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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

 

Tucker Carlson is attempting to stay the course amid an advertiser exodus from his Fox News program because of his racist commentary. Carlson had been a mouthpiece for white supremacy, and since being promoted to a prime-time slot on Fox, he has elevated fringe “alt-right” grievances into mainstream media.

But what are the consequences of airing unfettered, explicit white supremacy five nights a week on the top rated cable news channel in the U.S.? They’re that Fox News viewers, including the president, are exposed to extremist ideology that, thanks to the veneer of respectability a top-rated show carries, has become part of the acceptable spectrum of political discourse — but that actually puts marginalized communities under direct threat of material harm.

In the absence of any identifiable editorial standards at Fox News, naked white nationalist rhetoric has metastasized. Carlson has interpreted this state of affairs as a blanket mandate to host a program centered around the idea that there is a crisis of discrimination against white men in America. Since his show launched on Fox News in November 2016, it has filtered story after story through the lens of white grievance,including claiming that reports of sexual assault against Brett Kavanaugh exposed “race hatred”, warning about the imaginary threat of white “genocide,” and spending a bewildering amount of time attacking the value of diversity. These segments track with both the rhetoric and smear campaigns cooked up online by white nationalists, neo-Nazis, men’s rights activists. Every night, he speaks on behalf of a fringe online community that endorses white nationalism and amplifies this message to an audience that would likely not have been exposed to it elsewhere. This sets off the invisible process of radicalization: avowed racists and neo-Nazis spew hatred online, Carlson picks it up, sanitizes it, and uses it to bolster the Trump agenda. This process projects explicit white supremacy (as opposed to Fox’s long-term peddling of implicit white supremacy) into the homes of Fox’s audience, blending seamlessly into the network’s long-established brand of conservative media.

Arie Kruglanski, a research psychologist at the University of Maryland, broke the radicalization process down into three parts in The Washington Post. The first step capitalizes on the drive to life a meaningful life, which white supremacy fulfills by imbuing people’s identity (“gender, religion or race”) with superiority. Carlson trafficks in these toxic white identity politics and validates the fantasy that dominate groups are actually the ones being persecuted. The second element of radicalization is what Kruglanski calls “the narrative.” He says this narrative — “usually that there is an enemy attacking your group, and the radical must fight to gain or maintain respect, honor or glory” — gives its believers “permission to use violence.” The constant barrage of coverage about migrant caravan “invasion” is just one recent example of how Fox’s narrative creates an enemy to fuel racial resentment. Carlson’s show was no exception in that regard. The third piece, Kruglanski says, is forming a “community, or the network of people who validate the narrative and the violence.” Fox helps in this goal broadly across the network by sowing distrust of other outlets by raving about “fake news” and a subversive liberal agenda in mainstream media. In other words, Fox News foments an “us against the world” mentality in its viewers. Carlson specifically builds community among racists by centering “alt-right” issues and talking points in his commentary. They know they’re in this together with him because many of the stories he covers come directly from their online community. Stories about “white genocide” in South Africa and attacks against Georgetown University associate professor Christine Fair bubbled up in white supremacists’ circles online, and their adherents recognize that Carlson is playing their game.

Imagine a man, not unlike Charlottesville murderer James Fields, who is angry and captivated by the white supremacist ideology that he finds on YouTube, Twitter, and Gab. He sees Carlson take up those same issues and feels validated by seeing them presented with the glossy veneer that cable television provides. He hears his “alt-right” peers reciprocate this praise on their podcast networks. It’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which a man like this experiences a destabilizing event, whether personal or political, and is moved to take violent action targeting those he perceives to be the enemy of white men.

The Overton window is a concept in political science that describes the range of ideas considered acceptable within the mainstream body politic. The consequences of white nationalist viewpoints airing on national television extend beyond the individuals who are radicalized as a result — the entire spectrum of political discourse is shifted toward normalized fascism. With the rise of authoritarian leaders like Donald Trump, extreme right-wing ideas pull the Overton window to the right, such that what was previously considered to be far-right suddenly looks like the middle ground. The white supremacist rhetoric of Carlson’s show suddenly seems tempered, opening up space in mainstream conservative media for dog whistles about demographic change, white “genocide,” and the end of Western civilization. Fascists turn the oppressors into the oppressed as justification for reactionary attacks on women, immigrants, people of color, and anti-racist activists.

At the same time, Carlson has appropriated leftist ideas about challenging corporate power and American imperialism and used them to persuade people of his worldview. He claimed he agreed with Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-NY) criticism of Amazon’s use of tax breaks to build additional headquarters in New York and Virginia. He’s encouraged an end to the United States’ never-ending presence in the Middle East, warned against instigating conflict with Iran, and mocked national security adviser John Bolton’s bloodthirstiness to his face. He has said that the Democratic Party panders to corporate interests (it does) and has criticized tax cuts for corporations. And of course, he claims he’s a champion of free speech. It’s not hard to see why taking these positions is popular. But Carlson is playing a shell game. An excellent review of Carlson’s book “Ship of Fools” in Current Affairs explores how this combination of criticizing unfettered state and corporate power combined with ethno-nationalism is “destructive and inhumane” because “it has a kernel of accuracy, it will easily tempt readers toward accepting an alarmingly xenophobic, white nationalist worldview.”

Carlson won’t cover poverty and other issues important to the left unless he’s using them as a bludgeon to demonize immigrants. In a white supremacist framework, the distinction between poor immigrants and poor citizens is of paramount importance. Tucker wants to convince his audience that immigrants cause poverty, violence, declining wages, and disappearing jobs. Carlson agonizes in his book about the loss of a “European, Christian and English-speaking” majority in America. He lays the blame for capitalism’s harm at the feet of women, LGBTQ folks, immigrants, and people of color. It’s effective because it identifies legitimate systemic problems that are robbing people of their liberty and weaponizes those issues against the marginalized population. This is populism predicated upon racism, better known as national socialism.

The normalization of white nationalism on Fox News, spearheaded by Carlson, encourages violence against members of marginalized communities who are deemed persona non grata. The goal is to dehumanize those who oppose racism and authoritarianism or whose very existence is in conflict with white America. In a world where all human beings are not considered full human beings, there are no restraints on how poorly they can be treated. In the words of The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer, “The cruelty is the point.” Migrant children have repeatedly faced down the full force of American imperialism; they’ve been tear-gassed and forcibly separated from their parents. Transgender people are the targets of the Department of Justice, which seeks to legally erase them from existence. Who benefits from erasing transgender identities except for those who seek to perform cruelty? What is the point of ending temporary protected status for Haitian migrants and exposing Vietnam war refugees to deportation except to follow through on the white nationalist project of ethnic cleansing, sending those deemed undesirable back to their “shithole” countries? Carlson is the mouthpiece for this agenda.

Incidents of right-wing violence are increasing and it’s killing people. According to the FBI, hate crime incidents rose 17 percent in 2017 compared to the previous year, and almost three-fifths were driven by race or ethnicity. There’s a clear through line from the escalated rhetoric on immigration to the massacre of 11 Jewish people in a Pittsburgh, PA, synagogue and the tear-gassing of children on the border. White male terrorism is validated by a toxic online ecosystem of racism and extremism that migrates from the dark corners of the internet into mainstream conservative media, and the main conduit of this filth is Tucker Carlson. The lives of women of color, immigrants, disabled people, and refugees are threatened when white nationalism infects the most popular cable news channel on the planet; the consequences of this programming extend beyond the internal politics of media into a direct threat to the lives of vulnerable people.

Without advertisers, Carlson would have a harder time spewing his hatred. The segment where he said immigration makes the U.S. “dirtier” caught the attention of advertisers this time — but it happens on a nightly basis, almost always without consequence. It is a moral imperative that Carlson be held responsible for spreading white supremacist ideology that radicalizes a mainstream audience, moves the Overton window toward fascism, and puts marginalized groups in harm’s way. Advertisers and media buyers have the ability to make this change; it’s clear Fox News won’t hold him responsible. After all, the network has completely abdicated editorial control when it comes to other ethical crises. Without action from the companies that sponsor this hate, the undemocratic threat Tucker Carlson poses to political discourse in this country will continue unabated, and his targets will continue to suffer.

Header image by Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

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The Arizona 2020 election "audit" under way

Screenshot from azaudit.org

As ongoing threats by Trump loyalists to subvert elections have dominated the political news, other Republicans in two key states—Florida and Arizona—are taking what could be important steps to provide voters with unprecedented evidence of who won their most close and controversial elections.

In both battleground states, in differing contexts, Republicans are lifting the curtain on the data sets and procedures that accompany key stages of vetting voters, certifying their ballots, and counting votes. Whether 2020’s election-denying partisans will pay attention to the factual baselines is another matter. But the election records and explanations of their use offer a forward-looking road map for confronting the falsehoods that undermine election results, administrators, and technologies.

In Republican-run Florida, the state is finalizing rules to recount votes by incorporating digital images of every paper ballot. The images, together with the paper ballots, create a searchable library to quickly tally votes and identify sloppily marked ballots. Questionable ballots could then be retrieved and examined in public by counting boards to resolve the voter’s intent.

“The technology is so promising that it would provide the hard evidence to individuals who want to find the truth,” said Ion Sancho, former supervisor of elections in Leon County, where Tallahassee is located, who was among those on a January 4 conference call workshop led by the Division of Elections seeking comments on the draft rule and procedures manual revisions.

Under the new recount process, a voter’s paper ballot would be immediately rescanned by an independent second counting system—separate from what each county uses to tally votes. The first digital file produced in that tabulation process, an image of every side of every ballot card, would then be analyzed by software that identifies sloppy ink marks as it counts votes. Several Florida counties pioneered this image-based analysis, a version of which is used by the state of Maryland to double-check its results before certifying its election winners.

“The fact that it has overcome opposition from the supervisors of elections is telling because the number one problem with the [elected county] supervisors is [acquiring and learning to use] new technology; it’s more work to do,” Sancho said. “The new technology doesn’t cost much in this case. Everyone has scanners in their offices already because every voter registration form by law must be scanned and sent to the Division of Elections.”

The appeal of using ballot images, apart from the administrative efficiencies of a searchable library of ballots and votes, is that the images allow non-technical people to “see” voters’ intent, which builds trust in the process and results, said Larry Moore, the founder and former CEO of the Clear Ballot Group, whose federally certified technology would be used in Florida recounts.

But Florida’s likely incorporation of ballot images into its recount procedures, while a step forward for transparency, is unfolding in a fraught context. In 2021, its GOP-majority state legislature passed election laws that are seen as winnowing voters and rolling back voting options. In other words, it may be offering more transparency at the finish line but is also limiting participation upstream.

The new recount rule is expected to be in place by this spring, months before Florida’s 2022 primaries and midterm elections. Among the issues to be worked out are when campaign and political party officials and the public would observe the new process, because the election administrators do not want partisans to intentionally disrupt the rescanning process. These concerns were raised by participants and observers on the teleconference.

The Arizona Template


In Arizona, Maricopa County issued a report on January 5, “Correcting the Record: Maricopa County’s In-Depth Analysis of the Senate Inquiry.” The report is its most substantive refutation of virtually all of the stolen election accusations put forth by Trump loyalists who spent months investigating the state's presidential election.

Beyond the references to the dozens of stolen election accusations put forth by pro-Trump contractors hired by the Arizona Senate’s Republicans, the report offered an unprecedented road map to understanding how elections are run by explaining the procedures and data sets involved at key stages.

The report explained how Maricopa County, the nation’s second biggest election jurisdiction (after Los Angeles County) with 2.6 million registered voters, verified that its voters and ballots were legal. It also explained key cybersecurity features, such as the correct—and incorrect—way to read computer logs that prove that its central vote-counting system was never compromised online, as Trump supporters had claimed in Arizona (and Michigan).

“I’ve never seen a single report putting all of this in one place,” said John Brakey, an Arizona-based election transparency activist, who has sued Maricopa County in the past and routinely files public records requests of election data. “Usually, it takes years to understand all this.”

Taken together, Florida’s expansion of recounts to include using digital ballot images, and Maricopa County’s compilation of the data and procedures to vet voters, ballots, and vote counts, reveal that there is more evidence than ever available to confirm and legitimize election participants and results.

For example, Maricopa County’s investigation found that of the 2,089,563 ballots cast in its 2020 general election, one batch of 50 ballots was counted twice, and that there were “37 instances where a voter may have unlawfully cast multiple ballots”—most likely a spouse’s ballot after the voter had died. Neither lapse affected any election result.

“We found fewer than 100 potentially questionable ballots cast out of 2.1 million,” the report said. “This is the very definition of exceptionally rare.”

When Maricopa County explained how it had accounted for all but 37 out of 2.1 million voters, it noted that the same data sets used to account for virtually every voter were also used by the political parties to get out the vote. Thus, the report’s discussion of these data sets—voter rolls and the list of people who voted—offered a template to debunk voter fraud allegations. This accusation has been a pillar of Trump’s false claims and is a longtime cliché among the far right.

It is significant that this methodology, indeed the full report, was produced under Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a conservative Republican who has repeatedly said that he had voted for Trump, and was fully endorsed by Maricopa County’s Board of Supervisors, which has a GOP majority and held a special hearing on January 5 to review the findings.

In other words, the report is not just a rebuttal for the Arizona Senate Republican conspiracy-laced post-2020 review. It is a road map for anyone who wants to know how modern elections are run and how to debunk disinformation, including conspiracy theories involving alleged hacking in cyberspace.

“There is not a single accurate claim contained in [Arizona Senate cybersecurity subcontractor] CyFIR’s analysis of Maricopa County’s tabulation equipment and EMS [election management system],” the reportsaid, referring to accusations that counts were altered. “This includes the allegation that county staff intentionally deleted election files and logs, which is not true.”

When you add to Maricopa County’s template the introduction of a second independent scan of every paper ballot in future Florida recounts, what emerges are concrete steps for verifying results coming from Republicans who understand how elections work and can be held accountable.

Of course, these evidence trails only matter if voters or political parties want to know the truth, as opposed to following an ex-president whose political revival is based on lying about elections. However, more moderate Republicans seem to be recognizing that Trump’s stolen election rhetoric is likely to erode their base’s turnout in 2022, as Trump keeps saying that their votes don’t matter.

“You’ve got Republican buy-in,” said Florida’s Sancho, speaking of his GOP-ruled state’s embrace of more transparent and detailed recounts. “And Republicans, more than anyone else, should be concerned about whether their votes were counted as cast and as the voter intended.”

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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Michael Carvajal

Photo by Tom Williams via Reuters

The search is on for a new director of the federal Bureau of Prisons after Michael Carvajal announced on January 5 that he’s retiring from his appointed post and will leave when the Department of Justice finds his replacement.

The Biden Administration needs to replace Carvajal with a person who knows prisons inside and out: someone who’s been incarcerated before.

When President Joe Biden announced his first round of cabinet picks just weeks after being elected in 2020, then Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said: “When Joe asked me to be his running mate, he told me about his commitment to making sure we selected a cabinet that looks like America – that reflects the very best of our nation.

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