Tucker Carlson’s racist text message—and the painful confession it contains
It was revealed this week in an article in The New York Times that one of the reasons Tucker Carlson was fired on April 24 was for sending a racist text message to one of his producers on Jan. 7, 2021. The popular Fox News host sent the text after watching footage of a group of Trump supporters beating up a young man in Washington, D.C., a couple of weeks before the attack on the Capitol. It read, in part, “Jumping a guy like that is dishonorable obviously. It’s not how white men fight.”
The text’s implication was clear as day, a racist stage whisper everyone could hear: Black men and Asian men and Hispanic men and every other race of man gang up to beat someone senseless. But noble white men go mano a mano. They fight dirty. We fight fair. White men are trying to be good; all those other people are awful.
The statement was not out of character for the lightning-rod populist news figure. Tucker Carlson regularly inveighs against immigrants and advocates “replacement theory”—namely, that white people are being replaced by people of color.
The board of Fox, according to The Times, was worried that the existence of that text “could become public at trial when Carlson was on the stand, creating a sensational and damaging moment that would raise broader questions about the company.” The trial in question was Dominion’s defamation lawsuit against Fox, which the news organization ultimately settled for $785 million.
Regardless of its face-saving motives and scandal tamping reasons, few people would fail to applaud Fox for having fired Tucker Carlson.
Regardless of its face-saving motives and scandal tamping reasons, few people would fail to applaud Fox for having fired Carlson.
So, I could end this article with an affirmation of what Fox did, declare America’s support of their decision, feel awesome about stating what is a billion degrees of obvious to most people—Tucker’s words bad; racism bad—and go back to mentally re-writing my story on deep work.
But given what Carlson said after that virulent remark, given the rest of his story, we don’t end there. Or at least we shouldn’t. Not when the words of such people reveal something deeper about them, and ourselves. The rest of that text betrayed a self-confessional Tucker Carlson I can begin to identify with. And I would make a thousand-dollar bet you can, too.
Yes, I suddenly found myself rooting for the mob against the man, hoping they’d hit him harder, kill him. I really wanted them to hurt the kid. I could taste it. Then somewhere deep in my brain, an alarm went off: this isn’t good for me. I’m becoming something I don’t want to be. The Antifa creep is a human being. Much as I despise what he says and does, much as I’m sure I’d hate him personally if I knew him, I shouldn’t gloat over his suffering. I should be bothered by it. I should remember that somewhere somebody probably loves this kid, and would be crushed if he was killed. If I don’t care about those things, if I reduce people to their politics, how am I better than he is?
This part is a painful confession. This part is real. This is a pinhole gaze into Christian contrition and repentance. (Flawed as it is—Carlson calls the kid a creep and declares he would hate him personally.) Nevertheless. Bundled up in the dirty rag of racism is something true, that anyone who has ever hated someone can get behind: “I’m becoming something I don’t want to be.”
And: “I shouldn’t gloat over his suffering. I should be bothered by it….”
And: “If I don’t care about those things, if I reduce people to their politics, how am I better than he is?”
(Again, a flawed contrition: When Carlson says, “How am I better than he is?” he is implying I want to be a better man,if only to reassure myself I am better than this creep.)
The rest of that text betrayed a self-confessional Tucker Carlson I can begin to identify with. And I would make a thousand-dollar bet you can, too.
Nonetheless, it was a kind of contrition. It was a cry against needless suffering and his own complicity in it. It was a cold refreshing blast of truth-telling.
And the hard fact is, truth comes from the places we would rather not find the truth. The truth sometimes comes embedded within the saddest and most unlikely people, places and things there are. Such as a text from Tucker Carlson. And it is naming this truth that leads us to repentance.
The implacable irony here, the really interesting part of this whole sequence, is that for those who loathe Carlson, his text is actually providing us with a clear on-ramp to change our stance toward… Carlson. Namely, the line “I shouldn’t gloat over his suffering.”
Anyone who is flat out, undeniably and even violently racist is, in a way, suffering. This person hates himself. The love we cannot give ourselves can transform into the rage we give the world. And looking at what Tucker Carlson has done since he sent this text message on Jan. 7, 2021, we find he has found plenty of rage to give the world. So we want him to face consequences, but we also want him to convert. Ending suffering in one man is a way to end the suffering he inflicts on many.
We read the rest of the text. The rest of the text could have been written by any of us who get twisted up in the dark impulses of our vindictive human nature and then try to cleanse those impulses. It is that ringing statement Sister Helen Prejean says over and over: “All human beings are worth more than the worst thing we’ve done in our life.”
There can be more to Tucker Carlson’s story than one racist sentence, or even a long chain of them. He writes a few more words that, whether he realizes it or not, could bring him one step closer to overcoming the very racism he spits out; one step closer to the same redemption we all seek.