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A karmic warning from Rocky Balboa
Hold the glee over Tucker Carlson's firing from Fox -- because his brand of message manipulation isn't going away
Fox News has fired its top star, but it’s unlikely to change course. (Photo by Rubaitul Azad on Unsplash)
The eminent philosopher Sylvester Stallone once observed, “There’s a natural law of karma that vindictive people, who go out of their way to hurt others, will end up broke and alone.”
Which brings us to Tucker Carlson, who was fired last week by Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News Channel. Carlson is indeed vindictive and hurtful, though certainly not broke, since we’re told that Fox News will honor a contract that nets him about $20 million a year. But alone, yeah: When three million people were listening to you night after night, and suddenly nobody’s there, that might leave a guy feeling lonely.
I know I ought to be sympathetic, at least if I hope to avoid the karmic peril imagined by the man who created Rocky Balboa. But I can’t help saying it: America is safer because Tucker Carlson will not be on television tonight. His snarky attacks for years denigrated people who aren’t like him, and his dishonest support for conspiracy theories has made the life more dangerous for many, especially immigrants and people in the LGBTQ community. So with Carlson off the airwaves, we’ve moved a tiny step forward on the arduous path toward recovering cherished American values — like respect for the dignity of others and a willingness to reach out to neighbors in need.
Yet history suggests that when a popular media figure fades, somebody else rises to fill the space, often with a message even more radical. And there’s no indication that letting Carlson go means Fox News is backing off its strategy — which is to distort the news to both please and rile up angry conservatives. That’s the opposite of journalism, which is dedicated to giving people a true view of what lies outside their own experience.
To be sure, Carlson was a unique figure. People who see politics in sports terms recognize that he alone among TV personalities was both on the playing field and on the sidelines – simultaneously playing quarterback and appearing as cheerleading captain for the meanest team in town, the Hard-Right Demagogues. In his nightly monologues, he laid out the plays that Republicans could use to foment distrust around culturally divisive issues, then used his megaphone to rally the adoring crowd on behalf of the politicians he had schooled.
Yet thanks to the Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit, everybody who isn’t a Fox News viewer (Fox squelched the story on its own airwaves) now knows that Carlson was starring in a cynical on-air game of deception. He and other Fox personalities touted Donald Trump’s made-up story that the 2020 election was snatched away from him by fraud, even as they privately dismissed that Big Lie as farcical. While praising Trump on camera, Carlson privately derided him as a failure. “I hate him passionately,” Carlson texted two days before the Jan. 6 attacks, later privately declaring that “we’re all pretending we’ve got a lot to show for it, because admitting what a disaster it’s been is too tough to digest. But come on. There isn’t really an upside to Trump.”
While that’s now the most apparent of Fox’s malicious lies, it wasn’t at all unusual. It simply grew from the network’s strategy of wooing a large audience by distorting information to give conservative viewers whatever they wanted to hear.
That’s why Carlson’s departure is cause for only muted celebration by those who care about truth-telling in a democracy. Fox isn’t breaking up its affair with the airing of American malice; it’s just kicking out the guy who cost it hundreds of millions of dollars by sloppily exposing the duplicity. Somebody else will follow Tucker Carlson.
After all, right-wing demagogues have long been a staple of American media. There was Father Coughlin, whose anti-Semitic and anti-democratic rants in the 1930s drew one-fourth of the U.S. population to his weekly broadcasts. Beginning in 1952, Paul Harvey’s national radio broadcasts featured denunciations of welfare, leftists and the moral decay revealed by long hair and premarital sex. After that, the names of the titans of broadcast blather start to run together: Carl McIntire, Rush Limbaugh, Alex Jones, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage, Mark Levin, and, of course, Carlson’s Fox News colleagues, including Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham. Many of those haven’t left the airwaves, and they won’t anytime soon.
That’s because there’s always an audience eager for the rush of adrenaline that brain scientists tell us is stimulated by anger and argument – which are, of course, the fundamental programming requirements for Fox and its ilk. But while adrenaline energizes us and makes us feel good, a word of caution is in order: An overload of adrenaline, physicians warn, can produce tunnel vision — that is, a reduced field of vision that makes it hard to see broadly.
It's an apt metaphor for the appeal and peril of the far-right demagogues. Many people inclined by background and experience to a conservative mindset crave the confirmation that Fox broadcasts offer, not recognizing that their vision of the truths that lie beyond what they’re told can be shut down by the sheer pleasure of being comfortably misled. This delusion by diatribe has left America a less thoughtful and caring place.
In the end, we shouldn’t expect much to change now that Tucker Carlson is off the air. He will be replaced by another malicious maligner soon enough. And there’s this: Some people in media and politics figure that Carlson, 53, may use the years ahead to present himself on a new platform — perhaps as a candidate. After all, lots of media figures successfully made that transition, including sportscaster-turned-actor Ronald Reagan and, of course, developer-turned-reality TV star Donald Trump.
So listen to Sylvester Stallone: Don’t activate the karmic force by celebrating too eagerly the absence of the Carlson sneer from television. Not only is another fabulist of the right sure to turn up in his place, but the nation might just turn its lonely eyes to Tucker himself as our leader. We have to hope that his sequels aren’t as successful as Rocky Balboa’s.
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NEWSCLIPS FROM THE UPSTATES
Dispatches from our common ground *
Wherein each week we look around what we call the nation’s Upstates — those places just a bit removed from the center of things — to find illumLinating news and intriguing viewpoints, which you might not otherwise see.
This week, we share reporting published here:
Parsnippiny, N.J. (Daily Record, NorthJersey.com)
Carlsbad, N.M. (Carlsbad Current-Argus, currentargus.com)
Peoria, Ill. (Journal Star, pjstar.com)
Montgomery, Ala. (The Gadsden Times, gadsdentimes.com)
NOTE: The complete “Newsclips from the Upstates” section, and The Upstate American Midweek Extra Edition, which is sent to email boxes each Wednesday, are available only to paid subscribers. Thanks for your support!
More housing starts after government agency abolished
Low-income housing advocates estimate that America has a shortage of 7 million affordable rental units for those living in poverty; another group found nearly 11 million households spend more than 50 percent of their income on housing. Affordable home ownership is a thing of the past, in fact, in many parts of the nation. New Jersey officials say they’ve proven a path to creating more affordable housing — by relying on court settlements rather than a government agency to approve projects. Since 2015, when a judge declared the state agency created to oversee such construction defunct, the process has shifted to the courts. The result, a new report says, is that towns have doubled the rate at which they’re building housing, according to reporting in NorthJersey.com by Ashley Balcerzak. Advocates say New Jersey could be a national model. "It’s not just the numbers — the process really is breaking down barriers and giving people in need of housing, particularly people of color and lower-income people, access to communities that have historically excluded them," said Adam Gordon, executive director of Fair Share Housing Center.
Ozone pollution plagues rural area
Air pollution is often assumed to be an urban problem because of vehicle emissions, but the wide-open area of southeastern New Mexico is one of the top 20 counties for ozone pollution in the United States, reports Adrian Hedden in the Carlsbad Current-Argus. The problem is the fossil fuel development that the Permian Basin area is known for. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like benzene, xylene or formaldehyde are emitted by oil and gas operations, and they form ozone when interacting with heat or sunlight. That earned New Mexico’s Eddy County an “F” rating for pollution in a recent report from the American Lung Association.
Peoria has a plan to draw talent
Business and civic leaders in Peoria, a central Illinois city of just over 100,000 people, have launched a new initiative to draw talented people to the city, under the catchy title Choose Greater Peoria (or “GP,” as some locals say). JJ Bullock reports in the Journal Star that the organizers consider it “Peoria's most ambitious, collaborative and sweeping rebranding of the city ever.” It may be an uphill effort: The talent and retention effort is specifically geared toward bringing professionals age 35 to 64 who make over $117,000 a year to Peoria — a city where, Bullock reports, the median household income is $53,568 and the poverty rate is 19.6%, six points higher than the national average.
Schools leader fired over “woke” teacher training
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey fired the state’s Secretary of Early Childhood Education, Barbara Cooper, for using a teacher training manual that encouraged teachers to be aware of the different backgrounds and challenges of their students — that is, inequities, implicit bias and the diverse backgrounds of children — in order to be better teachers and create welcoming environments for their students. That’s according to reporting by Jemma Stephenson of Alabama Reflector, an independent, nonprofit newsroom. Stephenson notes that the book does not tell teachers to discuss structural racism or LGBTQ issues with students, but rather notes, in one passage, “Teachers need to be particularly aware of providing supporting environments and responses to children who are members of marginalized groups and those who have been targets of bias and stereotyping.” The governor’s spokeswoman said, “Governor Ivey strongly believes that woke concepts have no place at any level of education in the state of Alabama and should not be taking away from the overall mission of improving educational outcomes for students."
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