The whole world is commenting on and speculating about the abrupt departure of former Fox commentator Tucker Carlson from that network.
Addressing the current moment is not my intent. I have no idea what the “inside story” is on the events related to Fox’s or Carlson’s decisions. Mr Carlson is wisely being deliberative regarding his physical presence and his messaging, and by next week the news cycle will have no doubt shifted in relation to this sudden exile, or self-exile; so there is little point in adding my own theories to the events of the present. (Though I suspect that the stern, mafioso-like public warnings of Sen. Charles Schumer [D-NY] and others to the Murdochs, that they were making a mistake in tolerating Carlson’s airing of the first set of previously unseen January 6 videos, and that those who passed on the footage were playing a “treacherous game”, was a factor in at least some upheaval on the part of Fox’s leadership. I recognize a political threat of retribution when I hear one):
What I want to do now is note, for the record, almost elegiacally, how important Mr Carlson’s voice has been, in the evaluation of at least this dyed-in-the-wool old-school capital “L” Liberal.
Mr Carlson and I spent most of our careers not in alignment on anything; for decades, our places were adversarial on the public chess board. He had assumed that I was the caricature of a shrieking, irrational left-wing feminist —a view for which he has had the good grace publicly to apologize — and I, for my part, was ready to accept that he must be the boorish, sexist, racist, homophobic frat boy that the progressive news outlets I read, relentlessly insisted that he was. I almost never watched his show, so my preconceptions could flourish uncorrected.
That said, I did find it odd that everyone around me in the “liberal elite” media hated him so violently — the way they hated President Trump; but that when I pressed for concrete reasons why, they could not provide them. When my liberal friends and loved ones would roll their eyes and spit out “Tucker Carlson,” as if that name itself was epithet enough, I would often pester: “What? Why? What did he actually say?” I never got a good answer. So even in the depth of the Left’s vilification of him – even as I was still on the Left myself — I was keeping, faintly, an open mind.
Maybe this is because, in a limited way, I recognize where he comes from. We both come from some similar places. We both were raised in California in the 1970s (though I am six years older), a California that was very diverse and yet largely peaceful and hopeful, compared to the present; with reasonable newspapers and decent public education. It was a state drenched with sunshine and optimism; bright with discussion and with sensible plans for the future. California was the most meritocratic state in the Union, at that time. In spite of specific upheavals — the LGBTQ movement gaining force in the Bay Area, the women’s movement was fighting for access to reproductive rights, immigrant workers agitating for better conditions — we had no reason to believe that people of different races or political viewpoints or genders could not get along, or at least discuss their differences; we certainly would have found it racist to assume that immigrants or people of color could not succeed entirely on their own merits.
The University of California system, unbroken at that time, an excellent nearly-free education, was almost majority nonwhite — selective, prestigious public high schools like the one I attended were majority nonwhite — so it was ridiculous to presume that people of color or immigrants could not thrive in our existing, even if imperfect, meritocracies. They were succeeding all around us.
We both were sent from this early relaxed, hopeful formative background to the hothouses of rigorous, rigid, East Coast privilege — he to a prep school and then to Trinity College, I to Yale (and then Oxford). Maybe we both brought our West Coast skepticism of East Coast (and European) global elites’ nonsense and pretentiousness along with us.
I was also never completely persuaded of his being the purported embodiment of pure evil, because I still had an impressionistic memory of him being around in the DC of the 1990s, in a time before such extreme caricatures as today’s keep both “sides” at daggers drawn.
In the late 1990s, we shared a social milieu; though we were not friends, we were out and about in parallel circles in Washington, at a time in which his stint at The Weekly Standard and other conservative publications mirrored, fairly peaceably, compared with the present, my then-husband’s and my alliances with The New Republic and other left-wing publications.
Social life was a Venn diagram in DC at that time, for pundits of all ages on both the left and the right. We all, in certain circles, dropped in to the same cocktail parties in Georgetown, huddled in the same bars in Dupont Circle, and enjoyed late-night feasts at the same hole-in-the-wall Ethiopian restaurants in Adams Morgan. Transpartisanship added frisson to social encounters, and partisanship was not yet the deadly tribalism it would later become. Sally Quinn, wife of the former executive editor of the Washington Post, the hostess who in the 1990s reigned supreme, would titillate the Clinton administration guests, at her gatherings in an antiques-filled, low-lit front room in Georgetown, with selective helpings of saucy Republican luminaries also present. The tension between commentators or apparatchiks from different “teams” made the conversation sparkle, and, to the high-spirited interlocutors of the two different parties, it made that third glass of Pinot Grigio pleasurably dangerous. It was a time when left and right could fence over Ms Quinn’s old-school appetizers (never fish, not even cheese, and always candles, for the perfect party, as she later explained. “([Quinn] was giving a short history of the decline of Washington Establishment socializing, which she has long blamed for much of the entrenched partisan hostility that now dominates American politics. … Back then, she said, there was an easy, bipartisan commingling of “permanent Washington” and elected officeholders.” https://www.thecut.com/tags/sally-quinn/).
These adversaries by day would also inform one another by evening, while sparring at her events; they would make surprising, off-the-record alliances, and engage in productive off-the-record horse-trading. This behind-the-scenes, informal back and forth, was good for the country, and that was one reason that patriotic hostesses such as Ms Quinn, I believe, facilitated it.
Even brash newer hostesses — and at that time, the buzzy Arianna Huffington, equally glamorous, but arriving, with a flourish, from elsewhere, was one — had studied this art. She thus also assembled around herself, in her own salons, glittering representatives of both parties, so that nothing would be, darling, as she would say, boring.
The show Crossfire, with its two civilized antagonists, was the allegory of the time. James Carville and Mary Matalin, with their sexy oppositional-ness, were the iconic couple of the moment. [https://www.nytimes.com/1993/11/26/us/from-political-rivals-to-marital-partners.html] Point and counterpoint were still avidly followed then; direct, civil, well-informed debate was still considered valuable, illuminating, and a fascinating sport.
I remember of DC in the 1990s as being what Mr Carlson probably also remembers: a time and place for a young, ambitious intellectual, or a young, brash, public figure (as we both then were), in which a sincerity of inquiry, a seriousness of interrogation, and a regard for the verifiable truth, were all taken for granted as being what journalists and commentators were supposed to pursue.
Whatever “side” we were on, we journalists and commentators all took pride in that mission. Truth existed. We would hunt it down, by God, and make our case for it.
Journalists were supposed to challenge the State, and not take press releases from Presidents or White House spokespeople — or corporations for that matter – as Diktats. Arguments had to marshal evidence and to play fair.
We assumed that this need that our profession was supposed to fulfill — for serious public inquiry, intense public debate — was the great indispensable thing in a Republic; we assumed that this basic underpinning of our roles as journalists would be seen by our society, our nation, as being valuable, forever; that the ethics of journalists and commentators in America would last forever; that these ethics would outlive us, as they had outlived President Jefferson.
So I was not hugely surprised that in about March and April of 2021, when I was a Fellow at AIER in Great Barrington (home of the Great Barrington Declaration), and as I had started to raise questions about side effects women were experiencing with the MRNA vaccine — as well as raising questions about why our First and Fourth Amendment rights were being upended, why we were all being held under emergency law, why kids were being masked with little scientific evidence to support this abusive practice, and why pregnant women were being told the injections were safe when there was no data to back that claim up that I could find — that Mr Carlson’s booker reached out to me.
I appeared a few times on his show, to air my concerns.