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What Tucker Carlson's firing by Fox and move to Twitter mean for the anti-LGBTQ movement

Experts say Tucker Carlson had one of the largest audiences in American media and he used it to further conspiracy theories and bigoted views.

By Will Fritz - May 15, 2023
American media personality Tucker Carlson appears on the screen during the opening session of Hungary Conservative Political Action Conference in Budapest, Hungary, Thursday, May 4, 2023. The two-day CPAC meeting organized by Center for Fundamental Rights of Hungary features some 60 prestigious foreign speakers from 20 countries and five continents.
Tucker Carlson appears on the screen during the opening session of Hungary Conservative Political Action Conference in Budapest, Hungary, Thursday, May 4, 2023. (Szilard Koszticsak/MTI via AP)

Former Fox News prime-time host Tucker Carlson announced on May 9 that he’s heading to Twitter.

“We’re back,” Carlson wrote in a tweet of a video in which he said: “Starting soon, we’ll be bringing a new version of the show we’ve been doing for the last six and a half years to Twitter. We’ll be bringing some other things, too, which we’ll tell you about. But for now, we’re just grateful to be here.”

The video had received more than 129 million views as of May 15.

The news of Carlson’s new show on Twitter came a little more than two weeks after his firing by Fox News. Once the nation’s most popular cable news host, Carlson joins the ranks of other Fox News hosts who have been ousted and now run far-right internet programs — Bill O’Reilly in 2017 and Glenn Beck in 2011.

Carlson’s departure from Fox may be a major development in conservative media, but experts told the American Independent Foundation to expect little to change, either in Carlson’s own effectiveness at continuing to spread his bias or in Fox’s willingness to peddle Carlson’s brand of hate from whomever they may find to permanently replace him in his 8 p.m. nightly time slot.

“[Carlson’s] anti-LGBTQ extremism certainly doesn’t make him unique at Fox News. Fox News heavily pushed anti-LGBTQ talking points in the post-Trump era. And it’s likely to continue doing so in his absence. So Tucker’s departure from Fox News means that the anti-LGBTQ movement loses a particularly effective and charismatic snake oil salesman. I think we’ll continue to see the impact of that,” Ari Drennen, LGBTQ program director for the progressive media watchdog Media Matters for America, told the American Independent Foundation. “People just are not watching Tucker’s replacements at the same rate.”

With Carlson now planning his Twitter show, Drennen said, she’s skeptical he will be able to find as large an audience as before.

“Obviously, it remains to be seen how this all works out. But it’s hard to imagine that he’ll find the same kind of large, dedicated audience on Twitter,” Drennen said. “There certainly is an audience for him there. But I think it’s hard to imagine that it will be anything comparable to him in the best of the prime-time slots of Fox News.”

During his stint at Fox, Carlson was well-known for spreading conspiracy theories about Jan. 6 and for racist commentary about people of color and immigrants, along with hateful rhetoric about transgender people and other members of the LGBTQ community.

He’s repeatedly disparaged gender-affirming care, accusing hospitals of “mutilating” minors and later claiming doctors were “castrating children.”

In the aftermath of the November 2022 shooting at a queer nightclub in Colorado, Carlson displayed a graphic that said “Stop sexualizing kids.” The next day, a guest on his show, the far-right pro-Trump activist Jaimee Michell, called the shootings “expected and predictable” and said similar shootings will continue until “we end this evil agenda that is attacking children.”.

Less than a month before he was unceremoniously fired by Fox News, Carlson used the purported gender identity of the suspect in the March 27 mass shooting at a Nashville Christian school to attack trans people, claiming that “the trans movement is targeting Christians. … The trans movement is the mirror image of Christianity, and therefore its natural enemy.”

Carlson’s comments have coincided with a wave of anti-trans legislation in state capitols across the nation. The website Trans Legislation Tracker had counted 543 anti-trans bills in 49 states introduced in 2023 as of May 15, of which 52 have been signed into law. Those bills have included a recently passed ‘bathroom bill’ in Florida and a proposed ban on gender-affirming care for anyone under 26 in Texas.

Heron Greenesmith, a senior research analyst at social justice research and policy organization Political Research Associates who monitors anti-LGBTQ advocacy, said they did not believe Carlson’s move to Twitter would mark a decrease in effectiveness at spreading hate.

“The same shitheads who followed him before will continue to follow him now,” Greenesmith told the American Independent Foundation.

When Fox News executives showed Carlson the door on April 25 — reportedly at least in part because of a racist text message that came to light amid Dominion Voting Systems’ blockbuster defamation lawsuit against the network — they pulled the plug on one of the anti-LGBTQ movement’s most effective voices. Carlson had an exceptional reach, with an audience of more than 3 million nightly viewers in the first three months of 2023. His final show, on Friday, April 21, reached about 2.6 million viewers. In the aftermath of his firing, the audience for his 8 p.m. time slot on Fox was down significantly to more than 1.2 million viewers on Friday, May 5.

“With a large chunk of Fox’s audience turning off the network in Carlson’s absence, it’s certainly possible that many of them will follow him to his Twitter broadcast, Greenesmith said: “My instinct is to dismiss Tucker’s move to Twitter as a major step down, but Matt Walsh’s success is making me question that. People like Matt Walsh and Chaya Raichik are very successful at spreading disinformation using Twitter. Him continuing to have a platform is dangerous, and he will continue to harm people.”

TJ Billard, an assistant professor of communications at Northwestern University who studies the media’s relationship with transgender politics, is skeptical that Carlson’s firing will mark a change for Fox News.

“Someone else will probably take his time slot and probably have similar ideas,” said Billard, reached by phone prior to Carlson’s announcement of a return on Twitter. “Whoever that person is that has his slot will almost certainly be talking about trans people, and their perspectives will not differ [from his], especially to the degree that the wider far-right media ecosystem orbits Fox.”

Billard said the extreme views Carlson pushed and the similar views of other commenters on Fox are just as much the fault of the network as they are the fault of the individuals.

“The things he said at Fox were not things that he said earlier in his career. He came there as a journalist and followed the network’s kind of ideology and read their script,” Billard said. “As long as Fox is on the air, I don’t think Tucker Carlson being gone is going to make a difference.”

Billard believes smaller conservative news outlets and media personalities might be more dangerous than Carlson in some ways: “They could have a smaller audience, but those audience members are more likely to pick up guns and go to Pride parades, and that matters a lot more than if they had a million followers who never do anything, so I don’t know the extent to which the numbers tell the whole story.”

“As much as Carlson was and remains a big pusher of anti-trans rhetoric and perhaps helped push along the recent wave of anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ legislation, he’s not the only guilty party in American media and his ouster won’t solve systemic problems,” Drennen said.

“We will continue to see anti-trans bills for as long as the mainstream media is willing to play footsie with the idea that there’s something credible happening here (with anti-trans debate),” she said. “I don’t think that this is only driven by the right-wing media. I think that this has been amplified in the post-Trump era by a right-wing media who is desperate to try to reenergize their base, and a kind of center-left corporate media that is willing to both-sides the issue.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

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