If you love The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel like I do, then you know about Lenny Bruce and his troubles with the law. It turns out standup comedy has come full circle, where calling people names is off-limits AGAIN.
If you read Rolling Stone, then you know about Matt Taibbi, and even if you don’t, you know his Great Vampire Squid takedown of Goldman Sachs. He called the company a “great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”
In Taibbi’s latest Substack piece, he calls Tucker Carlson today’s Lenny Bruce, an unusual backhanded compliment considering Taibbi’s liberal leanings. The fact he’s even writing about Carlson tells me there’s hope for the truth.
An excerpt from Taibbi’s “Spying and Smearing is ‘Un-American,’ not Tucker Carlson”:
On Monday, June 28th, Fox host Tucker Carlson dropped a bomb mid-show, announcing he’d been approached by a “whistleblower” who told him he was being spied on by the NSA.
“The National Security Agency is monitoring our electronic communications,” he said, “and is planning to leak them in an attempt to take this show off the air.”
The reaction was swift, mocking, and ferocious. “Carlson is sounding more and more like InfoWars host and notorious conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones,” chirped CNN media analyst Brian Stelter. Vox ripped Carlson as a “serial fabulist” whose claims were “evidence-free.” The Washington Post quipped that “in a testament to just how far the credibility of Tucker Carlson Tonight has cratered,” even groups like Pen America and the Reporters Committee on the Freedom of the Press were no-commenting the story, while CNN learned from its always-reliable “people familiar with the matter” that even Carlson’s bosses at Fox didn’t believe him.
None of this is surprising. A lot of media people despise Carlson. He may be Exhibit A in the n+2 epithet phenomenon that became standard math in the Trump era, i.e. if you thought he was an “asshole” in 2015 you jumped after Charlottesville straight past racist to white supremacist, and stayed there. He’s spoken of in newsrooms in hushed tones, like a mythical monster. The paranoid rumor that he’s running for president (he’s not) comes almost entirely from a handful of editors and producers who’ve convinced themselves it’s true, half out of anxiety and half subconscious desperation to find a click-generating replacement for Donald Trump.
The NSA story took a turn on the morning of July 7th last week, when Carlson went on Maria Bartiromo’s program. He said that it would shortly come out that the NSA “leaked the contents of my email to journalists,” claiming he knew this because one of them called him for comment. On cue, hours later, a piece came out in Axios, “Scoop: Tucker Carlson sought Putin interview at time of spying claim.”
In a flash, the gloating and non-denial denials that littered early coverage of this story (like the NSA’s meaningless insistence that Carlson was not a “target” of surveillance) dried up. They were instantly replaced by new, more tortured rhetoric, exemplified by an amazingly loathsome interview conducted by former Bush official Nicolle Wallace on MSNBC. The Wallace panel included rodentine former Robert Mueller team member Andrew Weissman, and another of the networks’ seemingly limitless pool of interchangeable ex-FBI stooge-commentators, Frank Figliuzzi.
Weissman denounced Carlson for sowing “distrust” in the intel community, which he said was “so anti-American.” Wallace, who we recall was MSNBC’s idea of a “crossover” voice to attract a younger demographic, agreed that Carlson had contributed to a “growing chorus of distrust in our country’s intelligence agencies.” Figliuzzi said the playbook of Carlson and the GOP was to “erode the public’s trust in their institutions.” Each made an identical point in the same words minus tiny, nervous variations, as if they were all trying to read the same statement off a moving teleprompter.
The scene was perfectly representative of what the erstwhile “liberal” press has become: collections of current and former enforcement types, masquerading as journalists, engaged in patriotic denunciations of critics and rote recitals of quasi-official statements.
Since the NSA story turned, the media heat has been cranked up, hammering the same themes over and over. The Washington Post just today came out with a monster piece, “How Tucker Carlson became the voice of White grievance,” that starts with a scene of him not crying in an ancient holding pen for African slaves and doesn’t let up. There are things to criticize with Carlson, particularly on immigration, but as with Trump, the propaganda goes unnecessary miles beyond reality. The Post last year was congratulating him for challenging Trump lawyer Sidney Powell for evidence of election fraud and highlighting how his “significantly more serious” coverage of Covid-19 than other Fox hosts led to many fewer deaths for his viewers, a study showed, than Sean Hannity’s. Now they’re taking to implying he’s an anti-vaxxer and a promoter of “Trump’s falsehood” about a rigged election, neither of which is true (Carlson’s “rigged” comment was about media coverage and Silicon valley censorship, not voting fraud, an argument neither provably a falsehood nor particularly Trump’s). Why lie?
Not that it matters to Carlson’s critics, but odds favor the NSA scandal being true. An extraordinarily rich recent history of illegal, politically-directed leaks has gone mostly uncovered, in another glaring recent press failure that itself is part of this story.
Go back to December, 2015, and you’ll find a Wall Street Journal story by Adam Entous and Danny Yadron quoting senior government officials copping to the fact that the Obama White House reviewed intercepts of conversations between “U.S lawmakers and American-Jewish groups.”
The White House in that case was anxious to know what congressional opponents to Obama’s Iran deal were thinking, and peeked in the electronic cookie jar to get an advance preview at such “incidentally” collected info. This prompted what one official called an “Oh, shit” moment, when they realized that what they’d done might result in “the executive branch being accused of spying.”
After Obama left office, illegal leaks of classified intercepts became commonplace. Many, including the famed January, 2017 leak of conversations between Michael Flynn and Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak, were key elements of major, news-cycle-dominating bombshells. Others, like “Russian ambassador told Moscow that Kushner wanted secret communications channel with Kremlin,” or news that former National Security Adviser Susan Rice unmasked the identities of senior Trump officials in foreign intercepts, were openly violative of the prohibition against disclosing the existence of such surveillance, let alone the contents.
These leaks tended to go to the same small coterie of reporters at outlets like the Washington Post, New York Times, and CNN, and not one prompted blowback. This was a forgotten major element of the Reality Winner story. Winner, a relatively low-level contractor acting on her own, was caught, charged, and jailed with extraordinary speed after leaking an NSA document about Russian interference to the Intercept. But these dozens of similar violations by senior intelligence officials, mainly in leaks about Trump, went not just unpunished but un-investigated. As Winner’s lawyer, Titus Nichols, told me years ago, his client’s case was “about low-hanging fruit.”
The key issue in those cases was not even so much that someone in government might have been improperly accessing foreign surveillance intercepts — revelations to that effect have been a regular occurrence since the Bush years, with the FBI a serial violator — but that such intercepts were being leaked for public effect, with the enthusiastic cooperation of reporters, often in stories involving American citizens. They got away with it in the Trump years, because it was Trump, but the arrogance to think they can keep getting away with it by power-smearing everyone who objects is mind-blowing.
During Trump’s first run, I nearly lost my mind trying to explain to fellow reporters that he was succeeding in part because of us, that the prestige media’s ham-handed, hysterical, anti-intellectual approach to covering the Trump phenomenon was itself massively fueling it, making a case for establishment corruption and incompetence more eloquently than he could.
Something similar is happening with the collapse of traditional media and the rise of Carlson, the current #1 voice on cable, who is rapidly stealing the audience MSNBC somehow believed it could corral with spokesgoons like Wallace. It seems impossible that Carlson’s haters don’t realize how easy they’ve made it for him, turning themselves into such caricatures of illiberalism that they’re practically handing him the top spot, in addition to a rollicking time. Easier to let him explain it.
“I’m enjoying it so much,” he chuckles. “It’s really an exciting time intellectually.”
Assuming he doesn’t end up whisked away and testicle-whipped in a Langley garage — or, as he puts it, arrested suddenly for “having a meth lab in my basement” — he should keep enjoying the ride. Carlson is capitalizing on mushrooming disdain for the lockstep partisanship he once symbolized. In the Bush years he was famous as a cookie-cutter free-marketeer and conservative of the Bill Buckley/William Safire mold, proudly repping the GOP “in the red corner” while duking it out with the likes of former Clinton adviser Paul Begala.
His Crossfire act was exploded essentially overnight in 2004, when Jon Stewart appeared on the show and identified both combatants as “partisan hacks,” singling out Carlson in particular as a “dick” who wore a George Will-style bowtie as a cultural signifier despite being 35 years old.
It was a change-or-die moment, but Carlson insists he was already headed for a career re-think. “My mind was already changing by that point,” he says, recalling that he himself had already begun to have doubts about Crossfire, especially during the runup to the Iraq War. “The way the show was set up, it was my job to attack the opponents of the war,” he says. “I never felt great about that.”
When he went to Iraq himself, he says, “I saw, it was such a disaster… I thought, I couldn’t believe I was implicated in this. I was filled with shame and anger. Obviously you always find a way to blame someone else for things you do, but… I felt like I’d been used.”
Then, “Trump showed up,” he says. “And look, I know his limitations. I know his flaws. I’ve talked about them. But I thought, he’s right about how corrupt DC is.”
The inspiration for his current show seemingly came when Carlson watched his former colleagues among the GOP Brahmins make a show of reacting with horror to Trump’s arrival. These were people who had no problem wantonly bombing poor and mostly nonwhite countries all over the world, made a joke of the rule of law (and America’s reputation abroad) with policies like torture, rendition, and mass surveillance, and shamelessly whored themselves out to Wall Street even after the 2008 crash. Yet they pretended to severe moral anguish before Trump even took office.
Carlson grasped that the sudden piety of the Kristols and Max Boots and David Frenches was rooted in the same terror the Democratic Party nomenklatura felt at the possibility of a Bernie Sanders presidency in 2020, i.e. fear of a line-jumping outsider tearing away their hard-fought consultancies and sinecures.
“He was threatening their rice bowl,” Carlson says. “That’s all it was. I was like, ‘Fuck these people.’”
The first years of Trump’s presidency saw a lot of Carlson shows centered around hilariously brutal trolling sessions with jilted neocons like Boot. The latter flushed with rage as Carlson congratulated him for becoming a “religious figure” thanks to his moralizing on Russia and suggested, in light of Boot’s habit of pushing for more and more bloody interventions even after the failures of Iraq and Afghanistan, that he “choose another profession, selling insurance or house-painting, something you’re good at.”
Liberal audiences didn’t pay attention at the time, because the Boots and the Ralph Peterses of the world were considered friends of the #Resistance, but Carlson’s gleeful arson of GOP shibboleths in 2017-2018 was inspired television.
“I brought them all on, one after the other, called them all frauds,” he says. “Our audience loved it.” Moreover, because red-state audiences in the Trump era no longer demanded absolute fealty to Republican politicians, it turned out they could now be shat upon, too. “It’s not my job to back up Mitch McConnell. I find Mitch McConnell loathsome,” Carlson says.
Democrats provided even better foils. Instead of responding to the disaster of 2016 by re-focusing on health care, the economy, our incessant foreign military entanglements, or other actual issues, blue-state pols and media reduced all content, all thought, to a single word: Trump. They made Trump a mandatory obsession and forbade describing him as anything but an absolute, Hitlerian evil. All Carlson had to do to soar toward the top of the ratings was focus on literally anything else.
“Around that time, I just really stopped talking about Trump that much,” Carlson says. “Trump was so over-covered, that all this interesting stuff was left unexplored… I’d watch MSNBC and think, ‘They’re expressing a range of opinion that’s so unbelievably narrow. They were so reactionary and uptight, with absolutely no sense of humor at all.” Going after them, he says, “I really got to be Lenny Bruce.”
He pauses. “I actually don’t even think Lenny Bruce was all that talented. But he was pivoting against such a totally humorless and rigid establishment. It was easy to be Lenny Bruce in 1963.”
Action Line: Seek out truth-tellers like Taibbi and Carlson whenever possible. If you’re serious about the truth, click here to subscribe to my free monthly Survive & Thrive newsletter where I give you the truth about what it takes to prepare your family for financial and personal security. But only if you’re serious.
Originally posted on Your Survival Guy.
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