How Tucker Carlson mainstreamed fringe conspiracy theories Many of the false narratives Carlson promoted were part of the "great replacement" conspiracy theory, the racist fiction that nonwhite people are being brought into the U.S. to replace white voters.

How Tucker Carlson took fringe conspiracy theories to a mass audience

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Tucker Carlson is out at Fox News. The cable outlet announced that yesterday, saying the two had parted ways. Before rising to prime time in 2016, Carlson had been a relatively mainstream political commentator. He appeared here on NPR, among other places. Then, in prime time, he regularly elevated extremist narratives and conspiracy theories. Here's NPR's Shannon Bond.

SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: Tucker Carlson has used his seat on cable's most-watched prime-time news show to inject a dark strain of conspiracy mongering into Republican politics.


TUCKER CARLSON: Just days before the 2020 election...

BOND: Nicole Hemmer is a history professor at Vanderbilt University who studies conservative media.

NICOLE HEMMER: Tucker Carlson has been the tentpole of Fox News. His show has been both a source of that kind of nationalist, populist conservatism that Donald Trump embodied, but it's also been a clearinghouse for conspiracies.

BOND: Carlson has railed against immigration.


CARLSON: We have a moral obligation to admit the world's poor, they tell us, even if it makes our own country poorer and dirtier and more divided.

BOND: And claimed white people are under attack.


CARLSON: White supremacy, that's the problem. This is a hoax. Just like the Russia hoax.

BOND: Many of the false narratives Carlson has promoted are part of what's known as The Great Replacement, the racist fiction that nonwhite people are being brought into the U.S. to replace white voters.

MELISSA RYAN: Thanks to Tucker Carlson, this kind of dreck that you would normally only see on far-right forums and online spaces had a prime-time audience on cable news every night.

BOND: Melissa Ryan runs CARD Strategies, which tracks disinformation and extremism online. She says Carlson delivered what many Fox News viewers wanted. That included false claims about COVID vaccines, the January 6 Capitol insurrection and gay and transgender people.

RYAN: Tucker is a chameleon. He's very good at reading the room and figuring out where the right-wing base is at and adapting to give them as much red meat as they want.

BOND: Carlson also gave a platform to controversial figures who shared his conspiratorial worldview, elevating their profiles as well. And while his most inflammatory screeds sent some big-name advertisers fleeing, Carlson also delivered ratings, the primary currency at Fox News. Nicole Hemmer.

HEMMER: As that audience has gotten more extreme, as conservative voters and activists have moved even further to the right or have embraced conspiratorial thinking, they've embraced media that give them that.

BOND: Even as Fox News has tried to fend off right-wing upstarts like Newsmax and Rumble, it does still have the reach of a mainstream news outlet. And so when it gives time to extremist conspiracy theories, like The Great Replacement, that reverberates beyond its airwaves. Angelo Carusone is president of Media Matters for America, the liberal watchdog.

ANGELO CARUSONE: Tucker took something that really was relegated to the fringes - it's a white nationalist conspiracy theory - and he made it not just a part of his show, but then a broader part of Fox News' culture and then, by extension, Republican politics. It really became acceptable to embrace that idea.

BOND: Along with racial grievance, another Carlson staple centered on so-called global elites. His last show ended with a promotion for his latest special called "Let Them Eat Bugs." In it, he claims that elites are trying to force people to replace meat with insects.

Shannon Bond, NPR News.

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