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Dick Polman: Is Tucker Carlson’s detestable text really the smoking gun?

3 min read
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Did Fox News’ overlords fire racist ratings champ Tucker Carlson because he texted odious opinions? That’s what the New York Times seemed to suggest in a recent story:

A text message sent by Tucker Carlson that set off a panic at the highest levels of Fox on the eve of its billion-dollar defamation trial showed its most popular host sharing his private, inflammatory views about violence and race. The discovery of the message contributed to a chain of events that ultimately led to Mr. Carlson’s firing.

Maybe so. The text at issue is certainly detestable. Linger, if you can choke down the nausea, on the passage where he describes his reaction to three “Trump guys…three against one, at least” pounding on an Antifa protestor: “It’s not how white men fight. Yet suddenly I found myself rooting for the mob against the man, hoping they’d hit him harder, kill him. I really wanted them to hurt the kid. I could taste it.”

Yes, fascist bloodlust is very yummy indeed.

Tucker wasn’t saying anything in private that he hadn’t already intimated, or worse, umpteen times in public on his propaganda showcase. In the second half of the text, he claimed to feel guilty about his bloodlust – “I shouldn’t gloat over (the protestor’s) suffering, I should be bothered by it” – and that pose mirrored his public shtick as well. On the air he’d pump up the hate, then stand back from it and tell his audience that in all innocence he was really a good guy. The text mirrored his business model.

Maybe the Fox overlords were shocked by the text because they’d somehow never watched his broadcast? Not likely. Maybe they were simply terrified that Tucker in the raw would turn off jurors in the trial they were desperate to avoid, hence the eleventh-hour settlement? More likely.

But what steams me most about his text is this line: “It’s not how white men fight.”

There are lots of ways to parse that one. Like perhaps he was suggesting that if a solo “Trump guy” had faced off against the Antifa protestor – man to man, as the saying goes – then Tucker would’ve deemed that to be honorable. (He might’ve said to the solo Trump guy, “That’s mighty white of you.”) Perhaps he was suggesting that only the inferior races (as he defines inferior) tend to fight dirty, three-on-one.

What’s most evident, however, is how that one line reveals the depths of his racist willful ignorance. I guess he hasn’t seen the Capitol insurrection footage of mobs of white men beating up on cops, or up on the news from 68 years ago, when white men mutilated and murdered Emmet Till. He must not have seen the infamous Boston photo from the 1970s that shows a white man grabbing a Black guy so that a second white man can stab him with a big American flag.

There are also the umpteen photos of white men posing proudly in front of dead African-Americans roped to trees. And Carlson probably has no idea what happened in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921, when mobs of white men beat up Blacks in the streets, killing hundreds, and put the torch to the thriving business district known as Black Wall Street.

I guess he has overlooked the recent Pulitzer Prize-winning book that traces the 1898 race riot in Wilmington, North Carolina, where more than 2,000 heavily armed whites killed at least 60 Black men on the street and overthrew the city’s multiracial government, forcing hundreds of black families to flee into the nearby swamps.

It’s just as well that Tucker hasn’t read that book. Having publicly purveyed the crackpot theory that white Americans are being displaced by people of color, he would surely have rooted for the white mob’s coup.

All told, the newly outed Tucker text confirms what the late Maya Angelou once wrote: “If someone shows you who they are, believe them.” The Fox overlords were fine with who he was until he threatened the bottom line.

Are we supposed to think his successor will be any better?

Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a writer in residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at Email him at

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