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Imagine being one of Tucker Carlson’s three daughters today. Imagine you found out that your dad, the Fox News host, went onto a controversial radio program in 2009 and spoke about your life at boarding school with someone who called himself Bubba the Love Sponge (yes, really) when you were 14 years old.
When she’s “in a dormitory-type setting,” the Love Sponge says in one recording, “and these little girls start to experiment around, next thing you know, you got a lesbian on your hands… I don’t got a PSP to play, I ain’t got nothing going on, I ain’t got my mom and dad here telling me they love me and tuck me in bed. So here’s Trixie, she wants to explore my body a bit, so hey, let’s go crazy.”
And then your father replies: “If it weren’t my daughter, I would love that scenario.”
Then you hear that on a different recording for the same show, your father was in discussion with the host about Warren Jeffs, who is currently serving a prison sentence of life plus 20 years for sexually assaulting two children aged 12 and 15. Jeffs was involved in arranging marriages between teenage girls and much older men while he was head of an isolated Mormon sect; one woman, who is now 32, described to Fox News at the time of Jeffs’ conviction how she was forced to marry her cousin as a teenager and suffered physical abuse and multiple miscarriages as a result. Jeffs referred to the 12-year-old who he sexually assaulted as one of his 78 wives.
“Now this guy may be… a child rapist. I’m just telling you that arranging a marriage between a 16-year-old and a 27-year-old is not the same as pulling a stranger off the street and raping her. That’s bullshit,” said Tucker Carlson on Bubba the Love Sponge, “…some prosecutor comes out and says, ‘This guy’s bad’ and the rest of us nod in agreement like a church choir, ‘Yeah, he’s bad.’ How do we know he’s bad? What do we know exactly? Nothing… I should make the laws round here, and Michael Vick would have been executed, and Warren Jeffs would be out on the street.”
Previously celebrated Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick had been found out to be abusing dogs while presiding over an underground dog-fighting ring about a year and a half before this conversation. Just to hammer his point home, Tucker Carlson rounded off with: “I’m not for child rape, I’m just saying, if you mistreat dogs like that, we’re going to have to execute you.” Could there be any more perfect summation of where women’s lives factor in the priority list of some right-wing Republicans?
At other points on the show, Carlson also says that believing a sex worker who says she has been raped is not the same as if a “housewife claims she was pulled off the street and raped”; describes Hillary Clinton as “anti-penis” and pro-castration of men (presumably because she had the audacity to be a woman and seek a public platform at the same time); describes Oprah in the same terms; describes Arianna Huffington as a “pig”; and describes women in general as “like dogs” and “extremely primitive”.
Yesterday, when these recordings were released and transcribed by Media Matters, Carlson wrote on Twitter: “Media Matters caught me saying something naughty on a radio show more than a decade ago. Rather than express the usual ritual contrition, how about this: I’m on television every week night live for an hour. If you want to know what I think, you can watch. Anyone who disagrees with my views is welcome to come on and explain why.”
Now, call me an eternal optimist, but I don’t expect that many people need it explained to them why most of this stuff doesn’t count as a legitimate viewpoint. I tweeted Carlson myself saying that I’d be happy to come on his show and state that sexualising 14-year-old girls, questioning whether Warren Jeffs should be in prison and referring to women as “white whores” is disturbing and immoral while he disagrees. Oddly, he hasn’t reached out with an invitation yet.
There is a lot to be said about this dumpster-fire collection of recordings. One is that it demonstrates perfectly the psychological barriers some men employ when they want to defend the indefensible. Fourteen-year-olds are sexual, so long as they're not your own children. Women "cry rape" all the time, unless it's your wife and a violent stranger in a dark alley. Men are cleverer and more talented and the public sphere is inherently male, so when a woman becomes prominently successful it must be because she is unnatural, “anti-man”, unable to succeed in her proper domain; or an "attention-seeking whore" who has gained fame by playing sexual tricks on male viewers.
When we put out posters urging men to care about rape victims because “that could have been your daughter” or “your wife”, we are capitulating to this worldview. When we wonder aloud whether women can “have it all”— and we mean whether she can have her natural place in the home, looking after children, as well as competing in the male sphere of career success and public recognition — we are capitulating to this worldview. When we say that calling women “cunts” and “whores” and feeling sorry for men convicted of sexually assaulting 12-year-olds might be forgivable because “2008 was a long time ago” (really?) and “things like that were much more acceptable before MeToo" (really?!), we are capitulating to this worldview.
Fox News has, rightly, publicly condemned its host Jeanine Pirro for suggesting that Congresswoman Ilhan Omar might be wearing a hijab because of her “adherence to sharia law” today. The organisation has remained silent on Tucker Carlson, who has made it clear he sees no reason to apologise. Perhaps they aren’t surprised. The low-level sexism Carlson has made apparent in interviews he conducted as anchor in the past doesn’t exactly point towards the existence of a deeply feminist soul.
In April, Congress will consider whether to reauthorise the Violence Against Women Act, which has been added to by Democrats keen to extend its protections. Remember that when you read about Tucker Carlson today. Remember that he wants you to live in a country where saying vile, misogynist things and wondering aloud whether there might be shades of grey in cases of child rape counts as “something naughty”. Something naughty is something expected. Something naughty is something normal. Something naughty is something everyone does once in a while.
I don’t believe other men think that paedophilia jokes and calls to favour dogs over women in the eyes of the law count as “something naughty”. I certainly don't believe other women do. But considering what we recently learnt about the cosy relationship between Fox News and the White House, we should prepare ourselves to see Tucker Carlson’s sentiments reflected in Congress when such legislation comes up for review. I hope those anti-penis, pro-castration Democrat women we’re all counting on to stop this tide of unfettered sexist prejudice are ready. Because at the moment, it looks like the fight is getting harder every year.