How Tucker Carlson stoked White Fear to Conquer Cable


But as TV theater, the formula works. Mr. Carlson reliably attracts over three million viewers. When he championed the idea of ​​a demographic “replacement” on another Fox show in April, the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights group, called for his firing, noting that the same concept had helped fuel a series of terrorist attacks, including the 2018 mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue. But when Mr. Carlson aired a clip of his comments on his own prime-time show a few days later, according to Nielsen data, the segment drew 14% more viewers in the “demo” from 24 to 54 years old. -older than Mr. Carlson’s average for the year.

Every cable network cares about ratings, but no more than Fox, whose post-Wings slogan emphasizes neither fairness nor balance, but outright viewership dominance. : “The most watched, the most trusted”. And at Fox, according to former employees, no host scrutinizes his notes more closely than Mr. Carlson. He learned to succeed on television, in part, by failing there.

The talk show host who rails against immigrants and the tech barons of a new golden age is himself the descendant of a German immigrant who became one of the great barons of cattle ranching. the old golden age. Henry Miller landed in New York in 1850 and built a successful butcher’s shop in San Francisco; with a partner, he then assembled a land empire spanning three states. They got packages simply by bribing government officials. Others were snatched from cash-poor Mexican Californians who, after the Mexican-American War, now lived in a newly expanded United States and could not afford to defend their former Mexican land grants in court against speculators like Mr. Carlson’s ancestor. At the start of the 20th century, Mr Miller’s land and cattle empire “was totally dependent on immigrant labor”, said David Igler, a historian at the University of California at Irvine and author of a History of the Miller Empire.

Over the years, Miller’s fortunes dispersed, as large fortunes often do, into a motley array of family branches. Mr Carlson’s mother, Lisa McNear Lombardi, was born to a third-generation Miller heiress, got her start in San Francisco society and met Richard Carlson, a successful local television journalist, in the 1960s They fled to Reno, Nevada, in 1967; Tucker McNear Carlson was born two years later, followed by his brother, Buckley. The family moved to the Los Angeles area, where Richard Carlson took a job with the local ABC affiliate, but the Carlsons’ marriage became rocky and the station fired him a few years later. In early 1976 he moved to San Diego to take up a new position in television. The boys went with him — according to court records, their parents had agreed it would be temporary — and traveled to Los Angeles over the weekend while he and Lisa tried to work out their differences.

But a few months later, just days after the boys returned from vacation to Hawaii with their mother, Richard filed for divorce and filed for full custody of the children. In court papers, Lisa Carlson claimed he caught her off guard and left her virtually penniless. The couple separated and began fighting over custody and child support. Mr Carlson alleged that his wife had “repeated problems with alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and amphetamine abuse” and that he had been concerned about both her mental state and the treatment she was receiving. she had reserved for the boys. On at least one occasion, he claimed, the boys got off the plane in San Diego without shoes; the mother’s family members, he said, had urged him not to let her see the children unsupervised. He won custody when Tucker was 8, in a hearing that Lisa did not attend: according to court records, she had left the country. She ends up settling in France, never to see her sons again. A few years later, Richard Carlson married Patricia Swanson, an heiress to the frozen food fortune, who adopted the two boys.

For many years, Tucker Carlson was tight-lipped about the breakup. In a New York profile in 2017, shortly after his show’s debut, he described his mother’s departure as a “totally bizarre situation – which I never talk about, because it was actually not really part of my life at all. But as controversy and criticism engulfed his show, Mr. Carlson began to portray his youth in darker tones, painting the California of his youth as a countercultural dystopia and his mother as abusive and erratic. In 2019, speaking on a podcast with right-wing comedian Adam Carolla, Mr Carlson said his mother had forced her children to take drugs. “She was like, doing real drugs around us when we were little, and making us do it, and just like being a case of a nutcase,” Mr Carlson said. To their account, his mother made it clear to her two young sons that she had little affection for them. “When you realize your own mother doesn’t love you, when she says that, it’s like, oh my god,” he told Mr Carolla, adding that he “felt all kinds of rage at this subject”.

Credit…Roll call, via Getty Images

Mr Carlson was a heavy drinker until he was 30, something he attributed in part to his early childhood. But on its own, her mother’s abandonment also provided her with a sort of preemptive defense against the attacks that have befallen her Fox show. “The criticism from people who hate me really means nothing to me,” Carlson told Megyn Kelly, the former Fox anchor, on her podcast last fall. He went on to say, “I don’t give these people emotional control over me. I have been there. I experienced this when I was a child. A lesson from his youth, Mr. Carlson told an interviewer, was that “you should only care about the opinions of people who care about you.”


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