On Monday, June 28th, Fox host Tucker Carlson dropped a bomb mid-show, announcing he’d been approached by a “whistleblower” who told him he was being spied on by the NSA.
“The National Security Agency is monitoring our electronic communications,” he said, “and is planning to leak them in an attempt to take this show off the air.”
The reaction was swift, mocking, and ferocious. “Carlson is sounding more and more like InfoWars host and notorious conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones,” chirped CNN media analyst Brian Stelter. Vox ripped Carlson as a “serial fabulist” whose claims were “evidence-free.” The Washington Post quipped that “in a testament to just how far the credibility of Tucker Carlson Tonight has cratered,” even groups like Pen America and the Reporters Committee on the Freedom of the Press were no-commenting the story, while CNN learned from its always-reliable “people familiar with the matter” that even Carlson’s bosses at Fox didn’t believe him.
None of this was surprising. A lot of media people despise Carlson. He may be Exhibit A in the n+2 epithet phenomenon that became standard math in the Trump era, i.e. if you thought he was an “asshole” in 2015 you jumped after Charlottesville straight past racist to white supremacist, and stayed there. He’s spoken of in newsrooms in hushed tones, like a mythical monster. The paranoid rumor that he’s running for president (he’s not) comes almost entirely from a handful of editors and producers who’ve convinced themselves it’s true, half out of anxiety and half subconscious desperation to find a click-generating replacement for Donald Trump.
The NSA story took a turn on the morning of July 7th last week, when Carlson went on Maria Bartiromo’s program. He said that it would shortly come out that the NSA “leaked the contents of my email to journalists,” claiming he knew this because one of them called him for comment. On cue, hours later, a piece came out in Axios, “Scoop: Tucker Carlson sought Putin interview at time of spying claim.”
In a flash, the gloating and non-denial denials that littered early coverage of this story (like the NSA’s meaningless insistence that Carlson was not a “target” of surveillance) dried up. They were instantly replaced by new, more tortured rhetoric, exemplified by an amazingly loathsome interview conducted by former Bush official Nicolle Wallace on MSNBC. The Wallace panel included rodentine former Robert Mueller team member Andrew Weissman, and another of the networks’ seemingly limitless pool of interchangeable ex-FBI stooge-commentators, Frank Figliuzzi.
Weissman denounced Carlson for sowing “distrust” in the intel community, which he said was “so anti-American.” Wallace, who we recall was MSNBC’s idea of a “crossover” voice to attract a younger demographic, agreed that Carlson had contributed to a “growing chorus of distrust in our country’s intelligence agencies.” Figliuzzi said the playbook of Carlson and the GOP was to “erode the public’s trust in their institutions.” Each made an identical point in the same words minus tiny, nervous variations, as if they were all trying to read the same statement off a moving teleprompter.
The scene was perfectly representative of what the erstwhile “liberal” press has become: collections of current and former enforcement types, masquerading as journalists, engaged in patriotic denunciations of critics and rote recitals of quasi-official statements.
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