“There is more than one way to be a terrible person.”
Oliver is quick to note that Carlson’s penchant for controversy is clearly trolling for attention, but then emphasizes that Carlson’s audience is already quite large. The Fox News show Tucker Carlson Tonight averages over 3 million viewers a night, so Oliver’s segment is more about understanding Carlson than it is about bringing him to wider attention. Indeed, it’s precisely because Carlson is so widely-viewed that Oliver argues there’s a real danger in his commentary. According to Oliver, Carlson makes white supremacist talking points more palatable by not resembling the cross-burning, hood-wearing caricature of racism he insists he isn’t.
Oliver’s team has dug up some particularly damning clips on that front. Derek Black, the son of Don Black (founder of the Neo-Nazi forum Stormfront) tells CNN that his family watches Carlson’s show twice a night “because they feel that he is making the white nationalist talking points better than they have, and they’re trying to get some tips on how to how to advance it.”
In another clip, far-right activist James Allsup is seen hailing Carlson as “an example of someone engaging in very effective rhetoric” while speaking at a white supremacist conference He earns a laugh from the crowd with his remarks, which Oliver characterizes as “the single worst laugh I’ve ever heard,” before showing us even more damning clips including one of David Duke praising Carlson.
The sum effect of Oliver’s breakdown of Carlson’s obtuse contributions (to put it nicely) to the contemporary political discourse is jarring, but necessary. In a world where a president who stoked the fires of white supremacy is now gone, voices like Carlson’s remain and maintain access to a large audience; this is a problem. This Last Week Tonight segment reminds us Carlson and his show is best described the same way The Simpsons characterized Fox News: “Not racist, but #1 with racists.”
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver airs on HBO Sundays 11 p.m. ET, and is available to stream on HBO Max. Check out the full segment below.
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“It’s been a very, very collaborative process, this one.”
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