Live News Brief: Tucker Carlson’s Transparent ‘Contrarian Left’ Co-Option Strategy

Citations Needed | April 28, 2023 | Transcript

Citations Needed
30 min readMay 8


Tucker Carlson (Jason Koerner / Getty)


Intro: This is Citations Needed with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson.

Nima Shirazi: Welcome to Citations Needed a podcast on the media, power, PR and the history of bullshit. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam Johnson: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: Thank you everyone for joining us today for this Citations Needed Live News Brief. We were going to do a semi-annual beg-a-thon, this was going to be our beg-a-thon extravaganza fundraiser where we were going to discuss Ancient Aliens and Ancient Apocalypse and other such History Channel and Netflix sudo archeological series, but that will have to wait for another day. We are going to do it, we are so excited about that topic. We will be back very soon to cover that.

But tonight, Adam, we are here for just a regular Live News Brief. Thank you, everyone, for joining us. Before we get started, just as a little reminder, of course, you can follow Citations Needed on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed, and, if you are not already, please do consider becoming a supporter of the show through All your support through Patreon is so incredibly appreciated as we are 100 percent listener funded.

Adam: Yeah. Thank you so much for joining us today for this kind of impromptu livestream. We’re going to be talking about the latest news with respect to Tucker Carlson and the sort of meta discussion around Tucker Carlson’s firing, and his whole sort of check, which we’ve talked about on the show before, but we thought given it’s in the news, we decided it was worth kind of going over and talking about in lieu of our Ancient Aliens and Ancient Apocalypse live show, which will happen, I was I was telling Sarah earlier, my partner, wife, whichever your preferred term is, I said, I’m like so excited about this show. It’s like the most excited I’ve been about a show in awhile because I’m obsessed with Ancient Aliens. I mean, look, it’s Ancient Aliens kind of very low hanging fruit, right? But it actually is kind of important, and also, we thought it would be a lot of fun. So we’re definitely going to still do it, and we’ll announce that the second we pin down that date. So we’re not going to do a beg-a-thon tonight, although if you are listening, and you do want to sign up for Patreon, you can go ahead and do that, but this is not the beg-a-thon, so we will not be humiliating and prostrating ourselves tonight beyond our normal sort of pitch, our sanctimonious pitch about or we take no advertising money and we’re holier than now. But it helps, it’s true.

But we are going to talk about current events, I guess it’s now two days old, but it’s still kind of an ongoing discourse, both online and very much in the in the in the proverbial DMs and signal threads. So, without further ado, Nima, let’s sort of update people who aren’t extremely online and plugged in 24/7.

Nima: Totally.

Adam: So what happened with Tucker Carlson’s firing and what the subsequent discourse has been.

Nima: Yeah, we were considering maybe getting Tucker Carlson and Don Lemon on the show to do something like a Lincoln-Douglas debate, but we opted not to do that and instead just have a conversation.

So on Monday, Monday, April 24, that was this past Monday, a couple days ago, news broke that Tucker Carlson, the highest rated Fox News cable host, making him then I believe the highest rated cable host on the televisions, was out of Fox, he was fired. His last show would not even be that evening. It had already happened. Friday the 21st was his final show. It was announced in a very curt statement by Fox News. Apparently the decision happened at the highest level including Lachlan Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch’s son, who is kind of in control of the company. So there was instant speculation, especially without an immediate response by Tucker Carlson to tell his own side of the story, so basically a lot of speculation as to why this happened. Why was Tucker out? Huge moneymaker, despite all the, you know, I hate the word “controversy,” right? He’s a bigoted propagandist, who uses that immense platform to spout some of the most heinous shit that makes him money, makes money for Fox and drives a pretty sick social current through this country and I’m sure beyond, but incredibly popular, as I’m sure everyone listening knows, I don’t have to tell you that Tucker Carlson is a popular dude, and very good at what he does, right? Good at being that kind of mouthpiece for whether it’s white nationalism, or, you know, anti-worker, pro corporate talking points, although part of his appeal is this kind of phony populism, and Adam, we’re gonna dig into this very shortly but, you know, even me saying that he is pro corporate, some may say ‘Oh, no, but Tucker Carlson space, unlike many places on Fox, was a show where you would hear about corporate power and the outsize influence of billionaires, it was a place where you would hear anti-imperialist rhetoric, anti-war rhetoric, unlike other places on Fox,’ so we’re again going to get into this. How genuine was that? What do people mean when they say that? But with Tucker out of Fox, this past Monday, again, all of this kind of why this happened, discourse followed, and there was even more discourse, the kind of meta discourse. ‘Is this good for democracy? Is this good for free speech? Has canceled culture gone too far? Why was Tucker out?’ You know, so there’s the Dominion voting systems legal case, which has cost Fox News, based on being a propaganda network, pro Trump propaganda network, and pushing lies about the January 6 insurrection, has since cost the Fox News company $787.5 million, and a lot of statements that Tucker Carlson and other Fox News hosts made were part of that lawsuit, and were, you know, part of the evidence presented. Also, there is word that there are a number of sexual harassment and other kinds of harassment cases pending against Carlson and others at Fox, but namely Carlson by a producer from from his show. And so speculation is, you know, all of these things kind of added up, and Tucker has been duly fired. Now, there’s a lot wrong with that narrative, which I think we can also get into, it’s not quite the meta narrative, it’s the kind of the narrative about why, you know, Fox would actually care about those things, when up until that point, it didn’t fire Carlson, right? But the kind of right-wing discourse, instantly, Adam, was like, ‘Oh, now Fox News has gotten woke,’ which is hilarious and gross. But what we really want to talk about here, as a media criticism show, doing the meta criticism, not the direct, kind of, ‘Why is Tucker out?’ Because I don’t frankly give a fuck, fuck that guy. But, Adam, we have been talking about the discourse about the discourse, right? And this idea that, you know, is Tucker being out, does that portend something, something bad for our liberal democracy, how are liberals supposed to defend him, and where does the left stand on this? There’s a lot of this meta discourse going on, and just about a year ago, you wrote a piece on exactly this topic, almost a year anniversary of that piece, which came out in early May of 2022. It is fitting that we can now discuss that as it connects with the recent two day old news that Tucker Carlson is now no longer an employee of Fox News.

Adam: Yeah. So what happened was to get to the sort of controversy on the left, such that it is, there was an article in the American Prospect by Luke Goldstein and Lee Harris that had some pretty, to put it generously, credulous statements as to the sort of subversive bonafides of Tucker Carlson that many objected to, I certainly did, the Prospect issued a sort of semi-apology.

Headline and subhead from The American Prospect’s article on Tucker Carlson.

Nima: Right.

Adam: Now the Prospect is a publication I’ve kind of had issues with here and there in terms of they do this ridiculous war mongering, war on China stuff, they have a lot of takes, I’m not comfortable with respect to that, but they also have a lot of great stuff, stuff I really like, you know, Dave Dayen, the editor there, has been on the show before in terms of stuff around the gutting Social Security, privatization, they do a lot of pro worker, pro union stuff.

Nima: Absolutely.

Adam: I sort of wanted to take this opportunity, albeit one we weren’t planning on until just this afternoon, to sort of talk about some of the contours and people who maybe found Goldstein and Harris’s arguments convincing, I want to try to explain to you why it’s not or why I don’t think it is in a way that can kind of thread the needle that I think some people are don’t do a great job of doing on social media. I think this is a really important debate, something we’ve touched on before when we did our episode on right-wing populism in terms of, so I want to convert people who may be willing to listen to that argument and tell them why I think it’s not correct, and specifically the sort of pathology I wrote about in my Substack piece of what I call kind of owning the libs brain worms —

Nima: Right. There’s also that piece of it.

Adam: Yeah, so let’s talk about that to sort of start off with which is I think, to some extent, I think it can be cynical, it can be a cash grab. There’s a lot of money in doing this kind of anti-politics, R&D, both the same, they’re all evil, which again, I think in some things is true.

Nima: But that’s what makes the context of this important.

Adam: Right.

Nima: And that’s why we’re discussing this.

Adam: Exactly. So the idea is that you can somehow, that owning the libs becomes its own sort of ideology, that as long as you’re pissing off the libs and the neolibs that that’s good. That is good in a lot of contexts, but the libs are not always wrong. The libs are right about some stuff, right? And what the fundamental question I think boils down to is whether or not people perceive fascist and fascist currents and fascist rhetoric as being somehow comparable to or less dangerous than liberalism. Once you’ve crossed into the line of believing that, I think that’s a major problem, because historically I believe that is not the case, and so the general argument they made was that he had sort of bucked orthodoxies around foreign policy and around big tech and corporate welfare. Now that’s not true.

Nima: This is like Matt Taibbi, Glenn Greenwald, this is that kind of threat.

Adam: Yeah. I wouldn’t delve too much into this, which is I sort of, we don’t like to build episodes around Twitter beefs, because I think that can sometimes seem navel gaze-y. But I do think this is a current that sort of big enough, it featured in a major left-wing publication, and we’ve been talking about it all day. So I think maybe a little mini intervention, and having said that on top of my Substack piece, because at that point, I was sort of, this was mostly a Twitter thing, and I was like, you know, I can’t believe I’m writing a sort of Twitter piece.

Nima: You’re forcing me to write this!

Adam: Well, because you want to make sure you’re not, we go after the New York Times, we go after Fox News, we got to sort of these big players and I don’t want to get into this sort of left punching gatekeeping thing, because I do think that can, but I don’t even consider this left punching because I think maybe this is a bit of a tautology. I think most of these people don’t even really consider themselves leftist. But I do think there’s a current that must be addressed. I wrote, again, for my Substack piece, “The Tucker Carlson Defense Brigade is Getting Increasingly Goofy and Dull.” Some of these I think are just over right-wingers. But basically, they make the argument that Tucker Carlson sort of subverts the orthodoxies around, you know, whatever name it —

Nima: He’s a scourge of the elites, and I think that that term elites is something that we need to discuss.

Adam: Right. We need to, as they say in grad school, we need to problematize it.

Nima: Problematize it. Unpack it.

Adam: Right. And so I think that there’s something very sinister with his shtick, and it’s something we’ve talked about before, but that was three years ago so let’s reiterate it, and the sort of shtick of what the kind of third position kind of picking off lefties, which is that his shtick is that he permits permits people that maybe self identify as left, or at least not right, to come on his show, criticize Biden, in ways that are very siloed and very narrow, and this is done, I think, quite explicitly, I think, quite clearly, not for the sort of leftist to come on to his show and reach the right, which I think is perfectly fine, I don’t think that no leftist should ever go on Fox News, if Bernie Sanders wants to go on Fox News and stick him to his message and talk about how we need to tax the rich, that’s fine. Again, Barack Obama did that, he sat down with Bill O’Reilly before every Super Bowl while he was president, this is something that sort of well established, if you’re running for office, that seems sort of a reasonable thing to do, right? I don’t think it’s a categorical ban. But generally after like the 15th time, you’re on the white supremacist Power Hour and you’re only criticizing the US foreign policy establishment in one particular case, which is that which is opposed to Russia, you know, meanwhile, the China bashing, the kind of Islamophobia, all that stuff kind of goes unchecked, that you’re only really allowed to criticize Biden in these kind of very narrow, you know, you can talk about East Palestine, but you have to do it in a very specific, not anti-corporate way, but, you know, maybe vague rhetoric about anti-corporate, but you’re not going to criticize the people who oppose the rail strikes in corporate America. When you do these very sort of narrow criticisms on Fox News of Biden, even if it’s supposedly from the left, that context matters, right? It’s sort of Philosophy 101, intent matters and context matters, and that is going to be weaponized to a very cynical end, and it seems incredibly, at best naive, and I think at worst sort of deliberately naive or kind of faking feigning naivete to act like that isn’t effectively how that kind of language is going to be weaponized, because it ultimately needs to serve a partisan end, because Tucker Carlson is on the air on Fox News for one reason and one simple reason only, I mean, yeah, he makes a lot of money, but also he basically sheepdogs independents, younger viewers, because, again, he wins younger demographics, he beat Rachel Maddow in 25 to 35 demographics a few times. I don’t know how frequent it is, but I know he did it, he did it for a pretty decent stretch, to sheepdog them into kind of, if not Republican politics, I think there’s definitely a sort of voter suppression, it’s to make sure you don’t vote for the Democrats by sowing this kind of mindless nihilism. Because if your critique is not tethered to some coherent left-wing ideology, with an understanding that that can sometimes be messy in and of itself, but if you’re not orienting it as a consistent form of anti-imperialism or consistent criticism of corporate America, and you have these kind of disjointed little snapshots of sort of ostensibly left-wing or kind of left populist critiques, that is really just a way of sowing nihilism, and sowing cynicism. It’s sort of a tactic of the Trumpist right. You don’t necessarily need people to come to Jesus and vote for Mitt Romney, but you need them to think that the libs are the worst, and again, don’t get me wrong, quite a bit of what we talk about on the show is how the libs are the worst, but that has to be centered and oriented in some kind of coherent worldview. Otherwise, you’re just providing little chicken nuggets for Tucker to kind of do what is effectively just voter suppression, and to sow cynicism and sow nihilism sort of for its own sake, and I don’t really know how valuable that is, and I don’t really think that people with more than three brain cells should act like that sort of isn’t what’s going on because it seems clear to me, and so the analogy I use, because, you know, Glenn Greenwald did one of these kind of silly tweets about, and went on a show, which I can’t watch, but he sort of did the whole, like, he was he was anti-corporate — which is not true at all, by the way, making fun of, you know, M&Ms for having a woman and then being mad at the US military for having too many trans people. These are not anti-corporate, anti-military positions.

But even setting that aside, right, even granting the premise that he’s somehow the subversive, edgy truthteller, and the sinister forces at, you know, NATO headquarters and the sort of belly of the beast of empire sort of sitting around their sort of war map and their conspiracy board where they’re plotting all these, you know, evil things going, ‘God damn that Tucker Carlson, he’s just so subversive,’ right? Meanwhile, again, he’s on the corporate news network, you know, he makes millions of dollars, even if you grant that you can’t just sort of hand wave away, which this article did, hand wave away all the Turner Diaries shit, like that stuff actually matters, right? It has, in the analogy, the somewhat incredibly crude and inarticulate metaphor I use is like, if someone says, you know, ‘Well, let’s not be too hard on Tucker because he’s providing an alternative perspective,’ it’s like, if there’s a neighborhood that’s a food desert and doesn’t have any fresh vegetables, and some philanthropist starts handing out shit sandwiches with spinach in them, I don’t think that’s really a case for the shit sandwich guy, because the thing he’s bracketing the sort of ostensibly left-wing arguments with is very, very bad. Again, and one example of this was, he was ostensibly supportive of the Afghanistan withdrawal, and we talked about this during our Afghanistan withdrawal episode, him and Josh Hawley, we talked about how we need to get out of Afghanistan, this is how they sort of picked off a lot of military support, because military support overwhelmingly supported Ron Paul and Bernie Sanders in ’08 and ’16, and Trump had this sort of superficial, we’re going to get out of war, you know, rhetoric, and one way he did that was talking about withdrawing Afghanistan. So they all sort of jumped on board and said, ‘We don’t need to be there,’ blah, blah, blah. Of course, they use these kinds of vaguely racist arguments to make that point.

Trump in November 2019 (Alex Brandon / AP).

Nima: Right, exactly.

Adam: And then, of course, Biden does it, and then they tried to Benghazi it for fucking two weeks, including Tucker Carlson, who Benghazi’d it, so when the rubber hits the road, this sort of anti-imperialism is very selective, it’s very limited, it’s not consistent. It’s, of course, above all very partisan.

Nima: It’s partisan. Right, I mean, I think ultimately that has so much to do with it, even critiques of say, you know, the billionaire class, if you’re raging against Soros on every show, but you’re not talking about Trump and Murdoch, then what are you actually talking about? Are you actually that upset with billionaires or are you upset with certain billionaires and some of those billionaires, maybe some of your argument has to do with like, you know, names within three parentheses. Maybe that’s the context.

Adam: This is what we talked about offline, like if someone said, oh, you know, ‘I’m going to go on Tucker Carlson and talk about the problem with George Soros,’ I’d be like, whoa, wait a second, you know, but if someone’s like, ‘Oh, I’m going to go on Citations Needed to talk about the problem of George Soros funding shitty organizations overseas and sheepdogging leftists in the United States,’ I’d be like, oh, that could be an interesting topic, because the context that you’re talking about matters.

Nima: It matters.

Adam: And so like me, don’t get me started on the anti-semitism of Tucker Carlson. Him and JD Vance are just constantly debating all the time. But the stuff that’s bracketing the sort of little nuggets here and there is a deliberate third position strategy, and it’s a strategy fascists have used since there’s been fascists. That’s why they’re called National Socialists, right? We don’t need to necessarily give everyone a history lesson, but anyone who’s read a speech or seen a speech by Mussolini knows that he oftentimes trafficked in sort of vaguely populist, vaguely left critiques of those in power as a tactic to sort of consolidate people who were in that kind of more independent, maybe even, I don’t say low information, that’s a pejorative, but maybe not as sort of ideologically pristine, you know, because again, a lot of people’s politics are messy. A lot of people’s politics are, you know, the pro-single payer, but they’re anti-trans or they’re a pro, you know, war in Afghanistan, but anti-war in Iraq. Most people don’t really fit into these neat categories, and that’s why professional shit stirrers like Tucker Carlson are so, you know, again, why they’re backed by Fox News and Republican interests is because while they may cause them a headache here and there, kind of embarrassing here and there, ultimately they serve one purpose which is to suppress democratic voter turnout to promote nihilism, but also to kind of pick off people who would maybe be susceptible to this argument. Now, what they would say, to be fair, is they’d say, the reason why Tucker’s appeal has appeal, this is a descriptive rather than a normative statement, because again, I think this article had a lot of backdoor normative claims, in so far that it took Carlson’s —

Nima: The American Prospect article, just to be clear.

Adam: Yeah, sorry, that took Carlson’s argument at sort of face value in a way that was so credulous it was basically promoting it.

Nima: And then presents the left as having a kind of binary breakdown of either support or non support.

Adam: Yeah.

Nima: Which is, again, is this issue of like, things are messier than that.

Adam: Which we can get into because there was all this meta coverage in Vox, which we can get into, which I also thought kind of played into this dichotomy, either your sort of pro, I don’t know, neoliberal, you know, identity politics or you’re pro race reductionist, sort of Glenn Greenwald bonehead-ery, and, you know, I don’t think those are the only two options, obviously, that the descriptive claim would be Tucker’s appeal is that he bucks the conventional wisdom or at least allows people on who sort of ostensibly buck the conventional wisdom around certain key issues, rhetorically, because of the sort of suffocating uniformity of the rest of Fox News and MSNBC and CNN around key issues, and I think with some exceptions around, you know, I had my issues with Mehdi Hassan, but I think if you look at his stuff, at least, you know, around Yemen or Afghanistan or Ukraine, which I think he’s been more skeptical on in terms of whether or not we should just, you know, have any kind of discussion around a negotiated peace without that being a pro Putin talking point, although, you know, it sometimes can be, but it’s not per se, right? I think that that’s kind of true. But then again, the whole thing is like, again, if there’s no vegetables, the shit sandwich is not really the thing we should be promoting. Because you’re not, and Glenn always says this, he says he’s like, ‘Oh, well, I’m not getting invited on MSNBC,’ and it’s like, well, neither are like 7.9 9 billion other people in this world, you’re not entitled to be on cable news.

Nima: That’s not the proof.

Adam: Yeah. Nor is any law of nature that says that, like the three corporations that define cable news are somehow, they’re somehow invariably going to have to have some position. Clearly they’re going to suck and clearly, the far right, fascistic, anti-semitic, you know, white supremacist Power Hour — again, an ideology that’s always thrived on kind of shit stirring and muddying the waters around these things — obviously, they’re going to play this game, because that’s to their best interest in terms of sheepdogging people to sort of boilerplate Republican politics, and one thing, I think, really kind of bothers people, and it bothered me the most, which is — and I’m going to be a little sanctimonious here, not that that’s a normal posture, but to be more sanctimonious than usual — when you see people hand wave away the like, you know, to sort of give an exact quote here, and I don’t want to pick on them too much, because I’m pretty sure they’re like 25 years old, but it’s a horrible piece, “Carson’s willingness to challenge and mock ruling elites,” again, I don’t know what the fuck they think ruling elite is, …”when alongside an obsessively nativist message that alienated viewers who might otherwise have embraced his populist perspective.” Alienated. This guy runs incitement regimes against homeless people, immigrants, trans people, like every fucking night. When people do the, ‘Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?’ Routine with the whole Nazi shit, I think it strikes a lot of people, certainly strikes me, as incredibly glib about those impacted communities, and I don’t want to get, again, I don’t wanna get too squishy here, but Tucker Carlson incites violence against homeless people all the time. Tucker Carlson constantly misgenders, humiliates, degrades trans people, gay people all the time. It’s not some afterthought. It’s not that he likes vanilla, I like chocolate.

Nima: And it’s not just ‘Oh, so he’s a little uncouth,’ right? The kind of, ‘Oh, well, he’s just sort of like, he, you know, he doesn’t have time for that shit.’ No, that is fundamental to the brand, that is the motivating ideology behind his stardom. Behind his entire show is this ugliest kind of, you know, fascistic, racist, right-wing ideology. That is the whole point. To say that that’s incidental or that ‘Oh, well,’ in this kind of libertarian way where you’re like, ‘Oh, no, you know, libertarians also oppose the invasion of Iraq.’ It’s like, first off, there’s a lot of problems there. Also, that’s not what Tucker Carlson is doing, he is literally inciting violence on purpose and fear mongering on purpose, and to claim that this kind of fake populism, a fascist propagandist is somehow genuine or that the space carved out there is important in our mainstream media cable news discourse strikes me as as a little disingenuous, Adam.

Adam: Yeah, because I think you have to be able to identify and correctly assess the tactic at work, and when you sort of do this, ‘Well, maybe he’s not totally sincere or this, you know, this, regardless of this, or despite that he also did this thing that’s good,’ it’s like, I don’t think you need to be, I think the bigger question of how the sort of left interfaces with right-wing media outlets is sort of a complicated one, you know, I do think it’s, again, someone who’s running for office is bound by a different, I think, set of guidelines than say someone trying to juice their Substack and pick off a bunch of, you know, credulous and dopey low information fucking Ssubstack subscribers, as opposed to my highly refined, exquisite, well-educated Substack. Please don’t unsubscribe. I think it’s like, you are being deliberately, again, I think, very deliberately naive, and because we all sort of know the game that’s going on here, and I think that correctly identifying the game takes you to a place where I think you realized that well, okay, so there really isn’t any mainstream, virtually any mainstream corporate airing of these issues that supposedly he cares about. Well, guess what, you’re not entitled to one, because fucking corporate consolidation of media sucks, and there’s not really going to be one outside, you know, maybe a segment here or a segment there, even on MSNBC, or maybe Fox accidentally runs one that isn’t also Nazi propaganda, although I don’t know, you know, occasionally you have local news that’s good on this or that. But ultimately, you’re not entitled to that and that’s why the system seems, the whole narrative seems so rigged. It’s like the stuff around the Twitter files and Elon Musk, you have a debate between, you know, Raytheon, NATO advanced information for truth crowd versus these horrible gross right-wing trolls, and that’s the debate. That’s the debate that sort of, doesn’t really offend anyone, it serves, it’s basically a civil war between the ruling elite, it’s a fake conversation, it’s not really a conversation that is very illuminating, it’s not really getting to the actual class distinctions and ideological divides at work. I don’t want to say the whole, ‘It’s just a distraction, man,’ but in some ways it is, and you see this carryover to how Vox covered the sort of Tucker, Prospect-gazi where they sort of framed it as those are your sort of two options, right? That you’re kind of part of the liberal anti-Tucker brigade for partisan reasons. Again, they’re right in this instance, Nazi rhetoric is bad, right? Sort of liberals are oftentimes right, one of the liberal, one of the liberal, now you make an argument that they don’t hate him for the Nazi rhetoric, but they actually hate him for the stuff about, you know, opposing Ukraine, and maybe that’s probably true to some people. But no, a lot of liberals just don’t like all the Nazi stuff, and didn’t like it even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. So I think that knowing the tactic, understanding the tactic, knowing that you’re basically just going on there as a fucking as a trained poodle, right? It’s sort of the, you know, gag where you do where you do the animal tricks is really what you’re doing on there, I think it is important, and you don’t have to hand it to ISIS, as the dril tweet says, you really, really don’t, and I don’t know what the sort of point is other than to try to get some epic hypocrisy gotcha on the libs, but like you can say the libs suck without supporting guys talking about ethnic cleansing every fucking night and showing videos of homeless people without their faces blurred shitting on the streets of San Francisco and basically inviting people to go spray them with bear spray.

Nima: Doesn’t make him a bold truthteller that needs to be supported.

Adam: Because there has to be, there has to be a limit to the shit sandwich.

Nima: Also, he’s gonna be fucking fine. He’s not a fucking victim here.

Adam: At some point, the amount of spinach into the shit sandwich becomes not worth the whole thing, and I don’t really know what we’re even arguing or debating here, and the fact that this is even a debate is wild to me because I think it requires a kind of politics that’s, I mean, let’s be honest, a lot of these guys, I don’t, you know, a lot of people in a certain current like him because of his anti-China stuff. Which is why the whole anti-Imperial thing was so goofy to me, because he talked about, you know, if you listened to his arguments for why we should pull out of Afghanistan, which by the way, he ended up proposing, manifestly, if not theoretically, it’s that we need to redirect resources to Asia to fight the evil, the evil ChiComs. So, you know, these are our options. This is what we’re fed.

Nima: He’s not opposed to destructive sanctions on Iranians, right? He’s not opposed to, you know, defending Israeli apartheid. What are we actually talking about? The idea that, you know, Tucker Carlson is some scourge of the military industrial complex is laughable on its face, but then you realize the work that that kind of claim is doing to justify folks who want to go on a show, to justify this kind of either a false binary or the idea that, you know, well, you can say things on Tucker’s show that you can’t see anywhere else in the mainstream media. It’s like, that’s, you know, but it’s also super racist. So, you don’t, they don’t need that. They don’t need that. It’s okay that he’s out, that’s not woke, canceled culture going too far. It was a corporate decision made by other right-wing, multimillion billionaires. He doesn’t need defending. He doesn’t need defending, folks. Sorry.

Adam: Again, when Vox did this breakdown between this sort of class reductionist wing and the guy who runs the DEI program at Disney, those are sort of your two options, right? It really belies, I think, I’m going to do something I hate when people do, but I’m going to sort of laundry my personal opinions through the working class, because I fucking hate when people do that, but I’m going to do it —

Nima: ‘Some workers say — ’

Adam: Some workers, many ancient-alien theorists believe, some workers say —

No, from my experience, talking to people who do organizing or are involved in organizing, whether it be unions, anti-war, you know, whether it be getting people to Black Lives Matter, whatever it is, whatever sort of organizing is, the idea that the work, the sort of Platonic working class people talk about are going around just throwing out slurs and hate immigrants, that doesn’t seem to be reflecting reality. But the idea that the wokes are separate class from the working class is just not really a division that really exists, and this is something that is one of our favorites, kind of, can you read some of the tweets from my article here?

Nima: Yeah. Oh, yeah of course.

Adam: It’s not loading on my end.

Nima: Yeah, of course.

Adam: But let’s read some of these tweets, because I think this is a very common sentiment.

Nima: These are from a year ago, I just want to note, these are from a year ago, but these are from your article.

Adam: From the last attempt to quote-unquote “cancel” Tucker Carlson.

Nima: But I mean, this is all, we’ve seen this again this week as well. We just happen to have these because they are in Adam’s piece, which you all should read. So here’s one by Shant Mesrobian, the tweet is this, quote:

Tucker Carlson is the most popular cable news host among Democrats aged 25–54. Everything the corporate liberal media writes about his show is designed to conceal this reality in order to preserve their status and relevance among a rapidly dwindling audience of insulated elites.

Then you have Batya Ungar-Sargon, one of our very favorite ghouls, online especially, she wrote this, quote:

The New York Times spent thousands and thousands of words and dollars to uncover the truth about Tucker Carlson: that he uses his platform to talk about the class divide and immigration depressing working class wages, views any Democrat would have proudly endorsed 15 years ago.

Adam: First off, again, you ask any of these people to define elites, it’s basically people who went to college who aren’t racist. I also read about this, Elon Musk does this, the definition of elites among conservative, right-wing, fascist, whatever third positionist, intellectual, dark web, edgy iconoclast ‘Who can’t be put into a fucking box, man,’ their definition is basically people who are educated academics, again, doesn’t matter if you’re a fucking Adjunct Professor making $35,000.

Nima: Well that’s the thing. Right, exactly.

Adam: And the ruling class, which is basically them.

Nima: Right, associate editor at a magazine no one reads is the same as being a multibillionaire, CEO.

Adam: Multibillionaires, whether they are elite is depending on their cultural effect.

Nima: Exactly. Right.

Adam: They’re not elites, by the way, even though they have articles in the New York Times, and in Newsweek, they’re not elite or if they are elite, they’re sort of like a self-hating elite, and that’s the whole shtick, right? The idea that there’s this sort of divide between the sort of worker who hates immigrants, ignores the fact that a very significant percentage of workers are themselves immigrants, right? They’re always kind of divorced from the working class.

Nima: You’re making this way too complicated, Adam. It’s supposed to be even and clean. Don’t you know that?

Adam: It’s all faux class politics, right? It’s class politics without object permanence, right? Elites are like blue checkmarks who I see online, and that’s who the elites are. But the 99.9% of billionaires who are not on social media, who you can’t name and you don’t know who secretly fund the dark money organizations, polluting your neighborhoods and defunding your schools and getting you fired, those people sort of don’t count because I can’t see them and I don’t know them, and it’s not LeBron James, who’s mouthy and just ‘makes too much money,’ and all these kinds of racialized terms about elite because elite very often is, again, it can be mostly anti-semitic dog whistle, but it’s also it’s like educated Black people I don’t like are elites. Pretty much anyone who writes for a publication. It’s a kind of Bircher, Richard Nixon version of elites, and I think that once you dissect that and realize how facile that is you realize how facile this approach is, because this idea that there’s a cultural divide, which a lot of people, you know, Peter Thiel and others, and the JD Vance campaign, they pour a lot of money into organizations like American Compass, Oren Cass, whose goal is to convince people that the real divide in this country is not between the people in power and those with tons of money and concentration of money and the poor, but it is, in fact, between people who use pronouns and people who don’t. This is not, like I said, this is not new, these artificial cultural signifiers go back to silver spoon, Connecticut-born George W. Bush talking about how he likes to, you know, he’s the guy you can have a beer with blah, blah, blah. It is not new. But it’s gotten more acute, it’s gotten more, and supposedly, there’s some non trivial percentage of alleged leftists who keep falling for this bullshit, which is why we’re, you know, intervening now, because I think it’s gotten to the point where it’s like, okay, maybe we should, you know, we have done an episode on the shtick before. Again, the whole thing sort of implies that cynical, incredibly disingenuous, shit stirring third positionists are somehow going to be allied. I don’t even know what that would look like. Now, if at some temporary vote, let’s say in Congress, right, let’s say that you need support for a bill to support Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan or end the war in Yemen and you need to team up with Mike Lee. Well, yeah, that’s like a strategic short term goal. That seems reasonable to me.

Nima: There’s some allies, conservative allies, who are pro antitrust.

Adam: Yeah, that’s the nature of parliamentary politics. But I’m not going to start a media organization with fucking Mike Lee, you know what I mean? And Matthew Getz, it’s not, let’s not, you’re not going to really, you’re not going to build a meaningful, sustainable political coalition with these fucking fascists. It’s just not going to happen. But even if it could, you would want to, but even if you could, it wouldn’t happen.

Nima: Right.

Adam: Because they’re on existential key ideological issues, they’re fucking fascists. They want to build a coalition that’s genocidal by its very nature.

Nima: Yeah.

Adam: And I don’t even know what it looks like to build a coalition with people who want to see one half of your coalition dead. That doesn’t make any sense.

Nima: Right, exactly. I mean, Tucker Carlson is not subversive, because he’s an anti-capitalist, because he’s not an anti-capitalist. He’s subversive, allegedly, because he is able to articulate fake reasons and stir up a lot of fear mongering, I mean, fear mongering that turns into actual violence, by the way, about shitty things that capitalism creates, but then blaming them on on poor people and Black people instead of capitalism, because he’s not actually anti-capitalist. You know what I mean? He’s not there ideologically, which is the whole point, it’s just he can kind of very, very cleverly have you be thinking about the thing that you think is, you know, frustrating, and then tell you the reason why you need to be, tell you who to be angry at, and it’s never going to be the system of capitalism, and it’s not going to be his ideologically-aligned, you know, ownership class, it’s not going to be his ideologically-aligned right-wing billionaires, it’s always going to be the Soros’ and the, you know, single migrant mothers try to make it across the border. That’s who you’re supposed to blame and somehow that has turned into him being, you know, scourge of the elites.

Adam: Yeah, they do that he’s challenging the ruling elite, what’s your fucking definition of elite? FoxNews wouldn’t let him on the air for six years if he was challenging anybody. Obviously, he’s just doing minor shit stirring and being kind of annoying to the Republican, you know, sort of status quo, but they all know it’s towards the end of sheepdogging people into the GOP and getting people not to vote Democrat, right? So that’s why they sort of don’t care, they go on the show, they’re all part of the same ecosystem. It’s the same thing with Trump. It’s like, look, is he kind of annoying sometimes? Is his rhetoric annoying to them? Yeah. But they ultimately know he serves a partisan function.

Nima: Right.

Adam: This is so depressing. This is kind of where we’re at here. And again, this is maybe just one article.

Nima: This is going to be our kicker, by the way.

Adam: You know, I don’t think the current is as large as people want it to be on the left, again, for most people who aren’t extremely aligned this is not something they probably spent a lot of time thinking about. But it’s sort of big enough to where I feel like it’s probably worth being like, no, that’s not really something that is a useful, you know, is a good use of resources and time, because ultimately, you’re just you’re just feeding into this into this sort of fascistic propaganda machine. I don’t know, I wish maybe we’re being slightly scold-y, but I don’t really don’t know what else to really add to it other than that we need to be able to identify the tactic, understand what it is, and not be a cog in that particular propaganda machine.

Nima: Well, I think, Adam, that’s a good place for us to leave this Citations Needed Live News Brief. Thank you everyone for joining us. As we said, we will absolutely be back soon with our beg-a-thon fundraiser live show on Ancient Aliens and other pseudo archaeological bullshit. Of course, we’re coming back with more News Briefs, with more live interviews, and of course more full length episodes of Citations Needed very shortly. So stay tuned for all of that. You can follow the show on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed, and, please do consider if you don’t already, support us through All your support through Patreon is incredibly appreciated, it keeps the show going, we are 100 percent listener funded. Not funded by the ruling elites. That will do it for this Citations Needed Live News Brief. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: Citations Needed senior producer is Florence Barrau-Adams. Producer is Julianne Tveten. Production assistant is Trendel Lightburn. Newsletter by Marco Cartolano. Transcriptions are by Morgan McAslan. The music is by Grandaddy. Thanks again, everyone. We’ll catch you next time.


This Citations Needed live News Brief was recorded with a virtual audience o Wednesday, April 26, 2023, and released on Friday, April 28, 2023.

Transcription by Morgan McAslan.



Citations Needed

A podcast on media, power, PR, and the history of bullshit. Hosted by @WideAsleepNima and @adamjohnsonnyc.