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The Tucker Carlson drama, explained

Another major advertiser cut ties with Tucker after offensive tapes emerged — but Fox News is standing behind him.

Carlson was defiant during his Monday show.
Fox News

One minute after Tucker Carlson’s Monday evening show began, Media Matters for America resurfaced audio clips of the Fox News host echoing white nationalist themes and insulting Muslims during appearances he made on Bubba the Love Sponge’s radio show during the aughts.

“Iraq is a crappy place filled with a bunch of, you know, semiliterate primitive monkeys,” Carlson said in one clip from October 7, 2008.

Monday night’s release represents the second cache of audio clips published by the liberal media watchdog group this week. Media Matters released clips Sunday night, as Vox detailed, where Carlson makes misogynistic and offensive comments — including defending child sexual abuse, demeaning sex workers and women, and making suggestive comments about underage girls.

On Wednesday, NowThis News published a third tranche of Carlson clips — audio of him alternately mocking and joking about having sex with underaged beauty pageant contestants.

The clips are part of a long-term pressure campaign waged by liberal groups, including Media Matters and Sleeping Giants, aimed at forcing Fox News to cut ties with Carlson. They’ve pushed national advertisers to drop support for his show, which frequently airs nationalist themes and demeans immigrants. And while the campaign has persuaded many advertisers to sever ties with Carlson’s show, his ratings remain strong, and Fox News continues to stand behind him.

What Carlson said

The resurfaced audio clips published by Media Matters on Monday night focused on incendiary comments Carlson made about race and ethnicity.

“I just have zero sympathy for them or their culture,” Carlson said of Iraqis in 2006. “A culture where people just don’t use toilet paper or forks ... they can just shut the fuck up and obey, is my view.”

In other clips, Carlson questioned whether Barack Obama is really black, mused about a presidential candidate running on a platform of protecting the country from “Muslim lunatics,” and used a homophobic slur.

Most of the clips in question predate Carlson’s time at Fox News. He joined Fox in May 2009 after a stint at MSNBC from 2005 to 2008. But the nature of his comments echoes anti-immigration and white nationalist themes he’s known for promoting on his Fox News show.

Tucker isn’t sorry — and Fox News stands behind him

In response to the first tranche of resurfaced audio clips, Fox News’s public relations arm released a statement from Carlson on Sunday night in which he downplayed his defense of child sexual abuse as “something naughty” that he said “on a radio show more than a decade ago.”

(Ironically, Carlson regularly attacks Democrats for things they said well over a decade ago, including during his broadcast last Friday night.)

Fox News executives didn’t weigh in on Carlson’s comments on Bubba the Love Sponge’s show, but instead opted to let his statement speak for itself. That approach differed from the one the network took in response to Islamophobic comments made by host Jeanine Pirro about Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) during her show last Saturday evening. Unnamed Fox News higher-ups released a statement on Sunday publicly rebuking Pirro’s comments, saying they “do not reflect those of the network and we have addressed the matter with her directly.”

Carlson was defiant during his Monday evening show, the first since the clips surfaced. During his monologue, he portrayed himself as a victim of the “great American outrage machine,” and characterized his situation as “a bewildering moment, especially when the quotes in question are more than a decade old.”

At the end of his monologue, he emphasized that Fox News stands behind him.

“For now, just two points to leave you with. First, Fox News is behind us, as they have been since the very first day. Toughness is a rare quality in a TV network, and we are grateful for that,” Carlson said. “Second, we’ve always apologized when we’re wrong, and will continue to do that. That’s what decent people do. They apologize. But we will never bow to the mob. Ever. No matter what.”

Notably, Carlson did not in fact apologize for anything he said in the Bubba the Love Sponge tapes. In fact, he went on to use a white nationalist dog whistle during his Monday evening show.

On Tuesday morning, a Fox News spokesperson confirmed to Vox that the network is still standing behind Carlson.

Carlson continues to lose advertisers, but ratings remain strong

Last December, Carlson — who took over Bill O’Reilly’s primetime time slot after O’Reilly was forced out amid a sexual harassment scandal in May 2017 — was widely denounced after he said during his Fox News that immigrants make America “poorer and dirtier and more divided.”

Carlson’s comments resulted in 14 companies pulling their advertising. AstraZeneca followed suit on Monday, on the heels of Media Matters publishing the first set of clips from Bubba the Love Sponge’s show.

Carlson’s show on Monday evening was especially bereft of advertising. Variety reported that it “featured just four ad breaks and very few big national commercials, relying instead on direct-response ads and sundry promos for other Fox News programs and properties distributed by its parent company, 21st Century Fox.”

While Carlson’s show is becoming increasingly hard for to monetize, ratings remain strong. On Monday, the Wrap reported that so far in 2019, Carlson’s show is “averaging 2.9 million total viewers per episode, which is 41 percent more than Chris Hayes on MSNBC and a whopping 122 percent more than CNN’s Anderson Cooper.”

The Washington Post, citing an unnamed “Fox News insider,” reported on Monday that the network is trying to draw a distinction between the Carlson and Pirro situations, since the Pirro controversy “ involved something said on Fox itself,” whereas Carlson’s comments “were made when he worked for MSNBC more than a decade ago, not in his capacity as a Fox personality.”

According to that same Post report, Rupert Murdoch, Fox’s co-founder and chair, internally rebuked host Laura Ingraham last year after she apologized for demeaning on her show a Parkland school shooting survivor who went on to be a gun control advocate. Murdoch reportedly “warned against the dangers of appearing weak in the face of negative public sentiment, according to people familiar with the episode.”

It appears Fox News is taking the same approach to Carlson’s situation — even as Media Matters researchers indicate that more clips of him saying offensive things on Bubba the Love Sponge’s show are on the way.

The news moves fast. To stay updated, follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter, and read more of Vox’s policy and politics coverage.

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