The rise of Tucker Carlson

Lindsay Giovannone, Columnist

No other man on television fascinates and disgusts me quite like Tucker Carlson; there’s just something about him. His Fox News show, “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” is a trainwreck that you can’t help but watch.

His entire childhood is like something out of a movie. One where the protagonist is incredibly privileged but still manages to have a wild childhood that’s good for the plot. Carlson’s parents divorced so his mother could pursue a lifestyle that is described as bohemian and free spirited. He grew up in La Jolla, one of San Diego’s wealthiest neighborhoods, and attended La Jolla Country Day School. Carlson’s father later married the heiress to the Campbell Soup Company fortune, Patricia Swanson.

For high school, Carlson attended College du Leman, in Switzerland but said he was “kicked out” and did not state why. From there, he attended St. George’s School in Rhode Island and then graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history from Trinity College in Hartford. After his job application to the CIA was rejected, Carlson went to work as a journalist after his father said, “they’ll take anyone [in that career field].”

Ironically, Carlson started out his career as a fact-checker before writing for a slew of publications, including The New York Times Magazine and The Wall Street Journal. While on an assignment for the New York magazine, he was involved in a plane crash in Dubai. After a short-lived career at CNN and an even shorter one at PBS, Carlson emerged as a contributor on Fox News in 2009. This brings us to where we are today: “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”

“Tucker Carlson Tonight” became one of the highest-rated cable news shows of all time within only a few years. His first telecast at 7 p.m on Nov. 14, 2016, had 3.7 million viewers. His popular show was then slid to primetime after Megyn Kelly departed Fox News and The O’Reilly Factor was canceled. However, this is where things begin to take a tumble.

I don’t know how it happened, but Carlson went from being a mildly disagreeable pundit to berserk within two decades of working in the media. At the end of 2018, 20 advertisers boycotted “Tucker Carlson Tonight” after he said that the U.S. taking in immigrants makes the country “poorer and dirtier and more divided.”

By January 2019, his viewership dropped six percent and he lost 26 advertisers. Audio surfaced of Carlson spewing a myriad of interesting thoughts on the radio show Bubba and Love Sponge. Some of the highlights include: “[underage marriage] is not the same thing exactly as pulling a child from a bus stop and sexually assaulting that child… The rapist in this case has made a lifelong commitment to love and take care of the person so it is a little different.” Yikes.

Another notable comment he made was saying that Warren Jeffs, an American religious leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints and convicted child rapist, is “in prison because he’s weird and unpopular and has a different lifestyle that other [people] find creepy.” And it somehow gets worse. On a 13-year-old boy being molested by his teacher, Carlson said, “That teacher’s doing a service to all 13-year-old girls by taking the pressure off [of them to sleep with the boy].”

After this audio was released, Carlson said he was “caught saying something naughty” and did not apologize, but instead said, “Rather than express the usual ritual contrition, how about this: I’m on television every weeknight live for an hour. If you want to know what I think, you can watch. Anyone who disagrees with my views is welcome to come on and explain why.”

I am a college student with no influential presence. While I (and many others) disagree with his views, we have absolutely no means of actually going and debating with Carlson, though he claims we can. He’s protected himself from criticism with his fame, even winning a defamation lawsuit against former Playboy model Karen McDougal with the defense that no “reasonable viewer” takes him seriously.

Nonetheless, immediately after the audio recordings were uncovered, Carlson’s viewership shot up by eight percent. It is impossible to say whether this uptick was because new people agreed with him or if new people found the heavily-reported on audio recordings, then decided to tune in to watch the madness unfold in real time.

This may have been one of the most defining moments in Carlson’s blooming career. He found that he was able to make a living from saying whatever he wanted, as long as it was absurd. He swindled all of former U.S. President Donald Trump’s supporters through his Trumpist ideology that pandered to far-right nationalists and paleoconservative radicals.

Carlson has been called the “most powerful conservative in America” and is the highest rated cable show host in history to back that up. Anything he says will be gobbled up by his millions of adoring viewers. I’m not even entirely sure Carlson is who he portrays himself as on his show. His mannerisms are so comical that it appears he is playing a caricature of an ardent and misinformed American republican.

Regardless, Tucker Carlson is the loudest voice on television and he isn’t going anywhere. Let this be an inspiration to anyone thinking they aren’t good enough: If a man can say on primetime television that the metric system is a “creepy” conspiracy theory of the New World Order and still have 3 million viewers with a $30 million net worth to boot, you can do anything.