Appearing on CNN’s Reliable Sources Sunday, Baltimore Sun media critic David Zurawik endorsed the effort to pull Fox News host Tucker Carlson off the air as a result of a series of comments he made when speaking with shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge more than a decade ago.
The conversation about Carlson came as part of a lengthy opening segment on Reliable Sources focusing on the controversies surrounding Fox News host Judge Jeanine Pirro and President Trump’s tweetstorm urging the network to keep her on the air after she was pre-empted Saturday following comments she made about Rep. Ilhan Omar.
Zurawik had previously complained that a different boycott of Carlson based on comments he made back in December did not succeed: “The boycott started and then the holidays kicked in and it kind of fizzled.” According to the journalist, “I don’t like an ideological group necessarily starting the boycott but you know what, if it gets...people like him off the air, I’m fine with it.” This position comes across as quite strange considering the fact that CNN just won a First Amendment Award.
Zurawik then tried to pass himself off as a defender of the First Amendment by pointing out that when President Obama attacked Fox News, “Jake Tapper and I were the two who said...the executive branch does not get to say what is and what is not a legitimate news organization.” He attempted to justify his change of heart: “They went to a different place when they threw themselves in totally as part of propaganda arm of Trump, right-wing machine.” The journalist went on to slam the “right-wing messaging machine with Fox and Sinclair and Breitbart and all the rest.”
A transcript of the relevant portion of Sunday’s edition of Reliable Sources is below. Click “expand” to read more.
BRIAN STELTER: Lots to get to, but let’s begin with exclusive reporting about someone who’s on the President’s mind right now. That’s his Fox News friend Jeanine Pirro. As you know, Pirro was widely denounced last week for doubting Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s patriotism. Fox publicly condemned Pirro’s comments. But here’s the part you don’t know, Pirro was suspended by Fox after that episode according to a source familiar with the matter. That’s why she was absent on Saturday night. Now, Fox is declining to confirm or deny that she’s been suspended. They’re not saying either way. The network says “we are not commenting on internal scheduling matters.” So, will she be back next weekend? Well, President Trump hopes so. “Bring back Judge Jeanine,” he tweeted a short time ago. You can see his three, his full three-part tweetstorm here. We’ll put it up on screen. What’s remarkable about this tweet storm is that he’s telling Fox News what to do and giving free advice to the network. He’s essentially telling the Murdochs, hold firm, stay strong, don’t be pressured by anybody, be what you want to be.
He’s saying Fox is number one. No one can take that away from you. So, that’s where we are. The President telling his favorite network to toughen up, stay strong, partly due to this. Did you see this the other day? It was a protest right outside Fox News headquarters in New York City. This protest on Wednesday coincided with a big fancy event for advertisers. Fox was bringing in ad buyers trying to pitch them on…on, to spend more money with Fox. So, the anti-Fox group Media Matters organized that protest and, of course, they also organized the release of those offensive clips of Tucker Carlson, those clips from 10, 15 years ago on a shock jock radio show, it was actually from 2006 to 2011. But Media Matters says those clips are relevant today because of Carlson’s behavior on the air today. So, look, Fox right now has multiple issues on multiple fronts. Carlson is one issue, Pirro is another. And these attempted ad boycotts might be the most important issue of all. Joining me now to talk all about this is Katie Rogers, a White House Correspondent at The New York Times. Nayyera Haq, she’s a former Obama White House senior director and a host on SiriusXM Progress. And Baltimore Sun media critic, David Zurawik. Katie, let’s begin with the tweets about Judge Jeanine Pirro. The President loves this show. He must have been flustered when it wasn’t on the air.
KATIE ROGERS: Right, he watches it every week, I think. He tunes, we know that he tunes in every week. It’s a primetime Saturday night thing for him. He tweets for his supporters to tune in with him. It’s like a live experience for him. We know that he calls in when he feels like it. In January, he spent I think 35 minutes talking to Jeanine about the need for a national emergency over the border. So, to cut this sort of oxygen off…
ROGERS: …is, is a big deal to him.
STELTER: Right, even just temporarily, even if it’s only for a week or two weeks. By the way, I have no indication that she has been fired. My source specifically said Pirro has not been fired. So, she will be back, David Zurawik, but she’s in the, she’s in the penalty box right now. Does it surprise you that Fox postponed, preempted her show this weekend? Does it surprise you that they’re drawing a line on this?
DAVID ZURAWIK: You know, I was, I was expecting…last night I went to record it because I wanted to write about I and I said, whoa, she’s not there, what’s going on? And you’re reporting now that she was suspended. So, they weren’t, you know, I think it…I’m not surprised given, look, it’s news in this sense to me, Brian. I think them suspending her and the President sending out these remarkable, just utterly remarkable tweets for the President of the United States telling a cable channel what to do on a… you know, with three, three tweets in a row, I think it says that the New Yorker story last week, pulling together all of the things that many of us have been writing for two years, and the boycott, and Media Matters, is having an effect on them. And I really think it’s a bottom line effect. They can say, oh, no, we’re just moving Tucker’s ads to other day parts, blah, blah, blah. Look, you take ads out of prime time and you move them to another day part, you’re talking about a smaller audience, a reduced rate, unless you give them multiple plays. You can’t keep doing that forever, you know?
STELTER: Let me, let me put on screen Tucker’s Friday night ads versus Chris Hayes on MSNBC. And viewers can see the difference here, about 11 minutes of ads on, on Tucker Carlson’s show versus 16 minutes of ads on Chris Hayes’ show. Other cable news shows might have up to 20 minutes of ads. So, Tucker’s show has definitely taken a hit as a result of this progressive group ad boycott. Nayyera, I wonder what your view is of these ad boycott efforts, though, because they are very controversial. And a lot of folks in television networks say it is inappropriate for, for, you know, anybody, partisans on any side, to be advocating an ad boycott.
NAYYERA HAQ: Well, there’s two ways that people make their voices heard in our democracy; at the ballot box and also when they fork over money for a product. And in that sense, what you end up watching on TV is part of the product that you’re receiving. So, organizations across the political spectrum, right and left, have been using this tactic of social consciousness and awareness to influence how coverage is, is done. Now, to be frank, Judge Pirro’s show is not a news show. It is an opinion show. So, it’s interesting to see that that opinion that she espouses on her show is now being countered by the opinion of many consumers and them using their power. It’s, it’s, it would be shocking, I think, if after her comments about Muslims having…not being part of the fabric of American life and not being able to be loyal to America, and the New Zealand attack happening the night before her show is supposed to air, if she was on air, having to either apologize, which I don’t think that anybody at Fox is ready for her to do publicly, or to…for her to double down in light of what these attacks were. Either way, the comments that she had made last week about Ilhan Omar were a part of a much broader fabric of how people are justifying the attacks on immigrants, the attacks on immigration policy, and are part and parcel of a broader white nationalist rhetoric. So, probably better for her and all involved that she wasn’t on TV last night.
STELTER: It’s an interesting point. I mean, she had several advertisers say they’re avoiding her show. Carlson’s show has had the same. And there’s that graphic showing Tucker versus Chris Hayes, just one night, to show you the difference between the two programs. Look, David, David Zurawik, Media Matters is a clearly anti-Fox group, it’s a liberal group. It’s unearthed all those clips of Tucker on the radio. Then, The Daily Caller, which was co-founded by Carlson, brought up some, some old comments that the head of Media Matters had made in the past that were offensive and gross. So, there was this back and forth, both sides pointing fingers. Is all of that a distraction though?
ZURAWIK: Brian, I think it’s much worse than a distraction. When I saw that, when I saw the show last week that Carlson did where they brought up the blog post of Angelo Carusone, I looked at it and I thought…I was, I was so dispirited, it reminded me of 2009, one of the low points in cable news, when Keith Olbermann and Glenn Beck were calling on air for, “dirt on the other party.” It was almost as if they were putting a bounty on each other. And I thought, is that the conversation of democracy that we want on cable news? Now, the mar…not the mar…well, maybe the marketplace, I don’t know what. But both of those folks got pushed to the margins. They didn’t get silenced. They got pushed off this big, the big platforms they were on, MSNBC and Fox. And I thought that’s the way it should work. Don’t silence ‘em, move ‘em off. But that’s exactly where Tucker Carlson was taking this thing again with his attack on Media Matters rather than responding to the charges. And by the way, Brian, what he said on Bubba the Love Sponge in 2006 to 2011 is one thing. It’s, it’s sickening, it’s disgusting, it’s vile. It says so much about what kind of person he is. But what bothers me more is what he said in December about immigrants, about letting people into this country and that making us poorer and dirtier and more divided. That’s the rhetoric of Trump. And that’s the rhetoric going to the base of anti-immigration, racist talk. He got a pass on that. The boycott started and then the holidays kicked in and it kind of fizzled. It’s coming back. I think that’s part of what we’re seeing now. That’s ugly, ugly stuff that he does. And I’ll tell you what. I don’t like an, an ideological group necessarily starting the boycott, but you know what, if it gets him, people like him off the air, I’m fine with it.
STELTER: Now, Tucker is claiming that most media outlets want Fox to get shut down. Here is what he said at one point this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TUCKER CARLSON: They would like Fox News shut down tomorrow, the other news channels agree with that. They would like it too. They’re trying to do it now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: That’s not what I want. David, is that what you want, Fox to be shut down?
ZURAWIK: Absolute…listen, in…when President Obama went after Fox, you can look it up, Jake Tapper and I were the two who said the executive does not…the executive branch does not get to say what is and what is not a legitimate news organization. I defended Fox. I thought it was good to have voices from the right. They went to a different place when they threw themselves in totally as part of propaganda arm of Trump right wing machine. And, by the way, great point about what’s going on with these tweets. I wonder if it shows, and this is something I’ve been writing about a little, is that Trump’s plan for this great right wing messaging machine with Fox and Sinclair and Breitbart and all the rest, it’s cracking up. He’s really lecturing Fox, saying, hey, you guys have to do what I say, Judge Pirro’s upset about this, I’m telling you put her back on. If they stand their ground on this, I’m sure it’s Fox trying to say, hey, we’re not totally under his control. We’re not a propaganda arm. And they might need to do that for their own financial reasons right now.
STELTER: I mean, for the record, if Tucker Carlson’s watching…I, I don’t want Fox News shut down. I just want Fox News to be a healthy part of the media ecosystem. And the spread of misinformation that happens on these programs is unhealthy. I think it’s as simple as that.