After Tucker Carlson, It’s Time … For The Rest Of The Story
By BRIAN A. HOWEY
That’s how the most popular AM radio host in the nation back in the 1960s and 70s, Paul Harvey, would sign off on his popular mid-day show, before telling us “the rest of the story” later in the afternoon. It was a broadcast staple heard daily in countless Hoosier homes, farms, factories, businesses and restaurants.
In the early 1990s, we listened as Rush Limbaugh burnished his conservative broadcast brand across northeastern Indiana. There would be noontime Rush listening sessions at small restaurants in this part of the state, which became a precursor to Ross Perot’s 1992 independent presidential bid. Perot would carry 19.7% of the Hoosier vote that year, compared to 42.9% for President George H.W. Bush, and 36.7% for Democrat Bill Clinton, who won the presidency with just 43%.
And that 1992 presidential contest would signal an ominous slide for the GOP, which has lost the popular vote in seven of the last eight elections (President George W. Bush was the lone Republican to win the popular vote during his 2004 reelect – 50.7% to 48.3% for Democrat John Kerry). Bush43 in 2000 and Donald Trump in 2016 would lose the popular vote, but win the Electoral College.
This conservative radio movement spawned Network Indiana’s Mike Pence Show and WOWO’s Charly Butcher and a gaggle of rightward talk shows on WIBC.
Fast forward to the 21st century. Whether it’s a high school principal’s lobby, or a waiting room in a doctor’s office, tire store, or a bar, restaurant or the Antelope Club, if there’s a TV on, most likely it is tuned to Fox News. A significant portion of Indiana gets much of its news from Fox.
This has had compelling ramifications in Indiana, which is devoid of Democrats representing any rural district in Congress and the General Assembly. Democrats are still competitive in recent gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races, but we’re now in the midst of an unprecedented fifth consecutive General Assembly super majority. While the reapportionment maps of 2011 and 2021 have helped create these vast competitive electoral deserts, Fox News, Limbaugh, Pence and Butcher helped alter the political landscape.
When Pence was broadcasting, he would often invite Democrats like Evan Bayh, Andy Jacobs, John Gregg and journalists like Harrison Ullmann and me on his show. Pence would tout conservative positions, but they were not based on outright lies and vile propaganda.
That would be the forte of Fox hosts like Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, and from 2016 until last Friday, Tucker Carlson. All three would be axed by the Murdoch hierarchy, with Carlson vanishing a week after Fox settled its Dominion defamation lawsuit for an astounding $787 million. It faces a similar $2.6 billion suit from Smartmatic. Tucker Carlson was last seen eating interstate pizza Friday night, cheerily signing off with, “We’ll be back Monday!”
On Monday morning, Fox News issued this terse statement: “FOX News Media and Tucker Carlson have agreed to part ways. We thank him for his service to the network as a host and prior to that as a contributor.” Sources are now saying Carlson was terminated for bad-mouthing Fox management and using vulgar terms in the newsroom.
Carlson drew about 3 million viewers a night, feeding the conservative echo chamber. But in a nation of 332 million people, that’s a statistical drop in the bucket. What Carlson and his brand of propagandists have done is help push the GOP into the disastrous Trump era, as well as promoting extreme positions on abortion, gun reform, Ukraine and the despot Putin that are far, far out of the American mainstream. That’s a big reason the Republican Party is facing a dire future on the presidential stage.
What the Dominion case depositions demonstrated was that Tucker Carlson and Fox News were airing untruthful rubbish, like this:
“Sidney Powell is lying,” Carlson told a Fox News producer in a Nov. 16, 2020 exchange before using expletives to describe Powell, an attorney representing Trump. “You keep telling our viewers that millions of votes were changed by the software. You’ve convinced them that Trump will win. If you don’t have conclusive evidence of fraud at that scale, it’s a cruel and reckless thing to keep saying.”
Addressing Trump’s four years as president, Carlson said: “We’re all pretending we’ve got a lot to show for it, because admitting what a disaster it’s been is too tough to digest. But come on. There really isn’t an upside to Trump.”
A day after the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection that killed seven people and injured 140 cops, Carlson and producer, Alex Pfeiffer, lamented how the rioters had believed Trump’s election lies they helped propagate (and still were when Carlson interviewed Trump earlier this month). “They take the president literally,” Pfeiffer said. “He is to blame for everything that happened today.”
“The problem is a little deeper than that I’d say,” Carlson replied. He later described Trump this way: “He’s a demonic force, a destroyer. But he’s not going to destroy us. I’ve been thinking about this every day for four years.”
It’s impossible to ignore the Janus duality aspect of Fox News, saying things in cryptic fashion internally, and airing blatant lies to its viewers at the same time.
But, as Paul Harvey would put it, that’s “the rest of the story.”
The columnist is managing editor of Howey Politics Indiana/State Affairs at StateAffairs.com/pro/Indiana. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.