Critique of pure Tucker

(Scott Johnson)

Ten years ago Wilfred McClay explained the deep meaning of Rush Limbaugh in the Commentary essay “How to understand Rush Limbaugh.” I more or less celebrated Professor McClay’s essay in the post “Critique of pure Rush.”

Ten years later Professor McClay is back with an essay/review of Tucker Carlson’s collection The Long Slide: Thirty Years in American Journalism. The review is published by First Things under the heading “Tucker Carlson, class traitor.” In it he provides an exposition of Tucker Carlson’s work along the lines of his exposition of Rush Limbaugh.

Professor McClay concludes his essay with a timely discussion of Carlson’s introduction. “It is Carlson’s apologia for the book, and it is hard-hitting,” he writes, and elaborates:

[Carlson] remarks upon the changed tone of journalism since the days when these essays were written. “In 1991, journalists were proud to be open-minded, and I was proud to become one. . . . Editors saw themselves as the guardians of free speech and unfettered inquiry. . . . Being despised was something you bragged about. It meant you were telling the truth.”

He then goes on to describe a portion of the long slide alluded to in his title, concentrating on the descent of the book trade. He tells the story of Simon & Schuster’s rapid decline, beginning with its 2017 cancellation under pressure of a book deal with gay-conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. The story culminates in an excruciatingly embarrassing dialogue between Carlson and two S&S executives who find themselves unable to explain the company’s decision to cancel Sen. Josh Hawley’s The Tyranny of Big Tech, while moving full steam ahead with Hunter Biden’s pseudo-book Beautiful Things—even as Biden was under active investigation by the Justice Department for his shady business dealings in China.

The only possible explanation for this asymmetry is that publishing today, like journalism, has become nakedly politicized. “It never occurred to me,” Carlson says, “that a story of mine might be killed, or rewritten into mush, because some executive thought I’d voted the wrong way. If small-minded partisans had been in charge, I never could have stayed in the business.” Now they are the ones in charge. “At this point, people with my opinions can’t [stay in the business]. They’ve been driven from traditional journalism.”

And there is the problem….[In this book] the reader will find some sparkling examples of what a talented journalist once could do in a society freer than today’s. Perhaps the next generation will make use of them.

Coincidentally, Steve Hayes and Jonah Goldberg have just announced their resignation as contributors to FOX News. Reading their explanation, I think they resigned in protest of the channel’s airing of Carlson’s take on the events of January 6 on Fox’s digital platform, although they cite this is only one case in their larger point: “the voices of the responsible are being drowned out by the irresponsible.”

As you might guess, Donald Trump is part of the mix. And yet it remains unclear why they found they could not continue to contribute to the channel’s news programming or why a public announcement of their resignation was necessary: “[W]ith the release of Patriot Purge, we felt we could no longer ‘do right as we see it’ and remain at Fox News.”

Add Professor McClay’s essay/review to Michael Anton’s CRB essay/review “Tucker’s right.” Compare and contrast with the Hayes/Goldberg announcement, which combines self-promotion and pomposity in roughly equal measure. You be the judge.

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