Most of the time it doesn’t qualify as news to see a man on your social media feed staring into a camera asking “What exactly happened on 9/11?” and demanding to know why the media isn’t digging for the truth about the assassination of JFK. It’s usually just a sign that you shouldn’t have accepted so many friend requests from classmates in high school you barely remember.
But when this man was recently paid millions of dollars by Fox News to say almost the same things on one of cable’s most popular shows, attention was turned. On Tuesday’s debut episode of “Tucker on Twitter,” the new home show from Tucker Carlson, the ousted prime-time star’s brand of ranting, innuendo and mockery finally gets visuals of the man tormenting himself from his lair that they approach him.
There is a touch of echo in the sound; there are wall hangings, wood paneling, a little tree green through the window. Carlson has its own Teleprompter controller and wears a suit with a pocket. The overall look is the talk show Green Acres or Ron Swanson if he shaved and went to prep school.
As a production, Tucker on Twitter feels less like a news show than one of the impromptu lockdown shows that late-night talk hosts taped from home in the early Covid days of 2020. But in this case, Carlson’s quarantine is caused by himself.
Fox abruptly fired him in April after an investigation into a now-settled lawsuit with voting software company Dominion revealed a racist text message and misogynistic slurs from him, as well as statements disparaging Fox executives. It’s unclear whether the Twitter stream violates Carlson’s contract with Fox, which runs through early 2025.
But commentators must comment, and a break in the woods didn’t soften Carlson. He gives the simplest of introductions — “Hey, this is Tucker Carlson!” — before giving a brief account of the Ukraine dam explosion that would go down in the Kremlin like the softest vodka. “Any honest person would conclude that the Ukrainians probably blew it up,” he says, noting that the dam, located in a region captured by Russia in an invasion, is “effectively Russian.”
Carlson also called Volodymyr Zelenskyi, Ukraine’s Jewish president, a “persecutor of Christians” and described him as “disfigured, dead-eyed” and “sweaty and rat-like.” For years, Carlson laundered far-right fringe rhetoric and bigotry at Fox, and there’s no sign that Elon Musk’s “anything goes” Twitter laundromat is closing.
Carlson’s rhetoric hasn’t diminished, but his production has. The 10-minute first episode has no guests, no produced segments, a handful of news footage. It’s pure monologue, from the opening comment about Ukraine to the casual jabs at diversity and transgender women to the closing bit about a whistleblower claiming the US government has material from an alien plane.
It’s a Tucker Carlson show, in other words. The big question is whether Carlson can be what he was before without the Fox News platform and production resources.
Fox has an ideology, sure (which has gone through various flavors of conservatism over the decades), but it also has an aesthetic. His shows are produced to be slick and urgent, to convey a sense of smooth confidence. Fox News is designed to look like it’s broadcasting from the top of the world; “Tucker on Twitter” looks like something broadcast live after the apocalypse.
Others — Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck — have failed to regain their peak influence after losing their spots to Fox. Carlson could have been different; Fox News has yet to recover in prime time following his sudden departure.
But Carlson, for all his anti-elitist demeanor, is entirely a creature of legacy television, having hosted shows on Fox, CNN and MSNBC. He’s a houseplant grown under corporate studio lights, even as they were installed in his rural Maine town so he could telecast on Fox.
On the other hand, it’s possible that a spin toward lo-fi Twitter would be more in line with Carlson’s current incarnation. Whether he’s talking about Russia, immigrants, or the January 6 riots, he has one consistent meta-theme: Elites control your information and tell you what you’re allowed to say. “Go ahead and talk about something that really matters and see what happens,” he says at one point, seemingly hinting at his firing from Fox while casting himself as a free speech martyr. “If you keep going like this, you will be silenced. Trust us.”
Within this rhetorical framework, it is not necessary to prove that aliens have been found on Earth or that Ukrainians blew up a Ukrainian dam. Suffice it for Karlsson to say They don’t want you to believe itand the viewer can take the idea to stick with it them. They say you’re wrong, you’re crazy, you’re racist. Well, what do they know?
It’s a premise made for social media, as many cantankerous YouTubers and Facebook proselytizers have discovered. The premise of his call—that he’s the only truth teller and you’re the only critical thinker in a world of shepherds and sheep—matches the idea of booting up your computer to search for a man giving speeches from his lair.
It also coincides with the interests of Twitter owner Musk, who presents himself as a heterodox libertarian — whose heterodoxy happens to be expressed by reinstating right-wing trolls and hosting the Republican presidential campaign announcement of Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida.
But since 2017, Carlson has become the most influential broadcaster in conservative politics by portraying himself as an insider. However well he can monetize an audience on Twitter, retaining as much political and cultural power as an outsider on the outside is another matter. Nor do we know if this is a true transformation or just a temporary hiatus until Carlson is contractually free to return to television.
Until then, the truth is out there, and so is Tucker Carlson—whether or not they’re necessarily in the same place.