The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
Tucker Carlson is More a Symptom of Our Problems than a Cause
I have more reason than most to cheer his departure from Fox News. But it's unlikely to significantly diminish the problem of political misinformation, which is driven by demand more than supply.
Tucker Carlson's abrupt departure from Fox News today is being hailed by many as a positive development that will improve our political discourse. But I fear it won't make nearly as much difference as some hope.
I certainly will not miss Carlson. I was on his show in 2017 (video linked here) to talk about immigration and public ignorance. He was a jerk to me on the air; in fairness, I knew he was likely going to be that way, so can't say I was tricked into appearing.
Afterwards some of his more rabid fans sent me death threats. One of them was Cesar Sayoc, who later became famous as the "pipe bomber." I don't blame Carlson for the death threats. I do blame him for his constant promotion of lies, malice, and xenophobia.
At the same time, I think it's at best premature to conclude that Carlson's departure will significantly improve the right-wing media scene. Tucker Carlson didn't become popular by persuading his audience to change their minds. He did it by telling them what they wanted to hear. Whoever replaces him is likely to do the same.
Admittedly, in the wake of the Dominion case in which Fox was forced to pay $787.5 million to settle a lawsuit arising from its mendacious coverage of the 2020 election, the network may be more cautious about airing material that verges on defamation. But most political lies and misinformation aren't clear and egregious enough to meet the appropriately high legal standard for a successful defamation lawsuit targeting political speech about a public figures (ironically, Donald Trump and some other right-wingers have been trying to get that standard lowered).
The Dominion lawsuit revealed that audience preferences drives Fox's decisions much more than the reverse. Ultimately, the supply of political misinformation is far less of a problem than the demand for it. Regardless of what happens to Carlson, that problem is likely to persist—and not just on the political right.