This weekend, Media Matters released a compendium of old Tucker Carlson quotes from the period 2006 to 2011 – a period during which Carlson routinely called into the shock-jock show Bubba The Love Sponge. Carlson, among other things, called Martha Stewart’s daughter a “c***,” joked about fourteen-year-old girls sexually experimenting, and defended rape facilitator Warren Jeffs. It’s not good material. It also appeared on a show called Bubba The Love Sponge. A decade ago.
This was, from the first, an obvious political hit. Media Matters, contrary to media descriptions, isn’t a “media watchdog organization.” It is a political smear factory designed to perform precisely that function against anyone to the right of Hillary Clinton. The organization was founded by professional smear artist David Brock, in conjunction with the Center for American Progress, an organization itself founded by John Podesta, the Clinton White House Chief of Staff. Hillary Clinton herself advised Brock on the creation of the organization. Mega-donor Leftist George Soros has poured money into the organization, announcing in 2010, “Media Matters is one of the few groups that attempts to hold Fox News accountable for the false and misleading information they so often broadcast. I am supporting Media Matters in an effort to more widely publicize the challenge Fox News poses to civil and informed discourse in our democracy.” Media Matters had regular strategy calls with the Obama White House.
For years, Media Matters has operated as an aggressive wing of Clintonworld, going so far as to suggest hiring private investigators to dig up dirt on Fox News hosts. Media Matters consistently attempts to tear down conservative hosts by either ripping them out of context or by digging up old Bad Things™, then astroturfing public pressure against advertisers. In reality, no real grassroots pressure exists in the vast majority of cases; the data show that secondary boycotts actually don’t materialize. But Media Matters simply contacts its list of activists, then has them contact advertisers, saying that they’ll stop using a product if that advertiser doesn’t pull its advertising. A few tweets or well-placed phone calls can knock an advertiser off a show. This last tactic, the launching of secondary boycotts, has been successfully used against advertisers across a broad range of conservative programming; advertisers are, understandably, risk averse, and so take any sign of discontent as a rationale for pulling their money. This leads, eventually, to the complete abandonment of advertisers support on political shows – at least from the right.
The tactic works across the aisle. My business partner, Jeremy Boreing, and I, launched a direct counter to Media Matters to achieve a sort of mutually assured destruction with Truth Revolt. It worked. We helped take Martin Bashir and Alec Baldwin off of MSNBC. It's not difficult. A motivated group of politically-oriented people can remove the advertiser base of nearly any show.
We openly stated our goals at the time – and we acknowledged that we wanted to end this sort of weaponization of astroturfed boycotts. And I’ve consistently taken the position that digging up Bad Things™ is generally bad faith and immoral. Media Matters isn’t on a quest to purify the public space. They’re on a quest to destroy their political opponents, which is why they defended MSNBC’s Joy Reid.
But those boycotts continue apace. This time, Tucker Carlson is the target. In the past, Media Matters has targeted Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, Megyn Kelly, and pretty much anyone remotely associated with the right.
This time, Media Matters has seized on Carlson’s old comments. That's the worst form of this nonsense, because it isn't even a critique of something happening in the here and now (bad current comments are more obviously indefensible than older comments, which often have context ignored in bad faith). And the media, who largely mirror Media Matters’ political angle, treated all of this as a shocking revelation: conservative Fox News host said Bad Things™ a while ago! And granted, he said some actual bad things.
Now, let’s remember a few things. First, this was shock jock radio. For those who have not listened to shock jock radio, there is a reason it is not called comfort radio – it’s about saying deliberately shocking and provocative things to elicit a response. Pretending to be appalled by comments on shock jock radio a decade ago – comments that were made when Carlson worked for MSNBC, and said this stuff on a very popular New York-based radio show – is obviously silly.
Second, there’s no evidence Carlson clings to these views. If he does, it shouldn’t be difficult to ask him about them. This would be the good faith way of raising the issue: asking Carlson about his views. After all, he is alive right now, while he doesn’t actually have access to a time machine that would allow him to erase his old comments. And we are also alive right now! How convenient!
But Media Matters and the media more generally don’t want Carlson asked about his views. That might allow him to explain himself. They would prefer to flash freeze his views a decade ago, without reference to his subsequent career, the context in which he made those statements, or the societal context that valued shock jock stupidity. That allows everyone to schoolmarm Carlson over stuff they ignored when he said them.
Finally, literally everyone can be subjected to their Fifteen Minutes Hate over Bad Things™ they’ve said. Hell, I have an entire list, updated routinely, of stuff I regret saying. So do we all.
The attack strategy on Carlson is dangerous because it applies to anyone who has been public, and offers no chance of explanation or redemption. The chances that public figures haven’t said something problematic over the course of years is effectively zero. So, here’s the deal: if you wanted James Gunn not to lose his job -- or Joy Reid, or Sarah Jeong, or Kevin Hart, or Ralph Northam, or a bevy of others who have had old comments “resurfaced” by the scolds of social media – then you shouldn’t be standing with this career assassination attempt against Carlson.
This sort of stuff makes for a worse country. It’s not meant to purify our public discourse. It’s meant to club to death opponents using the convenience of a Google search. The use of the tactic means that only the shameless (people who will never apologize for anything) or neophytes (people who have never said anything) or radical Leftists who will be let off the hook for anything (see Reid, Joy) will be tolerated. That’s the goal. So let’s not pretend Media Matters is making the world a better place. They’re making it a worse one, one fishing expedition at a time.