Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Fox News Says We Shouldn't Believe Tucker Carlson

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump's bagman—Michael Cohen—paid off Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet about sexual encounters with his boss. Karen McDougal took a similar story to the National Enquirer, which paid her $150,000 and then spiked the story, as they had promised Trump they would do. 

Two years later, Tucker Carlson claimed that Trump was the victim of extortion by these two women.

Carlson first told viewers, "Remember the facts of the story. These are undisputed."...

He then proceeded to say, "Two women approach Donald Trump and threaten to ruin his career and humiliate his family if he doesn't give them money. Now that sounds like a classic case of extortion."

Carlson's so-called "facts" were a lie. McDougal never approached Trump. She claims that "she feared word of the affair would leak out during the campaign anyway and she preferred to be the one to tell the story."

McDougal proceeded to sue Carlson for falsely accusing her of the crime of extortion. Fox News lawyers employed an interesting defense.

Just read U.S. District Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil's opinion, leaning heavily on the arguments of Fox's lawyers: The "'general tenor' of the show should then inform a viewer that [Carlson] is not 'stating actual facts' about the topics he discusses and is instead engaging in 'exaggeration' and 'non-literal commentary.' "

She wrote: "Fox persuasively argues, that given Mr. Carlson's reputation, any reasonable viewer 'arrive[s] with an appropriate amount of skepticism' about the statement he makes."...

In written briefs, [Carlson's lawyers] cited previous rulings to argue Carlson's words were "loose, figurative or hyperbolic." They took note of a nonjournalist's use of the word "extort," which proved nondefamatory because it was mere "rhetorical hyperbole, a vigorous epithet."

The Fox News lawyers were basically saying that anyone who believes what Carlson says is not a "reasonable viewer," which is quite an indictment of all of the people who've made his show number one in the Fox News lineup. 

I'm also struck by all the verbiage used to avoid saying that Carlson lies, such as "exaggeration," "non-literal commentary," and "rhetorical hyperbole." But then, we've gotten used to that in the era of Trumpism. Remember Kellyanne Conway's "alternative facts?" We were also cautioned to not take what Trump said "literally."

What all of this demonstrates is that the people at Fox News are not only lying—they've openly admitted that they're lying. That is an even worse indictment than the one that can be leveled against the people we might call "true believers." In the end, people like Carlson are playing their audience for fools and fueling the divisive politics that is threatening our democracy, as Kevin Drum noted.

Fox News—not social media, not think tanks—is the primal source of racism, xenophobia, polarization, and reckless lying in American media. Until we somehow put a stop to this, it will be hard to ever recover the country we used to have. Not a perfect country by any stretch, but at least one where we all had a roughly similar idea of what was true and were willing to talk openly about it. Rupert Murdoch has earned billions of dollars for destroying American politics, and he’ll keep doing it until the money hose goes away.
We should all take the lawyers at Fox News seriously when they say that we'd be fools to believe what Tucker Carlson says. 


  1. Carlson should be required to read a disclaimer periodically throughout the show. If it's good enough for the court, it's good enough to put on air.

    1. "If it's good enough for the court...." Just bear in mind it's a statement coming from Fox, not Carlson. He's not just too big a jerk to have admitted even to this degree to have been spouting nonsense, perhaps actionable nonsense. It also is not helpful either with those who think he's lowered his reputation or with courts. Legally, it's just the old libel defense that "I was only kidding," which is never in fact used (at least the idiomatic meaning, although literary irony is defensible) because it's, ironically, a joke.

      Fox may have legal grounds, which is to say to distance itself: we never believed this, so how could we have meant it, and so why sue us? Just sue him! Here it need make only a modicum of effort, because that's already what the plaintiff is doing. It's also murkier to sue Fox. There the question would be what liability a publisher has for the opinions of those it publishes, and that's surprisingly little in the way of settled law. (It's also what's at issue with complaints about, say, Facebook, and so Kevin Drum's annoying post equating such complaints with censorship is inane.) Say, decision in Sullivan v NY Times that broadened press protection didn't turn on it one way or other. (In fact, it didn't even turn on the alleged libel appearing in a journalistic venue, so THAT kind of press protection wasn't at issue either. It ended up raising the bar for suits by public figures.) So Fox could feel a token gesture is just fine.

      But mostly I think Fox is just distancing itself because it's good for business. It fears Carlson is alienating even its mentally defective base. (BTW, Nancy's post is passionate and wonderful.)

    2. Every minute the show is on air it should be made air the following notice in bold 72 point helvetica for the first 30 seconds:

      "This programme is a work of fiction in which no facts are mentioned. Tucker Carlson's resemblance to a living, sapient and coherent human being are coincidental only."


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