I haven’t written about Tucker Carlson much on this blog, mainly because this blog is not about politics, at least not primarily. That isn’t to say that Carlson hasn’t, however, managed to come to my attention in a blog-relevant manner a number of times. After all, how could Orac resist a target as big and fat as Carlson lamenting the supposedly falling testosterone levels in men and feature, among a number of quack “solutions,” a testicular tanning device along with “bromeopathy”? (It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a year since that particular piece aired!) Of course, when Tucker Carlson was mainly about dishing out white supremacist and fascist talking points for his Fox News audience, I had less to say, but as he became more and more antivaccine after the pandemic hit, I did mention him more, such as when he repeated the lie that COVID-19 vaccines don’t prevent transmission at all and mischaracterized the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) as “mandating” COVID-19 vaccines for children before they could attend school (hint: ACIP doesn’t have that power), I did feel obliged to comment.
Unsurprisingly, given the increasing affinity between antivaxxers and fascists for each other, I was not completely oblivious to Carlson’s other right wing propaganda. I will admit, however, that I was quite surprised—as were most people—to learn on Monday morning that Fox News had fired Tucker Carlson. Sure, the press release described it as a “mutual” parting of the ways, but it was obvious that Carlson had been abruptly fired. The firing was cold, too. Carlson had signed off from his Friday night show fully expecting to be back Monday night, and Fox News didn’t even allow him the courtesy of a farewell show, as often happens when cable news networks let go the host of a show.
Naturally, since the axe fell, there has been rampant speculation in the press and on social media about why Carlson had been let go. For my purposes, the actual why isn’t really that important, except for how different it likely is from what I’m about to discuss in this post. I also can’t help but think that the network’s having been forced to settle for nearly $780 million—a huge financial hit for any network, even Fox News—in a defamation suit, largely because of the regular lying about the “stolen” 2020 election on Carlson’s show, might have had something to do with it. So might the revelations of the offensive texts about his bosses that had become public during the discovery phase of the lawsuit (although it truly strains credulity to see claims that the firing was for calling a female Fox News executive the C-word in a text, particularly given how the network had put up with Carlson’s racist conspiracy mongering on the air for so long). In any case, there are a number of speculative theories about Carlson was fired that are way more plausible than what the COVID-19 minimizing antivax “think tank” known as the Brownstone Institute.
According to the Brownstone Institute, never mind the Dominion lawsuit, Carlson’s open insubordination, or Rupert Murdoch’s increasing annoyance with him! None of that matters, because it was big pharma. that finally took down Tucker Carlson, as the Brownstone Institute claimed the day after the firing in an uncredited piece entitled, hilariously, The Tucker Carlson Departure From Fox and the Power of Big Pharma. I don’t know if this was the first instance of this antivax conspiracy theory that was published, but it was the first one that I saw, a mere day after the firing On the other hand, mere hours after the firing antivax “icon” and Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Tweeted this:
So what is the claim? Why would antivax conspiracy mongers like RFK Jr. come to think that Tucker Carlson had been fired because big pharma had gotten sick of him, rather than a host of many other far more plausible reasons? Brownstone lines up potential other reasons for the firing, only to knock them down in favor of coming to the conclusion that big pharma had claimed Carlson in retribution for his having Spoken The Truth About Big Pharma:
Why would Fox News fire its most popular host? On average, one million additional people tuned into Tucker Carlson every night than to the Fox programs before and after his show. He drew four times as many viewers as the 8PM show on CNN, Anderson Cooper 360°. He was the leading draw on Fox’s streaming service, and there is no rising star at the network expected to take his seat.
It wasn’t a lack of success that pushed out Carlson, so we are left to speculate why Fox fired their lead anchor. It could have been a battle of egos between Carlson and the Murdochs. Carlson may have threatened to run programming that they disfavored regarding the tapes from January 6, the recent settlement with Dominion, or the coverage of Donald Trump.
Any of these explanations would indicate that ego triumphed over financial sense in the boardroom. Carlson is a revenue driver, and the company’s stock tanked after the announcement on Monday.
But what if there was a rational economic explanation for his firing? What if the people who own Fox have far more interest in neutering criticism of their other economic holdings than they do in the success of Fox’s television department?
I’ll give you three guesses what that “rational economic explanation” and Fox’s “other economic holdings” might be. Actually, I’ll give you just one, as that is all you’ll need. Obviously, according to the propagandists at Brownstone, it must have been a segment aired by Carlson last week that criticized big pharma:
Last Wednesday, Carlson opened his show with an attack on the pharmaceutical industry’s manipulation of the news media.
“Sometimes you wonder just how filthy and dishonest our news media are,” Carlson started. “Ask yourself, is any news organization you know of so corrupt that it’s willing to hurt you on behalf of its biggest advertisers?”
Carlson then attacked the news media for taking “hundreds of millions of dollars from Big Pharma companies” and promoting “their sketchy products on the air and as they did that, they maligned anyone who was skeptical of those products.”
Five days later, Carlson was fired. Perhaps, his stardom was not large enough to overcome the issue that he described.
The segment was, of course, about Pfizer and its COVID-19 vaccine, with the allegations of malfeasance coming from one of the least credible and reliable sources on the planet, Project Veritas. Carlson’s segment featured footage of Jordon Trishton Walker, described by Project Veritas as “Pfizer Director of Research and Development – Strategic Operations and mRNA Scientific Planning,” answering questions from an unidentified interviewer. (Project Veritas also posted what is claimed to be a screenshot of his internal Pfizer Microsoft Teams profile.) Interestingly, others have tried to determine if there is actually a Pfizer executive named Jordon Trishton Walker, who is in charge of mRNA scientific planning at Pfizer and failed, noting:
Can you say for sure that this Project Veritas video is fake or staged and that “Jordon Trishton Walker” is actually a crisis actor and that Triston doesn’t really have the softest hair in the world? No, not 100% at this moment. Walker may really be that person’s name and that stated Pfizer title may or may not be his real title. But one has to wonder why it’s so difficult to find and confirm his identity with verifiable sources. In this case, the emphasis is on the word “verifiable” versus some screen shot or photo that could have been easily made up or doctored.
I remain agnostic on whether this “Jordon Triton Walker” is actually a high ranking Pfizer executive, although I do wonder why it is so difficult to verify this, even as I note that Pfizer’s press release responding to the original video—which was published in January—doesn’t actually deny that he works for Pfizer. In fact, it doesn’t mention him at all. It does, however, counter this statement on the Project Veritas video:
You know how the virus keeps mutating? Well, one of the things we’re exploring is, like, why don’t we just mutate it ourselves so we could focus on, so we could create… develop new vaccines, right? So, we have to do that. If we’re going to do that, though, there’s a risk of, like, as you could imagine, no one wants to be having a pharma company mutating f——- viruses. So, we’re like, do we want to do this? So, that’s, like, one of the things we’re considering for, like, the future, like, maybe we’re going to create new versions of the vaccine and things like that.
In the ongoing development of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, Pfizer has not conducted gain of function or directed evolution research. Working with collaborators, we have conducted research where the original SARS-CoV-2 virus has been used to express the spike protein from new variants of concern. This work is undertaken once a new variant of concern has been identified by public health authorities. This research provides a way for us to rapidly assess the ability of an existing vaccine to induce antibodies that neutralize a newly identified variant of concern. We then make this data available through peer reviewed scientific journals and use it as one of the steps to determine whether a vaccine update is required.
I hate to say it, but when assessing the claims of Project Veritas versus the rebuttal of Pfizer, I find Pfizer far more credible. I hasten to add that my assessment is not based on any belief that Pfizer is such an upstanding corporate citizen; rather it’s far more a reflection on what a bunch of deceptive, lying propagandists are behind Project Veritas, coupled with a knowledge of molecular biology in particular and science in general. Also, it sounds far more plausible that Pfizer uses the tools of molecular biology to make variants of concern as soon as they are identified in order to test whether its vaccine still works against them than it is that Pfizer is just making up gain-of-function variants willy-nilly in order to be ahead in the race to make new COVID-19 vaccines. Corporations tend to be very risk-averse, and doing such research would be very risky for Pfizer—and unlikely to end well, either through negative publicity or for other reasons. Also, as a molecular biologist myself, what I got from Walker’s statements is that they might be introducing structural changes through directed evolution in order to determine which changes might make the protein more potent, not that they’re doing gain-of-function research on the virus. There is a difference.
In any event, you get the idea. Carlson aired excerpts from this Project Veritas video, taking particular pleasure in the part where James O’Keefe (of Project Veritas) let Walker know that he had been recorded, leading Walker to call the police on him. Of course, whenever Carlson goes after big pharma over COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, I can’t help but note that he never seems to say anything about big pharma’s real depredations and malfeasance. Of course, these generally don’t involve vaccines, much less COVID-19 vaccines; so Carlson is perfectly content to let them slide uncommented upon and continue to collect his paycheck that is supposedly coming largely from all the pharma sponsors and companies that have a stake in Fox News; that is, except when it is ideologically useful not to, as Carlson also did when he fear mongered about a nonexistent link between antidepressants and mass shootings, a favorite theme of the Second Amendment fundamentalist absolutist right.
This brings us back to Brownstone:
Beyond MyPillow, Fox News’ largest advertisers include GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Novartis, and BlackRock.
Vanguard is the largest institutional owner of Fox Corporation, holding a 6.9 percent stake in the company. BlackRock owns an additional 4.7 percent.
Vanguard and BlackRock are the two largest owners of Pfizer. Combined, they own over 15 percent of the company.
Vanguard and BlackRock are the two largest owners of Johnson & Johnson. Combined, they own over 14 percent of the company.
Vanguard and BlackRock are the second and third largest owners of Moderna. Combined, they own over 13 percent of the company.
Perhaps, you may be noticing a trend.
Yes, I’m noticing a trend among conspiracy theorists like those at Brownstone to ignore the elephants in the room (all the other plausible reasons why Fox might have finally decided to get rid of Tucker Carlson, you know, ($)787.5 million reasons) in order to aim their laser focus on a single segment of the show the week before Carlson was fired as being The One True Cause of his show’s demise, because, you know, big pharma. Certainly, RFK Jr.’s fans had been putting together the pieces and crediting their hero as well:
A day later, RFK Jr. was on Twitter saying basically the same thing as Brownstone, but invoking the “Twitter files,” in a true example of crank magnetism and recursive conspiracy theories that all collapse into each other:
What I find particularly amusing about the Tweet above is that RFK Jr. was hastening to point out that he had not meant the investment firm when he had called out “Vanguard” for “censorship,” even including screenshots of Vanguard-25 for good measure.
The same thing is going on over at Children’s Health Defense, the antivax propaganda organ of RFK Jr.’s disinformation-industrial complex empire, except that, egotistical conspiracy monger that he is, RFK Jr. had his minion imply—without directly stating it, although running the article a mere two days after the firing did a lot to imply a connection—that Carlson’s interview with RFK Jr. a week and a half before his firing might have had something to do with it:
According to Carlson, the question to ask when assessing public figures isn’t, “Who is corrupt?” — because there are “too many to count.”
“The question is, Who is telling the truth?” Carlson said. “There are not many of those.”
“It’s nice to have a truth-teller around,” Carlson said. “It’s helpful because suddenly the stakes are very high.”
Carlson — who later on his show interviewed Kennedy — said mainstream media channels other than Fox News “maligned” Kennedy for his skepticism of the COVID-19 products.
“The other channels took hundreds of millions of dollars from Big Pharma companies and then they shilled for their sketchy products on the air — and as they did that, they maligned anyone who was skeptical of those products,” he said.
Carlson pointed out that Kennedy and his father, Robert F. Kennedy — who sought the U.S. presidency 55 years ago — said things “you weren’t supposed to say” and were “hated” by some for their honesty.
One can’t help but note that, unlike RFK, Jr., John F. Kennedy and the rest of the Kennedy clan are provaccine, to the point that the year before the pandemic his family published an op-ed calling out RFK, Jr. for spreading antivaccine misinformation.
Then, over on that wretched hive of antivax scum and villainy, Substack, a pseudonymous “midwestern doctor” whom I recently discovered, is spinning the same conspiracy theory, that “big pharma” got Carlson because Carlson had been exposing their quest to corrupt all news. After saying that he normally doesn’t write on anything that others are covering about which he feels that he doesn’t have much to add, A Midwestern Doctor (AMD) basically goes “Aha!” and finds his “medical” angle:
Tucker Carlson was abruptly dismissed from Fox News sometime between Saturday, 4-22-23, and Monday, 4-24-23 (likely closer to Monday). Many believe the ten-minute segment he made (on 4-19-23) caused Fox News to cancel the most popular news host on national television despite it significantly damaged the network’s financial revenue.
I love the “many believe” part. You know what many also believe? They believe that ghosts exist, that evolution isn’t real, that COVID-19 isn’t deadly, and that vaccines are killing millions of people. Just because “many believe” something does not make it true—or even plausible or credible. He also likens RFK Jr.’s “truth telling” about vaccines to RFK Jr.’s father’s “truth telling” about Vietnam during his 1968 Presidential campaign:
Another important example of this was shared by RFK Jr. in his recent presidential announcement speech. His father, Robert F. Kennedy (JFK’s brother) in 1968, decided to run for the Democratic Presidency. At the time, his candidacy was a long shot, but RFK felt compelled to do it because of the state the country was in and focused on bringing up politically unpopular subjects no one was supposed to discuss since he felt he needed to get those messages out.
Instead of dooming his candidacy, it garnered massive popularity with the public, he became the leading candidate in the Democratic primary and was loved throughout the country, or to quote RFK Jr.—” He had succeeded in uniting America and building a bridge just by telling people the truth.” Sadly, before RFK could clinch the nomination, like his brother, he was assassinated.
I suppose that in this analogy, Tucker Carlson is like RFK Jr. who is like RFK, who was assassinated for “telling people the truth.” After all, isn’t being fired as the host of a highly paid popular daily pundit show the same thing as being gunned down at a campaign event? He then quotes at length a speech by Tucker Carlson given a week ago, before he was fired and at a time when he thought he’d just be doing his show again Monday night as he usually did:
If there’s a single person in this room who hasn’t seen that through George Floyd and COVID and the Ukraine War, raise your hand. Oh, nobody? Right. You all know what I’m talking about.
The herd Instinct is very strong impulse. And you’re so disappointed in people. You are. And you realize that the herd instinct is maybe the strongest instinct. I mean, it may be stronger than the hunger and sex instincts, actually. The instinct, which again, is inherent to be like everybody else and not to be cast out of the group, not to be shunned.
That’s a very strong impulse in all of us from birth. And it takes over, unfortunately, in moments like this, and it’s harnessed, in fact, by bad people in moments like this to produce uniformity. And you see people going along with this, and you lose respect for them. And that’s certainly happened to me at scale over the past three years.
I’m not mad at people; I’m just sad. I’m disappointed. How could you go along with this? You know it’s not true, but you’re saying it anyway
To cement his idea of Carlson (and himself) as not a sheep following the herd, AMD includes this famous 1936 photo of one German man at a Nazi rally refusing to salute:
After laying down a whole lot of the usual COVID-19 and vaccine conspiracy theories, AMD also praises Carlson for allowing civil “debate” about controversial topics:
I do not agree with many of the viewpoints Tucker holds—rather, I agree with the fact he will allow both sides of an issue to be debated and his willingness to touch topics of national importance everyone else in the mainstream media shouts down and censors instead of providing a dialog for. This is really sad because, previously, Tucker’s conduct was the expected standard in journalism (I have family members who used to be journalists for premier organizations who are in disbelief with what has become of their profession). Instead, what we have now is simply an exercise in forcing you to hear a specific viewpoint everywhere you go until you submit to the social pressure of agreeing with them.
Remember, the purpose of “debates” like the ones that Tucker Carlson airs (or that antivaxxers like Del Bigtree hold) is not to illuminate the truth (or even just try to determine what is supported by evidence). It’s propaganda. Its purpose is to make unsupportable beliefs and claims seem at least plausible by forcing or enticing an actual expert to refute them or by having a debater supporting what is supportable by evidence be forced to refute the misinformation and conspiracy theories promoted by, for example, antivaxxers. Debates in this context are nothing more than a tool to move the Overton window towards the belief system of the conspiracy mongers or, failing that, to allow cranks to portray refusals to “debate” as cowardice or evidence that “They” are afraid.
As for Tucker Carlson, I have no idea what the true reason for his firing was. No one other than those doing the firing knows. What I do know is that it was fairly predictable that his followers would soon make him a martyr for speaking “The Truth.” Had I paid attention to Carlson’s show at all the week before (which I did not), after the news of his firing broke I probably would have been able to predict the emergence of this very conspiracy theory.