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Leftists Shouldn’t Go on Tucker Carlson

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On Tuesday night, the perpetually smirking Tucker Carlson used his nightly Fox News show to denigrate congresswoman Ilhan Omar as an ungrateful immigrant. “Ilhan Omar is living proof that the way we practice immigration has become dangerous to this country,” Carlson said of the Somalia-born legislator. “A system designed to strengthen America is instead undermining it.”

There’s nothing new about racism from either Fox News or Carlson’s mouth, but the virulence of this attack reopened a debate about whether progressives, either leftists or liberals, should appear on the right-wing network. This is a particularly pressing issue because Carlson has made it a habit to invite leftists on his show when he thinks he can find common ground with them. Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept and independent journalist Michael Tracey have been recurring guests, much cherished by Carlson for their critique of the Russiagate story. Last November, Irish academic Angela Nagle, a leftist, stirred anger when she went on Carlson’s show to decry the left’s embrace of open borders.

In response to the Omar smear, author Molly Crabapple tweeted, “Self identified leftists, stop going on Tucker’s White Power Hour to agree with him.”

On a broader political stage, the status of Fox has divided the Democratic presidential hopefuls. In April, Bernie Sanders did a much-discussed town hall on Fox News. The next month Pete Buttigieg followed in Sanders’s footsteps, while Elizabeth Warren adamantly rejected a Fox invitation.

Fox News is a hate-for-profit racket that gives a megaphone to racists and conspiracists,” Warren argued. “Hate-for-profit works only if there’s profit, so Fox News balances a mix of bigotry, racism, and outright lies with enough legit journalism to make the claim to advertisers that it’s a reputable news outlet.” Warren framed her rejection of Fox News as part of a broader boycott designed to marginalize the network.

The Fox News problem is, in fact, a set of overlapping questions: Should Democratic politicians go on Fox News, should progressive activists and writers go on Fox, and are certain programs (such as Carlson’s show) worse than others?

In my view, Sanders and Buttigieg made the right move, while Warren’s stance, however principled, makes little sense. After all, politics inevitably involves convincing those outside the fold: Winning over unbelievers is as important as keeping the choir humming. Sanders’s Fox News appearance, where he got an audience picked out by the network to applaud higher taxes for the rich, was a triumph. It was a model for how the left should do outreach.

For writers and activists, the question is trickier, since they aren’t trying to win votes but to more subtly influence the zeitgeist. In that enterprise, there’s a delicate balance to strike between getting the message out while also making sure that bigotry isn’t normalized.

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