Tucker, Lachlan, and subsidized speech

Last week, Fox News host Tucker Carlson's yearbook from his senior year at Trinity College resurfaced. In the short entry from 1991, Carlson wrote that he was a member of the "Dan White Society." According to Trinity College, however, the "Dan White Society" did not exist. Rather, it was Carlson's personal homage to Dan White, who killed Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California, in 1978.  

Celebrating the assassination of a civil rights icon is abhorrent. Still, it's possible that Carlson could have grown and matured in the decades that followed. People should not be defined by an ill-considered choice as a young person. But the most disturbing part of the story is that, 30 years later, Carlson did not express a hint of regret. 

The day before his yearbook page was published on Twitter, Carlson told Fox News viewers that "a mentally unbalanced middle-aged man" had decided to "pull our dusty college yearbook and call around and see if we’d done anything naughty at the age of 19." He was referring to Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple. 

Carlson was 22 when he was a senior in college. But today, as a 51-year-old man, he appears to be the exact same person. His show, which regularly reaches 3 million viewers, is replete with bigotry, racism, xenophobia, and misinformation. Worse, his $10 million salary is heavily subsidized by millions of Americans who never watch his show — or ever turn the channel to Fox News. 

Tucker unapologetically embraces a core tenet of white nationalism

Earlier this month, Carlson told millions of viewers that "the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate" with "more obedient voters from the Third World."

I know that the left and all the little gatekeepers on Twitter become literally hysterical if you use the term "replacement," if you suggest the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World. But they become hysterical because that's what's happening, actually. Let's just say it! That's true.

If you change the population, you dilute the political power of the people who live there. So every time they import a new voter, I’d become disenfranchised as a current voter. … Everyone wants to make a racial issue out of it. Oh, White replacement — No. This is a voting rights question. I have less political power because they’re importing a brand new electorate. Why should I sit back and take that?

As Carlson obliquely acknowledges, this argument is known as the "white replacement theory" and is a core tenet of white nationalist ideology. The theory is that "'western' identity is under siege by massive waves of immigration from non-European/non-white countries, resulting in a replacement of white European individuals via demographics." It is frequently cited as the rationale for mass murder. 

In 2019, for example, a gunman killed 23 people in an El Paso Walmart. The shooter wrote that the "attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas. They are the instigators, not me. I am simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion." The El Paso shooter also said he was inspired by the Christchurch shooter, who killed 51 people in New Zealand and left a rambling manifesto titled "The Great Replacement." 

Tucker's rant drew a response not just from "little gatekeepers on Twitter" but also the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Jonathan A. Greenblatt, the CEO of the ADL, wrote to Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott and said Carlson's rhetoric was "not just a dog whistle to racists – it was a bullhorn." Greenblatt wrote that it was "shocking to hear this kind of open-ended endorsement of white supremacist ideology from an anchor and commentator on your network." He asked Scott to remove Carlson from the air.  

Lachlan to the rescue

Tucker Carlson decries the influence of immigrants on American politics. But that critique does not apply to everyone. Carlson's boss, Rupert Murdoch, was born in Australia and became an American citizen in 1985 to satisfy the legal requirement for the ownership of a television network. 

Rupert Murdoch is now 90 years old and his son, Lachlan, is the CEO of the Fox Corporation, which owns Fox News. Lachlan was born in London, currently resides in Australia, and is a citizen of the UK, Australia, and the United States. It was Lachlan Murdoch, not Suzanne Scott, who replied to the ADL's letter about Carlson. 

In the letter, Lachlan Murdoch wrote that "Fox Corporation shares your values and abhors anti-semitism, white supremacy and racism of any kind." But, Lachlan Murdoch insisted, there was nothing wrong with anything Tucker Carlson said:

Concerning the segment of "Tucker Carlson Tonight" on April 8th, however, we respectfully disagree. A full review of the guest interview indicates that Mr. Carlson decried and rejected replacement theory. As Mr. Carlson himself stated during the guest interview: "White replacement theory? No, no, this is a voting rights question."

This response is entirely unconvincing. Carlson did not reject "white replacement theory." Carlson defended "white replacement theory." The only thing Carlson argued is that it shouldn't be called "white replacement theory" because it is "true." 

This fits with Carlson's repeated insistence that white supremacy is virtually non-existent — Carlson claims it is "not a real problem" and a "hoax." At the same time, Carlson perpetuates white nationalist talking points. This is why white supremacists love Tucker Carlson

The ADL was not impressed with Lachlan Murdoch's response. Greenblatt noted that Carlson "lifted the already thin veil and embraced a foundational theory of white supremacy." He urged the company to "take action."

The economics of Tucker Carlson 

Tucker Carlson has lost virtually all of his advertisers. A typical broadcast includes no national brand advertisers, a few direct response ads from companies like MyPillow, and house ads promoting other Fox News shows. 

Why have advertisers abandoned Carlson? In addition to the conduct described above, Carlson has:

Said that Black Lives Matter protests are "definitely not about black lives, and remember that when they come for you."

Asserted that immigrants are making the country "poorer and dirtier"

Called the Derek Chauvin verdict "an attack on civilization" and falsely claimed George Floyd died of a drug overdose.

Spread misinformation and conspiracy theories about COVID-19 vaccines.

Carlson has the right to say whatever loathsome things he wishes. And Fox News can choose to broadcast those views on television. But Carlson and the Murdochs do not have a right to have those views subsidized by millions of Americans who never watch Fox News. But that's exactly what is happening. And those dynamics have allowed Fox News and Carlson to weather a near-universal advertiser boycott. 

Here's how it works. Cable companies pay "carriage fees" to networks for the right to carry their channel. These fees are then passed on to users in their monthly bills. In 2020, Fox News made more money from carriage fees ($1.6 billion) than advertisements ($1.2 billion). 

Other channels, of course, also receive carriage fees for their content. But the Murdochs have negotiated exorbitant fees for Fox News that are far greater than any other non-sports programming. 

According to a survey conducted late last year, about 14% of cable TV subscribers watch Fox News regularly. But every cable TV subscriber pays an average of $1.72 a month to receive Fox News. In contrast, 31% of cable TV subscribers regularly watch FX (owned by Disney) but the channel adds just $0.81 to an average cable bill. 

This means, for every actual viewer, Fox News receives a $7.75 subsidy from people who never watch Fox News. This is a higher subsidy than other non-sports channels, like FX ($1.79), CNN ($3.18), and TBS ($2.79), receive. And none of those channels regularly spreads white nationalist talking points to millions of viewers. 

So how can Americans who don't watch Fox News and find Carlson's conduct repugnant stop subsidizing his $10 million salary? One option would be for major cable operators like Comcast, Spectrum, and AT&T to offer cable TV packages that exclude Fox News. This would allow people the choice of whether to pay for Fox News, just as people choose whether to pay for HBO. 

But, for the moment, corporate America seems loathe to take on the Murdochs or alienate Fox News' passionate fan base. So the only way to stop sending cash to the Murdochs is to "cut the cord" and find a combination of streaming services that doesn't include Fox News.