You think Fox News isn’t worried about recent nights in which MSNBC has beaten Fox’s Tucker Carlson in the ratings? Take a look at what’s been going on at Tucker Carlson Tonight. The show recently instituted a top-of-the-show segment called “Tucker’s Thoughts,” in which the host opines about a topic while his words scroll down the right side of the screen. Remind you of anything? Oh, right: Bill O’Reilly’s “Talking Points Memo,” which was the exact same segment on The O’Reilly Factor. Fox News is trying to signal to its audience, “See? Nothing’s changed since we fired Bill! We’re making Tucker do a memo now!”
There is also an uptick in the more direct criticism Fox News shows directs at the same competition that is hurting its prime-time ratings. On Tuesday night, both Tucker Carlson Tonight at 8 p.m. and The Five at 9 p.m. took shots at CNN’s Anderson Cooper and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow for not spending enough time covering the awful terrorist bombing at the Ariana Grande concert site in Manchester, England. As though thoroughness and respect can be measured in minutes, Carlson and the Five’s gibbering quintet slammed their competitors for covering the bombing and then moving on to one of the biggest political stories in the country, the ongoing investigation into collusion between Russia and members of Donald Trump’s campaign and administration.
“Russia Hysteria” was the on-screen headline Carlson used on Tuesday night. As Carlson wished away the investigation being conducted, a chyron below him boiled down his words: “Liberals Melt Down Over Alleged Trump-Russia Ties.” The preceding Thursday, Carlson had used a “Russian Hysteria” chyron, with the subtitle, “Dems In Meltdown Mode Over Russia.” Last Friday? “Hysterical News Headlines” were Tucker’s topic, at which point he also hauled out “Growing Russia Hysteria.”
The man who follows Carlson, Sean Hannity, is truly hysterical in his slander of Seth Rich, Democratic National Committee staffer who was murdered — and this is the utterly unfounded contention of Hannity and other right-wing nuts — by the left, because he leaked some of those damaging Clinton emails during the Presidential campaign. On Tuesday’s Hannity, the host made a fake boo-hoo face and said that “out of respect for the family’s wishes, for now, I am not discussing this matter at this time.” This, after discussing it at great length before, and after that announcement, going on Twitter to insist, “OK TO BE CLEAR, I am closer to the TRUTH than ever. Not only am I not stopping, I am working harder. Updates when available. Stay tuned!” Hannity is a vile hysteric.
Fox News has fixated on the word “hysteria” to train its viewers to think that any examination of Trump’s policies or political entanglements is absurd, overwrought, and therefore foolish and dismissible. Look at Fox & Friends in the morning and you see a segment devoted to “Liberal Press In Hysterics.” On its new afternoon show The Fox News Specialists, its trio of hosts expresses dismay as its chyron reads, “Dem Hysteria Grows.” Back on May 9, Carlson was framing the dismissal of James Comey this way: “Media Hysterical Over Comey Firing.”
It could be argued that one reason MSNBC and CNN are doing better in the ratings these days is that those channels are offering wider coverage of different stories people want information about, rather than Fox’s tendency to get one story — and one angle on any story — and hammer away at it over the course of its entire 24-hour news cycle. So it is just now, with the “They haven’t covered the bombing long enough” notion. It’s pretty rich for Carlson and The Five to criticize the competition in this way. On Tuesday, Carlson did an almost minute-by-minute run-down on what CNN and MSNBC were doing the night the Manchester bombing news broke. He tried to shame the networks that are beating him for proceeding with new information about Congress’s Trump-Russia hearings after what Tucker deemed obsessive and, yes, “hysterical” Russia coverage: “After half an hour, you guessed it: [still] Russia!” Carlson crowed, breaking down Maddow’s coverage with a timer.
Yet on Tuesday night, both Tucker Carlson Tonight and The Five spent more than — you guessed it! — half an hour of their shows to discussions of terrorism that went well beyond the Manchester tragedy. It was as though they were vamping, going over old ground about the war on terror, in order to avoid covering other things (hint: Trump! Russia!). You could even say they were hysterical in their obsession with the possibility of future terror attacks, to the exclusion of other kinds of real news coverage. Well into his second half-hour on this obsession, Carlson’s guest was Joe Concha, a media critic for The Hill who these days can be relied upon to be booked at a moment’s notice to “confirm” whatever party-line Fox is pushing. By the time Concha got around to condemning CNN and MSNBC by uttering this alliterative mini-masterpiece — “It’s media malfeasance marinated in myopia!” — I, too, had achieved hysteria: the laughing kind.
Tucker Carlson Tonight airs weeknights at 8 p.m. on Fox News. The Five airs weeknights at 9 p.m. on Fox News.