Resentment Over Tucker Carlson Is No Excuse To Try To Deplatform Fox News | Opinion

If the Left's war to silence Fox News has gained momentum, you can blame it on Tucker Carlson, the host of the cable news network's highest-rated show. The controversial talk star handed Fox opponents more ammunition last week, when he was blamed for what was described by his critics as two instances of insulting women.

While leftist critics have been building a file on Carlson's contempt for their sacred cows throughout his career, fury at him has been building since last summer due to his critiques of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and the notion that the United States is a "systemically racist" nation. Others on Fox were also skeptical of the "mostly peaceful" protests, which often turned into riots and looting, that swept across the nation in the wake of the death of George Floyd. But Carlson's nightly monologues on the subject made his program not just the highest rated on cable news, but a particular rallying point even for conservatives who disagree with his largely isolationist views on foreign policy.

At a time when the chattering classes have adopted the BLM platform and critical race theory as a new catechism for admission to polite society, Carlson was a stubborn and eloquent advocate for a pushback against liberal shibboleths about "white fragility" and "white privilege." Not surprisingly, that has convinced his liberal antagonists—including many of those who never watch his program or anything else on Fox—that he is a white supremacist who should be not merely condemned, but also canceled, shunned and silenced.

But the effort to drive not just Carlson—whose sponsors have already been subjected to boycotts that have driven most of them away from his show—off television, but Fox News itself off the cable spectrum in its entirety, didn't really take off until after the U.S. Capitol riot on January 6. While many Democrats have sought to label all Trump-supporting Republicans as "insurrectionists," their primary focus in the months since then has been to double down on the campaign to discredit conservative media as purveyors of "disinformation." That has given new impetus to the #UnFoxmycablebox campaign, which has received growing support from Democratic politicians and liberal media outlets—especially rival network CNN.

The campaign has been championed not just by the left-wing Media Matters group, but also by Brian Stelter, CNN's chief media correspondent. Stelter had published a book released during the election campaign that slammed the rival network for spewing what he claims are lies. He also urged that it should be forced off the air.

Since January, other CNN personalities, such as media reporter Oliver Darcy and daytime host Brianna Keilar, have also taken up the cause of de-platforming Fox News. They've been seconded by The Washington Post's Max Boot and The New York Times' Nicholas Kristof, who have both lamented that the Senate couldn't put the network on trial alongside Trump.

Their argument is that Fox, as well as other smaller conservative networks like Newsmax and OAN, spread disinformation about the election results and bolstered Trump's claims that the election was stolen. Some of the wilder arguments about election fraud are highly dubious and may well have influenced those involved in the Capitol riot. But the notion that any discussion about the irregularities in the count should have been silenced is more in line with the pre-election efforts of mainstream outlets and social media companies that sought to kill all reporting—such as the New York Post's revelations about Hunter Biden's foreign influence-peddling—undermining the Democrats' hopes, rather than a principled position about truth.

Similarly, the post-Capitol riot embrace of partisan censorship by the Big Tech giants was a troubling example of a slippery slope that had already arrived, in which liberal attempts to stifle open debate outstripped anything Trump had done to allegedly damage democracy. The campaign against Fox News takes this one dangerous step further.

Fox News primetime host Tucker Carlson
Fox News primetime host Tucker Carlson Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

For the same forces and journalists to now seek to pressure cable operators to shut down Fox News is exactly the kind of suppression of political speech that the Founders of the American republic feared when they added the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

As has often been stated, the creation of Fox News by media baron Rupert Murdoch and the network's founder, Roger Ailes, was a case of filling an underserved niche of the market that happened to consist of nearly half of the American people. Throughout the first decades of television history, the news had been the sole preserve of broadcast networks that gave viewers similar brands of liberal-leaning reporting and commentary. The arrival of CNN at the dawn of the cable era merely extended that practice.

It was not until the repeal of the misnamed "fairness doctrine" in 1987 that conservative voices began to emerge on talk radio. But it was with the arrival of Fox News in October 1996 that the liberal monopoly on the press was finally broken. Since then, Fox has consistently received higher ratings than its rivals, to the enormous frustration of politicians like President Barack Obama, who blamed it for resistance to his policies. It is that popularity, among other factors, that will likely doom the effort to force Fox out of business.

But as large as Fox News has loomed over the media landscape, it was not until the election of Donald Trump that the Left's anger escalated from annoyance over its existence to a growing determination to silence it outright.

The rest of the mainstream media, especially the two other 24/7 cable news outlets, spent the years following January 2017 broadcasting non-stop delegitimization of Trump and the promotion of conspiracy theories like that of his alleged collusion with Russia to win the 2016 election. In that context, the support Trump received from Fox's lineup of primetime hosts became a source of frustration to liberals because they provided an alternative narrative that contradicted the liberal consensus.

Americans have isolated themselves not just by reading, listening and watching different media, but also by living in social media silos where they are protected from exposure to opinions that might contradict their beliefs and prejudices. That makes networks where opposing views predominate not just a focus of disagreement, but a threat to the "correct" order of things. That explains why Democrats aren't so much interested in refuting Carlson as in shutting him up.

Carlson's latest broadsides can be disputed. His claims about the feminization of the military have been refuted by many in the armed services. However, the attempt to portray his mockery of New York Times social media reporter Taylor Lorenz as an attack on press freedom is disingenuous. Given her own dubious tactics in exploiting teenage posters for politicized stories and reporting aimed at silencing free speech zones like the Clubhouse platform, her complaints about critics ruining her life ring hollow. The effort to portray Carlson's critiques of BLM and critical race theory as inherently racist is similarly misleading.

Fox News personalities can be criticized for their opinions. But the idea that they are uniquely subversive of democracy is untrue, and not just because those making these arguments promoted a Russia collusion story as unfounded as anything Trump or Fox has been accused of spreading.

Whether or not you voted for Trump or ever watched a minute of a Fox News broadcast, the notion of silencing conservative outlets ought to frighten rather than please you. Current disagreements over the issues are profound, but efforts like those of the mob seeking to cancel Fox will only make those divisions even deeper and more bitter. They also convince conservatives that the real authoritarian threat to democracy isn't from Trump, but from liberal censors.

If you are offended by Tucker Carlson's opinions, don't watch him. And if your objective is the defense of democracy, then a campaign whose goal is to prevent his views from being heard should be a line that you wouldn't think of crossing.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS.org, a senior contributor to The Federalist and a columnist for the New York Post. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.