre defense of rap star/fashion mogul Kanye West, now known as “Ye.” Carlson devoted an entire hour to an interview with West but then deceptively edited out some of that disturbed figure’s anti-Jewish rants so as to make him appear more reasonable.
It’s also true that Carlson’s penchant for satirizing his foes could cross over into unacceptable language—for example, criticism of a Tennessee state legislator that had helped incite demonstrations at the state capitol in Nashville and disrupted the work of a democratic body was valid. But saying that this individual “spoke like a sharecropper” went way over the line.
That doesn’t mean that all of the accusations hurled at Carlson by Greenblatt were correct. In particular, the ADL argument that in speaking of the impact of illegal immigration on American democracy, Carlson was advocating for a “great replacement theory” was disingenuous.
Like most conservatives, Carlson adamantly opposed illegal immigration, as well as the way many people trying to cross the U.S. southern border were posing as “refugees” rather than economic migrants. It has always been Democrats who boasted that the influx of Hispanics would alter the political balance of the country in favor of the left. For the ADL to claim that opposing illegal immigration or even favoring a shift in the laws about legal entry to the country is racist and xenophobic is wrong. Equally fallacious is their disingenuous effort to connect the dots between Carlson and the neo-Nazis because of the left’s argument that demography is political destiny.
Though there are good reasons for Jews to be wary of Carlson’s attitudes towards the Middle East, there are others on which he should be considered allied to Jewish interests.
No other prominent figure in public discourse on the right or the left has been a more articulate critic of critical race theory, intersectionality and the spread of the woke DEI catechism. Though the ADL and others go along with these fashionable ideas—and the BLM movement that serves as a cover for them—Carlson was right to sound the alarm about them.
These toxic theories have migrated from academia to being accepted in the mainstream press as pop culture and even by the Biden administration. And since they are predicated on false notions about Jews and Israel being “white” and “oppressors,” they serve as a permission slip for antisemitism, the marginalization of Jews and hatred for Israel. Seen in that light, the Jewish community should understand that someone like Carlson was far more of an ally in the battle against antisemitism than a foe.
No one knows if the details about Carlson’s firing will substantially add to the accusations against him or not. Nor can it be certain whether his future positions will further alienate him from Jewish conservatives. But at a time when the discussion about the left’s assault on Western civilization by radical ideologues may well be the most important debate going on, Carlson’s willingness to take up the cudgels for the values that created American freedom put him at the focal point of the country’s discourse. Those who are cheering for his silencing may think they are standing up against hate. But the acquiescence of groups like the ADL to toxic ideologies that endanger Jews may make them more of a threat to democracy and Jewish security than Carlson ever was.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.