Opinion | Fox News host Tucker Carlson hassles his colleagues

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Nearly six years into Tucker Carlson’s run as a prime-time host at Fox News, it’s clear his supervisors are just fine with the prolific falsehoods and racism he blasts onto American screens each weeknight. Offensive content won’t take down TV’s most divisive demagogue.

If Carlson is to face consequences from Fox, there is a greater chance that it might come from HR over his approach to his co-workers. According to an investigation by Nicholas Confessore of the New York Times, Carlson’s behavior is less than salutary — hardly a surprise considering how he handles everyone else.

In 2019, a major national news event brought out the worst in Carlson’s ideology. Patrick Crusius, a White man, killed 23 people at a Walmart on Aug. 3, and he’d written in a manifesto: “This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” Seeking to rebut all the commentary on the ills of racism, Carlson declared that white supremacy was pretty much a “hoax.”

Days later, Cristina Corbin, a Fox News producer, subtweeted Carlson: “White supremacy is real, as evidenced by fact. Claims that it is a ‘hoax’ do not represent my views.” The Times describes what happened next:

She had not mentioned Fox’s star by name, but Mr. Carlson appeared to catch wind of her tweet almost immediately. A few hours later, while still on vacation, he called Ms. Corbin at work from a blocked number, then berated her for airing her disagreement publicly. “Shut your mouth,” he yelled, according to a former Fox executive briefed on the episode. Ms. Corbin did not respond to an email seeking comment for this article; Fox declined to comment, citing confidentiality requirements pertaining to human resources matters.

Another Carlson outrage started via Twitter. In March 2019, Hufsa Kamal, a Muslim producer on Fox News’s “Special Report with Bret Baier,” tweeted a rebuttal to remarks of Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, who had questioned the compatibility of the Muslim faith of Somali-born Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and the U.S. Constitution. Kamal wrote: “@JudgeJeanine can you stop spreading this false narrative that somehow Muslims hate America or women who wear a hijab aren’t American enough? You have Muslims working at the same network you do, including myself. K thx.”

According to the Times, Fox News producer Dan Gallo wrote to human resources about Pirro and Carlson as Kamal sustained online abuse over her tweet. “When Fox personalities make these sorts of statements, it damages my credibility as a Fox journalist & my ability to effectively cover stories,” Gallo wrote. “If an employee said those things in the workplace, especially with Muslim colleagues present, I think they would be disciplined.”

Somehow Carlson found out about Gallo’s concerns. His reaction, according to the Times:

A month later, Mr. Carlson landed in Los Angeles for a weeklong West Coast stint. Minutes after arriving in the bureau, he tracked down Mr. Gallo, who was sitting in an office talking to two colleagues. “Are you Dan Gallo?” he interrupted. When Mr. Gallo tried to introduce himself, an indignant Mr. Carlson simply handed him a blue notecard with his cellphone number. The next time Mr. Gallo had a problem with his show, Mr. Carlson said, he should “do the honorable thing” and call. Mr. Gallo offered to talk then and there, he said, but Mr. Carlson wasn’t interested. “I’m busy,” the host said, and walked off.

The upshot: Carlson had no time to address Gallo’s issues but plenty of time to intimidate him. That’s how you stifle dissent.

Even before he reached prime-time Fox News stardom in 2016, Carlson had been flexing his suppressive muscles. While serving as top editor of the conservative website Daily Caller in 2015, Carlson spiked a column by contract writer Mickey Kaus. The problem? It had been critical of Fox News, where Carlson was working then as a weekend morning host. When he was pressed on the decision to kill the piece, Carlson told an interviewer: “I have two rules. One is you can’t criticize the families of the people who work here. And the other rule is you can’t go after Fox. Only for one reason, not because they’re conservative or we agree with them [or] because they’re doing the Lord’s work. Nothing like that. It’s because I work there, I’m an anchor on Fox.”

Side note: Carlson once heckled the Erik Wemple Blog for not sufficiently criticizing our own employer. Hypocrisy is his specialty.

The host has powerful reasons to trust that he can hassle colleagues with impunity. He anchors the top-rated show in cable news, for one; the company’s streaming service, Fox Nation, has built out key offerings, including “Tucker Carlson Today” and his occasional documentaries, behind his name. And he has enjoyed a direct line to Lachlan Murdoch, executive chairman and CEO of Fox Corp. “According to former senior Fox employees, Mr. Carlson boasts of rarely speaking with Fox’s chief executive, Suzanne Scott, but talking or texting regularly with Mr. Murdoch,” the Times reports.

What’s remarkable about the two episodes the Times reported is how far out of his way Carlson went to hassle co-workers. His actions bespeak a prime-time TV blowhard who understands how objectionable his rhetoric has become. As CNN’s Brian Stelter pointed out in his book “Hoax,” there are many “invisible” journalists at Fox News who recoil at the hatred and falsehoods broadcast by Carlson, Pirro and other hosts. “Staffers described a TV network that had gone off the rails,” writes Stelter. “Some even said the place that they worked, that they cashed paychecks from, had become dangerous to democracy.”

If there is reason for those staffers to take heart, it lies in the pattern revealed by the Times investigation: Carlson wants to send a signal that you don’t mess with him. He wants people, including his colleagues, to keep quiet. Whatever his reason for fearing dissent, the path forward is clear: They should continue to speak.

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