Dismantling Tucker Carlson’s White-Supremacy Argument

The Fox News host’s recent segment was among the most poorly reasoned ever.

Tucker Carlson speaks at the 2017 Business Insider conference in New York.
Lucas Jackson / Reuters

After a white gunman killed 22 people in El Paso, Texas, citing a mythical “Hispanic invasion of Texas” as his motive, Republican Senator Ted Cruz declared on Twitter that “what we saw yesterday was a heinous act of terrorism and white supremacy.” Republican Congressman Dan Crenshaw tweeted, “White supremacy has no place in this world. Violence inflicted because of someone’s race or ethnicity is vile, repulsive, and one of the worst evils we face.” Ivanka Trump declared, “White supremacy, like all other forms of terrorism, is an evil that must be destroyed.”

The Fox News host Tucker Carlson didn’t share any of those statements with viewers of his program on Tuesday, when he portrayed concerns about white supremacy as “a hoax” by Democrats engaged in a “relentless bid to divide this country.”

Those omissions are egregious. Carlson betrayed the trust of his viewers, eliding facts in a way that could stoke the very divisions he accused others of sowing.

And apart from the omissions, the segment was riddled with reasoning so inane, one wondered if stupidity or sophistry was the more charitable explanation. White supremacy is “not a real problem in America,” Carlson said, arguing that “the combined membership of every white-supremacist organization in this country, would they be able to fit inside a college football stadium?”

The 9/11 terrorists would fit in a locker room. Every MS-13 gang member in America would fit in the Great Western Forum. The worldwide membership of ISIS might well fit in Michigan Stadium. “Fits in a football stadium” is an idiotic proxy for “a real problem,” especially when only official “members” are counted as part of that problem.

I happen to think that the term white supremacy is now used too promiscuously by some intellectuals. It obviously does not follow that white supremacists don’t exist, or that they aren’t a threat worth taking seriously

Dismissing white supremacy as a concern, Carlson reasoned, “I’ve lived here 50 years and I’ve never met anybody, not one person, who ascribes to white supremacy.” While I doubt that, it would be a dumb argument even if it were true. As far as I know, I’ve never met a murderer or a child molester or a perpetrator of elder abuse. Yet I am certain that all three crimes are still problems.

“The whole thing is a lie,” Carlson insisted. “If you were to assemble a list, a hierarchy of concerns or problems this country faces, where would white supremacy be on the list? Right up there with Russia, probably.”

Russia is a nuclear-armed autocracy that remains the most significant reason for the continued existence of NATO. The country actively works to undermine U.S. interests around the globe. It pays a troll army to sow discord among American citizens, and successfully stole emails from the Democratic Party to influence the last presidential election. I happen to think that some people overstate its influence. That does not mean Russia doesn’t pose real challenges to the country.

Setting Russia aside, consider that hierarchical list of problems that America faces. As Carlson sees it, white supremacy belongs very low on that list, thus his cable-news rivals at CNN were disgracing themselves by talking about such a nonproblem in a segment he excerpted. What problems do rank high enough to warrant concern? Carlson has dedicated Fox segments to fretting about:

All that and more meets his threshold for problems worthy of national media attention, yet he makes sweeping, unqualified objections to coverage of a mass shooter’s extremist ideology just after he murdered 22 people—the same ideology shared by the mass murderers who bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City; shot six at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin; shot nine in a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina; and massacred 11 in a Pittsburgh synagogue.

After those killings and others, one wonders, how many Americans do white supremacists have to murder in mass-casualty terrorist attacks before Carlson regards the ideology as a significant enough problem to warrant public discussion?

Some years ago, the city of Phoenix, Arizona, decided to try to recruit a more racially diverse staff of lifeguards to work at its pools. Responding on Fox News, Carlson asked, “Why do we care what color our lifeguards are?” He went on to declare, “This is the same rationale that propped up Jim Crow for 80 years—you want to swim in a pool with people who look like you.” Got that? Mentioning Jim Crow is fine if a random city wants to diversify its lifeguard staff, thereby violating the norm of colorblindness. But it’s illegitimate to invoke after mass murders by white racists.

It would be difficult to invent a more inane double standard.

Amid controversy over his segment declaring white supremacy “a hoax” that is “not a real problem in America,” Carlson is now on vacation. And many are trying to shame him for violating anti-racist taboos. But that’s not my angle today. I’m shaming Carlson for making such glaringly dumb arguments—and I’m inviting his audience to reflect on how little he and his Fox bosses must think of them.