Tucker Carlson: king of cancel culture
Why isn't it ever considered "cancel culture" when Carlson, Donald Trump, Elon Musk, or other big-name figures direct mobs to harass people?
I’d like to open today’s newsletter with something I saw yesterday on Twitter.
Journalist Hunter Walker, who runs the currently-on-hiatus newsletter The Uprising and has recently done a lot of important reporting about the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol for New York Magazine and Rolling Stone, returned from a Twitter break to find a whole bunch of angry messages.
Let’s talk about that.
You can read the whole thread by clicking on the first tweet, but I’ll reproduce it below. I’ll be adding commentary throughout:
I have been off Twitter for a bit as I work on writing projects, but in the past few days, I noticed a flood of crazy, angry messages coming in to my various inboxes.
What might have happened? Why would people be randomly targeting me with vitriol and harassment? Well, apparently [Tucker Carlson] did a segment about me on Monday.
Tucker tried to criticize my work and credibility to make some convoluted point about [Stephen Colbert]. I see now that his fans have been screaming into the void of my mostly dormant Twitter account for days.
In his segment on me, [Carlson] said, "CNN just interviewed a Rolling Stone journalist who, after a year and a half after the last insurrection, still hasn't healed..." This isn't true. In fact, I think it's willfully negligent and malicious.
In case you missed it, last week, members of Stephen Colbert’s Late Show staff were arrested while filming a segment about the January 6 hearings, featuring Robert Smigel’s long-running Triumph The Insult Comic Dog puppet character.
Colbert’s crew was filming at the Capitol on Wednesday and Thursday, interviewing members of Congress. As they wrapped up for the day on Thursday, filming what Colbert called, some “last-minute puppetry” in the Longworth House Office Building (i.e. not the Capitol building), Capitol Police detained the crew for being there after-hours. Eh, no biggie, right? Wrong.
Fox News and others on the right immediately started trying to compare a small film crew filming a comedy bit at an office building near the Capitol to that of the violent January 6 storming of the Capitol in an attempt to prevent the certification of the 2020 presidential election. To any honest person, these are not the same. Unfortunately, right-wing media is lacking in that department. This is the very definition of a false equivalence, but it’s what the right has been yammering on about all week.
Back to Walker:
[Carlson] was referencing an appearance I made on [Brian Stelter’s CNN show Reliable Sources]. The interview didn't just happen. It was taped last December and aired in January. There is no way Tucker—or at least his team—was not aware of this.
So [Carlson] is completely falsely characterizing my remarks when he says I claimed to be someone who "a year and a half after the last insurrection, still hasn't healed." This interview took place less than a year after January 6. That's also not what I said.
You can read a full transcript of my appearance here. Obviously, I didn't say I was still feeling the effects a year and a half later because ... well this didn't take place when Tucker said it did. I also didn't claim to still have PTSD even then.
I have — through many months of sticking with this story — been adamant about being clear to the public about how violent January 6 was. I don't think the violence officers faced or the danger of shootings or stampedes was clear to people who weren't there.
Part of the reason I also have strived to be very clear about how physically dangerous January 6 was is that we have people like [Carlson] who deny the severity of what happened.
The interview Carlson said “just” happened aired on January 2, 2022. And no, he did not say that the January 6 attack gave him PTSD. In fact, Walker said, “I had an experience in my life with a really bad car accident where I was diagnosed with PTSD. This was as a 21-year-old in 2005, and I have been really grateful for this as I’ve been dealing with January 6th.”
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His point was that thanks to his past PTSD diagnosis, he knew the signs of PTSD, and could be aware of the symptoms as he navigated the world post-January 6.
Walker continued his Twitter thread:
In 2005, I shattered my leg and watched a friend die. It was awful. I was diagnosed with PTSD then. I am not sure that—even after that awful experience—I had PTSD for a "year and a half." It doesn't work like that.
After January 6—due to the acute physical danger I described and seeing people beaten in front of me—I did feel symptoms I recognized as PTSD for months. I am feeling much better now! [Carlson] didn't ask, and instead used a false characterization to smear me.
All of that being said, among all the gross and disturbing stuff [Carlson]'s false segment sent my way, I did find this one a bit hilarious. I would make it my new avatar if I wasn't so psyched about moving back home.
A point I did make in that segment was that seeing the Capitol still makes me sad. I am sad when I think about Americans hurting each other and fighting. I am sad about people getting turned on each other with lies. Tucker is one of the forces doing that.
I didn't say I am weeping as Tucker implied in his false monologue. In fact, I am out here still working on this same stuff. But, yes, this shit makes me sad. It's disappointing. We should all be sad to see Americans hurting each other.
Surely [Carlson] and [Fox News] will correct this willful, false, and malicious characterization of my work that appeared on their air and website? This dude is out here straight-up lying to people.
This is what Tucker Carlson does. You won’t see this happen on MSNBC or CNN or ABC, NBC, CBS, etc. No, this is a Fox News sort of thing.
I wrote about this at Media Matters, first in 2018 and again in 2021. Tucker Carlson has a tendency to put targets on people’s backs. In some cases, there’s an argument to be made that the person being targeted is fair game. I could certainly see someone make the argument that given that Walker is a professional journalist, and Carlson was targeting him for something he said on TV (even if Carlson’s description was wildly misleading and/or false), it’s within the realm of things that are ethically acceptable. I’m not saying that I would agree with that argument, but it’s a case someone could make.
If you read through Walker’s thread, you’ll see a number of examples of what Carlson’s spotlight has meant for him (though it’s not comprehensive). Lots of insults, lots of harassment, lots of people just being jerks. But hey, that’s the internet for you. Turns out that when a guy who gets millions of viewers each night dedicates time to attacking you for having PTSD, you’re going to end up with at least a few hundred trolls who will seek you out online (or in person).
But what about when it’s not someone who works in media? What about when it’s just someone getting mobbed because someone on Carlson’s staff found a tweet he wanted his viewers to descend on?
For that, I reached out to Zinnia Jones, who was featured on the July 5, 2017, edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight.