Eyebrow-raising coverage is nothing new from Fox News. It’s the channel, after all, where viewers have seen a host tell the son of a 9/11 victim to “shut up”, witnessed comparisons between gay marriage and turtle marriage, and watched as Glenn Beck appeared to pour gasoline over an employee.
In 2022, amid a recurring cast of hysterical hosts and unhinged guests, there has been less petroleum, but one man still stands out. Tucker Carlson, as the most-watched host of the most-watched cable news network, holds rare influence over not just Republican supporters, but politicians, too. This year Carlson has been unafraid to wield that power, across issues including war, subjugation of continents and testosterone.
On 22 February, Vladimir Putin’s forces were massed on the Ukraine border. As people in the eastern European country braced themselves for war, and as the Russian leader was widely condemned by the international community, Carlson used his Fox News show to launch a spirited defense of the Russian president.
“It may be worth asking yourself, since it is getting pretty serious, what is this really about? Why do I hate Putin so much?” he said on his Wednesday night show.
“Has Putin ever called me a racist? Has he threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him?” Carlson said. “These are fair questions, and the answer to all of them is: ‘No.’ Vladimir Putin didn’t do any of that.”
Carlson went on to refer to the looming conflict as a “border issue” and described Ukraine as “a pure client state of the United States state department”.
As Russian troops poured into the Ukraine, Russian news media picked up clips of Carlson’s defenses of Putin to sell the conflict to Russian citizens, including footage from Carlson’s Tuesday show, during which he poured scorn on international efforts to de-escalate the brewing war.
“Democrats in Washington have told you it’s your patriotic duty to hate Vladimir Putin. It’s not a suggestion. It’s a mandate. Anything less than hatred for Putin is treason,” Carlson had said.
On Thursday, after Russia had invaded Ukraine, a cowed Carlson was back on air, presenting a different message.
“Vladimir Putin started this war,” he said. “He is to blame tonight for what we’re seeing tonight in the Ukraine.”
Nevertheless, in the months since the conflict began, as Kremlin-backed Russian media have amplified Carlson’s coverage “dozens of times”, Carlson’s apparent sympathy towards Putin hasn’t waned. In December the Fox News host declared Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to be a “dictator” and “a dangerous authoritarian”.
The British empire
In September Carlson became very upset about some of the reaction to the death of Queen Elizabeth II – so much so that he launched a passionate defense of British colonialism.
The UK, Carlson said on his show, “somehow took over the world and ruled it with decency unmatched by any empire in human history” – an assessment that might come as a surprise to those who lived under British colonial rule.
Carlson’s five-minute-long praise of the British empire was prompted, he said, by a few people on Twitter who had not been sufficiently upset by the Queen’s death, and had used her demise to point to crimes committed in the monarchy’s name.
People in Africa, Carlson suggested, had actually fared worse since Britain surrendered its claim to countries there.
“Now, of course, the entire continent of Africa has a new master: the Chinese government,” Carlson said.
“China is the latest colonial power to dominate Africa. Its subjects will be pining for the British soon, assuming they are not already.”
Carlson added: “We will see many empires going forward, but we will never see one so benign.”
As Kehinde Andrews, professor of Black studies at Birmingham City University and author of New Age of Empire: How Racism and Colonialism Still Rule the World, wrote at NBC News: “The Royal African Company was responsible for enslaving more Africans than any other company in the world.”
Carlson then turned his attention to India, where he praised the architecture erected under British rule.
“After 75 years of independence, has that country produced a single building as beautiful as the Bombay train station [the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus] that the British colonialists built? No, sadly it has not. Not one,” Carlson said.
“So despite what they may be claiming on Twitter tonight, the British empire was more than just genocide.”
‘Great replacement’ theory
Carlson had already dabbled in the “great replacement” theory, a racist notion that alleges white Americans are being deliberately replaced through immigration, but 2022 was the year he really embraced it publicly.
“The great replacement? Yeah, it’s not a conspiracy theory. It’s their electoral strategy,” Carlson told his viewers in July, amid a lengthy denunciation of immigration.
In Carlson’s telling, Democrats are deliberately importing immigrants who will then vote for them. It’s a conspiracy theory that appears to have inspired the mass shooting by a white gunman at a supermarket in a predominantly Black area of Buffalo, and a concept described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “inherently white supremacist”. But that hasn’t stopped Carlson from perpetuating it.
“If we continue on this trajectory, and no one’s trying to take us off this trajectory, eventually, there’ll be no more native-born Americans,” Carlson said on his show.
“You can’t just replace the electorate because you didn’t like the last election outcomes.”
The New York Times reported in April that over the course of his Fox News career Carlson “amplified the idea that a cabal of elites want to force demographic change through immigration” in more than 400 shows. The difference this year has been Carlson’s explicit embrace of the concept, the Washington Post reported.
“Carlson used to not say ‘great replacement’ specifically, since that particular phrase is unmistakably associated with racist anti-immigration rhetoric. Now he uses it casually. Defends it.”
The issue of male virility fascinated Carlson through 2022, so much so that he devoted an entire documentary to it, called The End of Men.
“Testosterone levels are declining 10% per decade,” a jowled Carlson tells the camera, as a series of intensely homoerotic images flash across the screen. Topless, muscular men are seen flipping tires and swinging axes, lifting weights and firing guns, as Carlson laments that “no one in Washington seems interested at all”.
Then comes the clincher: another buff man, standing naked with his genitals in front of a red light.
“So, obviously, half the viewers right now are like, ‘What? Testicle tanning? That’s crazy!’” Carlson says. “But my view is, OK, testosterone levels have crashed and nobody says anything about it. That’s crazy. So why is it crazy to seek solutions?”
In the documentary a man calling himself an expert says that red-lighting a set of testicles is a sure fire way to boost testosterone, and to return men to the kind of Michelangelo’s David that Carlson appears to crave.
Except, as the Guardian noted at the time, there are no peer-reviewed double-blind studies that are able to prove these claims. As Petar Bajic, a urologist at the Cleveland Clinic who specializes in men’s health and testosterone, told Web MD: “There is no legitimate evidence that this type of treatment is effective in improving testosterone levels.”
Bajic said the red light wouldn’t even be able to penetrate the body deep enough to reach the testicles.
“It’s not only a waste of time but also a waste of money,” Bajic said. “There is a large amount of research and high-quality studies” into treating low testosterone, which is produced primarily in the testicles. “We have very effective and proven treatments available, and this is simply not one of them.”
Testosterone and manly men have remained on Carlson’s mind. In September he claimed the vaccine mandate was an attempt to rid companies and law enforcement of people “who have high testosterone levels”.
And in June he claimed the Food and Drug Administration is trying to wean people off smoking and vaping in an attempt – yet again – to wipe out big muscly men.
“Now what happens when you get off nicotine? Well, your testosterone levels plummet and you gain weight, both of which the administration is for, because you become more passive and easier to control.”
There’s no evidence of this, but just as with his other conspiracy theories and nonsense claims, there was no stopping Carlson. After a year of Russia-boosting, empire-lamenting and testicle lighting, the Fox News host has set himself a high bar for 2023.