Tucker Carlson hits a new low

January 5, 2011

If a football star doing hours of community service can't reenter society, who can?

PUNDITS, MAN your stations. It seems that Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson yipped that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick should have been executed three years ago when convicted on dog-fighting charges.

Many are now getting hot and bothered, expressing shock that Carlson would actually call for Vick's execution--a tad extreme even for Fox.

Frankly, I was shocked that Carlson--humiliated so thoroughly by Jon Stewart these many years ago--still is on the air. The guy has been on more cancelled programs than Jennifer Love Hewitt.

In full, the paunchy, lipless, chinless, porcelain man-boy with the ubiquitous bow-tie said, "I'm a Christian, I've made mistakes myself, I believe fervently in second chances. But Michael Vick killed dogs, and he did in a heartless and cruel way. And I think, personally, he should've been executed for that."

I know it's hardly news for a Murdoch-owned right-wing shock jock to say something shocking. It's like receiving word of a celebrity sex tape. The thrill is gone.

Columnist: Dave Zirin

I am also well aware that in the current media set-up, it's Carlson's job to say something utterly outrageous and the job of people like myself to respond. We make statements about Carlson's peculiar brand of bloodthirsty Christianity. Maybe we point out how easy it is for Carlson to call for the death of an African American athlete, always the low-hanging fruit for his race-baiting ilk.

We bat this particular ball back and forth like--as one writer once said to me--"two hookers working opposite sides of the street." The ensuing hothouse debate becomes an entertainment option for people soured on American Idol.

BUT THERE is actually a serious problem with this kind of 24-hour cable performance art when the subject is Michael Vick. It's that pesky entity pecking at the window of reality television known as "reality."

Dostoevsky said famously, "The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons." By that standard, the United States exists in a barbaric state. Enter a prison--something I sincerely doubt Carlson has ever done--and you see the daily, dreary, reality for the 2.3 million people who live behind bars.

In what's become the largest prison system on earth--take that China!--you see the herded poor stacked on top of one another. You see a world that is disproportionately Black and Brown, with African American men six times as likely to go to prison as whites, and one in nine Black men between the ages of 20 and 34 living in a state of incarceration.

It's a country that through its addiction to privatized prisons and "tough-on-crime" legislation, has created what writer Michelle Alexander calls "The New Jim Crow." In Alexander's book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, she details the way the prison system robs its present, past and even future inhabitants of voting rights, citizenship and any semblance of political power. She points out that the U.S. now imprisons a higher percentage of Black men than South Africa at the height of apartheid. As she writes:

Jarvious Cotton's great-great-grandfather could not vote as a slave. His great-grandfather was beaten to death by the Ku Klux Klan for attempting to vote. His grandfather was prevented from voting by Klan intimidation; his father was barred by poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, Cotton cannot vote because he, like many Black men in the United States, has been labeled a felon and is currently on parole.

Michael Vick, whether he likes it or not, is humanizing the struggle to find redemption after serving time in a maximum-security prison. After all, if a star quarterback doing hours of community service can't regain a foothold in society, who could?

Tucker Carlson's efforts to dehumanize Vick and paint him as a disposable, killable individual cuts in a way that transcends the idiocy of Murdoch's 50-state Southern strategy of dimples and dog whistles. I'd love for Carlson to spend even a week in Leavenworth and then make an effort to rebuild his nerfy little life. Then we'd see how a man without calluses could be so callous.

This is why Michael Vick's story matters and is really another example--as if more were needed--of how Fox News has become a cancerous boil on the political soul of this country.

First published at the Nation.com.

Further Reading

From the archives