Kat Abu on why Tucker Carlson can't be ignored
"When I spread these things, it’s not an endorsement. It’s an alarm bell."
If you’ve seen a clip of Tucker Carlson rocketing around Twitter over the past couple years, there’s a pretty good chance it was posted by Katherine Abughazaleh of Media Matters.
Abughazaleh (or “Kat Abu” as she’s known on Twitter) provides the valuable service of watching Tucker so liberals don’t have to. I do some of that too, but mostly when Tucker brings on newsworthy guests. Abughazaleh’s coverage is full immersion — she documents Tucker’s monologues, asides, excerpts from his Fox Nation show, and everything in between. She contextualizes important bits with Twitter commentary and TikTok explainers like the one she recently put together highlighting Tucker’s influence on House Republicans.
Abughazaleh’s tenure covering Carlson began in January 2021 and overlaps with a period in which he’s played a key role radicalizing mainstream Republicans. In 2020, Carlson heavily pushed anti-vax conspiracy theories. The next year he promoted an alternative history of January 6 portraying MAGA insurrectionists as victims of government entrapment. He spent the months before the midterms dehumanizing LGBT people, lying about the Biden family, legitimatizing right-wing authoritarianism abroad, and platforming the most extreme GOP candidates at home.
Carlson’s brand is basically Alex Jones with better ratings and hair. But his show is far from fringe stuff — prominent Republicans ranging from Ron DeSantis to Josh Hawley to Marjorie Taylor Greene regularly go on his show for softball interviews. Even more insidiously, Carlson has no shame about trafficking in the same white nationalist and bigoted conspiracy theories that have inspired mass shooters — sometimes right after they strike.
“After the Buffalo shooting where the shooter was talking about replacement theory and things like that, he doubled down,” Abu says. “People are taking notice. His viewers are taking notice.”
Public Notice contributor Thor Benson connected with Abughazaleh to talk about lessons learned from two years of watching Tucker, his technique for validating conspiracy theories, why she thinks he needs to be taken seriously, and more.
A transcript of their conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity, follows.
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Since you started covering Tucker, how has the show changed? How has he changed?
There’s definitely been a progression for Tucker in how he introduces his audience to these fringe ideas. It’s purposeful. There’s been a gradual introduction of replacement theory in his show [editor’s note: replacement theory is the idea that liberals support illegal migration to change the electorate and ultimately disempower white voters]. Before it was “immigrants are making this country worse, Democrats are trying to change the electorate,” then it was explicitly that replacement theory isn’t a theory at all. It’s an electoral strategy.
Same with QAnon. I remember the first time he mentioned QAnon by name, and I thought, “We have to clip this.” Now it’s a regular thing he does.
He’ll say QAnon is a conspiracy theory in a silly voice, which validates all of his viewers who believe it. He’ll mention Alex Jones. He does that all the time. There are these little things he drops as he goes. And what’s been noticeable watching Tucker these two years is that it’s completely on purpose.
It seems like he’s become more extreme or at least thinks his audience has become more extreme. Maybe both. What do you think?
The midterms definitely showed that the stuff that Tucker keeps spouting doesn’t vibe with a lot of Americans. He made it a huge focus to attack trans people every night leading up to the midterms, and I think he has this worldview he wants to push of pro-white, pro-cis male, anti-trans. But it’s not really matching up with society.
I think that’s really confusing for him. He said right after the midterms he wouldn’t be predicting any more elections because he said he did a bad job there, but he has this ideology that Rupert Murdoch is allowing him to spout, and I don’t know if it’s working exactly the way he thought it would play out.
There have been a lot of efforts to essentially defund him by calling out his advertisers. Do you think that’s had any effect?
It doesn’t matter if he doesn’t make money from ads, because he’s the face of Fox now. He has three shows. He has Tucker Carlson Today on Fox Nation, Tucker Carlson Tonight on Fox News and a “documentary” series called Tucker Carlson Originals. I don’t think the Murdochs care if he makes money, so no amount of targeting advertisers can really do any damage to Tucker — or not as much as you’d like.
Do you think Democrats should go on his show?
If you’re a Democrat, you should not be going on Tucker Carlson’s show. I don’t care what your story is. As a journalist, you should not be going on Tucker Carlson’s show. It’s going to be gotchas and him using it for his own advantage. No one should go on Tucker unless you explicitly believe what he believes in. I don’t see why you would.
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