Generation X—the relatively small and cynical generational cohort when compared to its predecessors, the Baby Boomers, and successors, the Millennials—came of age when pop culture decreed there was absolutely no lower form of life than “the sellout.”
Chuck Klosterman devoted extended passages of his book, The Nineties, to Gen X’s existential anxieties about selling out. The “happy ending” of 1994’s Gen X romantic comedy touchstone, Reality Bites, is when Winona Ryder’s lead character rejects the kind but douchey corporate “sellout” played by Ben Stiller in favor of the mean, manipulative, and cerebral “authentic” dude played by Ethan Hawke. The greatest of all Gen X cultural avatars, Kurt Cobain, even made his shame over selling out the central theme of his suicide note.
Tucker Carlson has mixed feelings about his Generation X heritage, but there can be no question over the fact that he’s a sellout of grandiose proportions. Born rich, raised in an elite boarding school, and well-connected in media from the moment he decided to pursue a career in journalism, Tucker’s never missed a meal or dirtied a fingernail in his life.
If there was ever a Gen Xer who had no financial incentive to sell out, it’s Tucker Swanson McNear Carlson. And yet, sell out he did.
The guy was never shy about his conservative politics, and growing up right-wing in the San Francisco Bay Area must have felt especially punk rock to the naturally antagonistic Carlson.
The affected bow tie look from early in his career, most prominent as a co-host of the mid-2000s edition of CNN’s defunct Crossfire, was a distinctly provocative fashion choice—as much of a “fuck you” to the uptight libs as a safety pin through the nose would be for cultural conservatives. And though he’s now deeply enmired in the fever swamps of right-wing populism, he once had an iconoclastic streak among the right, supporting certain steps toward drug legalization in 2011 as a fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute and praising The New York Times at an event during the 2009 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
In his CPAC speech, Carlson chastised the right for failing to create outlets whose “primary objective is to deliver accurate news”—citing The Times as an example of a “liberal” paper that nonetheless “cares about accuracy,” adding that conservatives need to build their own institutions that “mirror” those values.
Fast forward to 2023, and we know without a doubt that Carlson not only couldn’t care less about delivering accurate news, he’s actively hostile to it.
Communications revealed in Dominion Voting Systems’ lawsuit against Carlson’s most recent employer, Fox News, revealed Carlson knew the allegations of widespread vote tampering were lies and that he thought Donald Trump—who was tearing the country apart rather than concede an election he decisively lost—was a “demonic force.”
But Carlson was even more dismayed by some of the network’s “straight news” reporters delivering accurate reporting about Trump losing the election. ”We devote our lives to building an audience,” Tucker whined in a text thread with fellow Fox News prime-time talkers Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham. He worried that his life’s work—“building an audience”—was threatened by his employer delivering accurate news, and he wanted the truth-tellers punished.
An exhaustive summary of the many lies Tucker Carlson has spread on the highest-rated show in cable news—from fake COVID vaccine conspiracy theories to bogus crime stats to “Great Replacement” fearmongering—would require more words than I can spare for this column. Fox News lawyers have even argued in court, and been validated by judges, that anyone with a brain should not consider Carlson’s show to be fact-based.
“…we know without a doubt that Carlson not only couldn’t care less about delivering accurate news, he’s actively hostile to it.
But as Bonnie Kristian noted in The Daily Beast, Carlson is no fool, and he has legitimate talent as a writer and journalist and even just a few years back was still adding to an impressive portfolio of clever bits of longform reporting in mainstream news outlets.
So, he was born rich. He never had to struggle to break into journalism. He hosted several television shows on several different networks. Decades into his career, he was still getting work doing legitimate reporting that never required him to mask his conservative politics or give up his gig as a Fox News contributor.
Tucker Carlson had a really good thing going.
But as Trump took over the conservative movement, and Bill O’Reilly was dispatched in disgrace from Fox News’ 8 p.m. time slot—Tucker made his move.
He would ditch his free market libertarianism and ape the orange man’s incoherent attempts at economic populism. He would no longer play footsie with racist tropes, he’d dive headlong into feeding his audience white nationalist red meat. And screw The New York Times’ and their normie commitment to at least attempt accuracy—he’d help brain poison millions of people, whose terrified eyeballs he needed to keep tuned into Fox News if he wanted to go from really rich to obscenely rich, and if he wanted to maintain his perch as not only a right-wing media star, but the one on-air personality who might be too big to fire.
Tucker Carlson thirsted for money and clout, and he sold every ounce of his integrity to get it. He’s Generation X’s foremost sellout.