White supremacy in America is not just baked into our institutions. It does not just live in the shallows, masked by unconscious biases — it is also overt and broadcasted to Tucker Carlson’s 4.3 million viewers every weekday night.
Carlson would disagree. After all, he called white supremacy a “hoax” after the publishing of an El Paso gunman’s white supremacist manifesto. He defends "Blue Lives Matter" over Black Lives Matter, and refused to broadcast the arrest and subsequent murder of George Floyd in June.
Last week, he defended Kyle Rittenhouse, a teenager who allegedly killed two unarmed protesters in Kenosha.
"How shocked are we that 17-year-olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order when no one else would?" Carlson said.
But this fear-mongering, racist rhetoric is nothing new. In 2018, he claimed immigrants make America a "poorer and dirtier” country.
The same year, he was the distinguished speaker at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media’s annual Roy H. Park Lecture.
Some UNC Hussman faculty defended the move, saying it was a great opportunity to expose students to a different side of the political spectrum. And sure, broadening students’ viewpoints is admirable, except when the viewpoint is baseless and racist. Putting Carlson on a pedestal in front of hundreds of future reporters only served to normalize and legitimize white supremacy and the devolution of journalism.
To be clear, Carlson is not a journalist. Fox News’ own lawyers actually label Carlson’s show as “hyperbolic opinion commentary," and PolitiFact has rated 80 percent of his on-air claims as "False," "Mostly False," or "Pants on Fire." It obviously didn’t matter to UNC Hussman, whose Triad Foundation contributes heavily to far-right conservative outlets like The Daily Caller, and has invited four Fox News reporters to keynote Park Lectures in the last decade.
While speaking at UNC in 2018, Carlson was asked a question about the disenfranchisement of Black people in America. Carlson answered by claiming identity politics were the true threat to democracy.
“Anyone who’s encouraging you — left or right — to think of yourself primarily as a member of a racial group, is committing a sin,” Carlson said. “And is pushing the country evermore toward where it’s going: tribalism.”
The white privilege was palpable. It’s not how the media encourages us to view ourselves, but how the media influences us to view others. Whether we’re encouraged to empathize and love identities different than our own, to make conscious our unconscious biases and to demand systemic change toward equality.
Carlson does the opposite.
Racial identities do not divide us — it’s people like Tucker Carlson, who defend police even when they despicably kill unarmed Black men. Who drown out the cries of Black Lives Matter with "Blue Lives Matter." Who equate violence to protesting against structural racism and define "order" as a vigilante teenager killing unarmed protestors.
Carlson, and all of primetime cable television, irrespective of party, crave tribalism. It makes for good television and great money. But UNC Hussman should teach future journalists to be the antithesis of Tucker Carlson — to tell stories not by creating false dualities of good and evil, but by presenting the most compelling facts to elicit compassion and understanding rather than shallow hatred for others.
It’s not that racism is some evil predisposition. It’s born out of ignorance, echo chambers and misguided self-preservation. Few institutions can fight these forces, and real print journalism is perhaps the most important.
UNC Hussman has shown it cares more about Hearst Awards and conservative funding than being a beacon for what journalism should be. It should denounce, not endorse, the commercially-viable rhetoric on Fox News, whose “different perspective” only serves to poison the misinformed with white supremacy and entrench America’s divides.
Most crucially, in order to teach students never to sacrifice their journalistic ethics for fame and profit, Dean Susan King and the Hussman School of Journalism and Media must start doing the same.
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