Do the Tucker Carlson Texts Reveal Moral Cowardice?

News & Politics

I have some degree of trepidation reporting on the contents of the recent batch of private texts in question, compounded by the fact that they were produced as part of a lawsuit to shut down questions about election integrity.

But Tucker Carlson is a public figure with a massive profile who wields enormous influence over the right. So there’s public interest there, and it’s fair game in my estimation.

Because I otherwise respect Carlson (he is the clearly the very best of Fox News), I was disappointed to see that his private thoughts shared with colleagues differ so wildly from his public rhetoric as it relates to Donald Trump and 2020 election fraud.

Here’s what Carlson said in private about Donald Trump:

  • He’s a “demonic force.”
  • He has a unique talent for “destroying things”: “He’s the undisputed world champion of that. He could easily destroy us if we play it wrong.”

Meanwhile, on the air, Carlson assiduously avoids ever even mentioning Trump’s name, much less uttering any critical words about him. I know this because I watch his show regularly.

Why the disparity between private and public posturing? To me, it smacks not just of strategery but also of a certain kind of moral cowardice that I would not like to believe resides in Carlson’s heart.

It would appear that, for Tucker Carlson, the main impetus is protecting ratings when wrestling over whether to offer public criticism of Trump or to pander to the sensibilities of the “election deniers.” Of course, there are understandably multiple factors that editors, producers, and executives must consider. Fox News Corp., in the final analysis, is a company whose ultimate fiduciary responsibility is to generate returns for its shareholders. Is there a way to reconcile that imperative with truth-telling? If so, not many outlets, including Fox News, have managed to figure out the equation.

At some point, unless you’re willing to admit that you’re only in the game for the money and fame, you have to be willing to prioritize the truth over concerns of audience backlash, even if you bleed some viewers.

At other times, outside of the context of these texts, Carlson has remarked of Trump that “I don’t think he’s capable. I don’t think he’s capable of sustained focus. I don’t think he understands the system,” apparently in reference to the landmine-filled American political system.

If Trump is truly a “demonic force” in Carlson’s estimation, why not so say to his millions of followers — the GOP base — who are in a position to do something about it come primary season? He has never approached anywhere near that level of rhetorical attack on Trump on his nightly television show. He barely ever mentions his name.

Were Trump merely an ex-president cashing in on his “public service” with speeches to Goldman Sachs or whatever like every other former president, it wouldn’t be necessary to discuss Trump, and Carlson could be forgiven for not addressing the “demonic force.” But this man could very well win the 2024 GOP nomination and end up back in the Oval Office for another four years.

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