24March2019

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‘We Don’t Do Propaganda’

Earlier this month, Dutch historian Rutger Bregman, author of 'Utopia For Realists', was interviewed by the high-profile Fox News presenter Tucker Carlson. During a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos in Janary, Bregman had bluntly told billionaires that they should stop avoiding taxes and pay their fair share:

'We gotta be talking about taxes. That's it. Taxes, taxes, taxes. All the rest is bullshit, in my opinion.'

His comments went viral which, in turn, led to him being invited on to Carlson's television show. It's safe to say that the interview did not go as the right-wing host would have liked. In fact, Fox News decided not to air the segment. However, it was captured on mobile phone footage in the Amsterdam studio where Bregman was doing the interview and it was later distributed via Twitter. He told Carlson:

'The vast majority of Americans, for years and years now, according to the polls – including Fox News viewers and including Republicans – are in favour of higher taxes on the rich. Higher inheritance taxes, higher top marginal tax rates, higher wealth taxes, it's all really mainstream. But no one's saying that at Davos, just as no one's saying it on Fox News, right? And I think the explanation for that is quite simple, is that most of the people in Davos, but also here on this channel, have been bought by the billionaire class. You know? You're not meant to say these things. So I just went there, and I thought, you know what, I'm just going to say it, just as I'm saying it right here on this channel.'

Carlson was happy enough at this point. Indeed, he praised Bregman for what he'd said in Davos:

'That was one of the great moments - maybe the great moment in Davos history.'

Carlson added:

'If I was wearing a hat, I'd take it off to you.'

The Dutch historian continued:

'America is still pretty much the most powerful country in the world, right? So if it really would want to, it could easily crack down on tax paradises. But the thing is, you guys have brought into power a president who doesn't even want to share his own tax returns. I mean, who knows how many billions he has hidden in the Cayman Islands or in Bermuda. So I think the issue really is one of corruption and of people being bribed, and of not being, not talking about the real issues. What the family—what the Murdochs [owners of Fox News] basically want you to do is to scapegoat immigrants instead of talking about tax avoidance.'

By this point, it was clear that Carlson was unhappy with how the interview was going:

'And I'm taking orders from the Murdochs, that's what you're saying?'

Bregman responded reasonably:

'No, I mean, it doesn't work that directly. But I mean, you've been part of the [right-wing libertarian think tank] Cato Institute, right? You've been a senior fellow there for years.'

The Fox News presenter interjected aggressively, seemingly rattled:

'Well how does it work?'

Bregman replied:

'Well, it works by you taking their dirty money. They're funded by Koch billionaires, you know? It's as easy as that. I mean, you are a millionaire, funded by billionaires, that's what you are. And I'm glad you now finally jumped the bandwagon of people like Bernie Sanders and AOC [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a newly elected Democrat politician in New York], but you're not part of the solution, Mr. Carlson. You're part of the problem, actually. ... All the anchors, all the anchors of Fox—'

By this point, Carlson had lost it:

'You would have to be a moron, you would have to be—'

Bregman carried on speaking:

'They're all millionaires. How is this possible? Well it's very easy, you're just not talking about certain things.

'You are a millionaire funded by billionaires, that's what you are... You're part of the problem.'

Bregman then correctly predicted: 'you're probably not going to air this on your show.'

He added:

'But I went to Davos to speak truth to power and I'm doing exactly the same thing right now. You might not like it, but you're a millionaire funded by billionaires and that's the reason you're not talking about these issues.'

Carlson:

'But I am talking about these issues.'

Bregman replied:

'Yeah, only now. Come on, you jumped the bandwagon. You're all like, oh, I'm against the globalist elite, blah blah blah. It's not very convincing to be honest.'

That was too much for Carlson who exploded:

'I wanna say to you why don't you go fuck yourself ― you tiny brain. And I hope this gets picked up because you're a moron. I tried to give you a hearing, but you were too fucking annoying...'

Unflustered, Bregman interjected with a smile:

'You can't handle the criticism, can you?'

Afterwards, Bregman shared the clip on his Twitter feed:

'Here's the interview that @TuckerCarlson and Fox News didn't want you to see. I chose to release it, because I think we should keep talking about the corrupting influence of money in politics. It also shows how angry elites can get if you do that.'

As predicted, Fox News did not air the segment. No doubt prompted by Bregman releasing the exchange into the public domain, Carlson addressed it on his show:

'Things went fine for the first few minutes and then Bregman launched into an attack on Fox News. It's not clear that Bregman has ever seen Fox. But he wanted to make his point. Fine.

'But then he claimed that [adopts a fierce voice] my corporate masters tell me what to say on the show, and that was too much.'

Carlson continued:

'Whatever my faults or those of this channel, nobody in management has ever told us what positions to take on the air – never - not one time. We have total freedom here and we are grateful for that. I have hosted shows on both the other cable channels so I know first-hand how rare that freedom is. On this show, thanks to Fox, we get to say exactly what we think is true, for better or worse.

'But there was no convincing Bregman of that, he knew what he knew. So I did what I try hard never to do on this show, and I was rude. I called him a moron and then I modified that word with a vulgar Anglo-Saxon term that is also intelligible in Dutch.

'In my defence, I would say that was entirely accurate. But you're not allowed to use that word on television. So, once I'd said it out loud, there was no airing the segment.'

Carlson then pointed out that Bregman had released the exchange and that you could find it online:

'There is some profanity, and I apologize for that. On the other hand, it was genuinely heartfelt and I meant it with total sincerity.'

It was a far from convincing explanation for why Fox News had not aired the segment. After all, a simple bleep could have overridden any profanity: a standard procedure used in television.

Note that we are not claiming that everything Carlson says can be dismissed as kow-towing to his 'corporate masters'. Last year, for example, he admirably challenged the establishment consensus on Syria. That expression of dissent may well have boosted his ratings: always a welcome factor for a media outlet. Our point is that there is no freedom to 'say exactly what we think' on a corporate outlet. As Herman and Chomsky explained in 'Manufacturing Consent', there are structural limits in the 'mainstream' media:

'the "societal purpose" of the media is to inculcate and defend the economic, social and political agenda of privileged groups that dominate the domestic society and the state. The media serve this purpose in many ways: through selection of topics, distribution of concerns, framing of issues, filtering of information, emphasis and tone, and by keeping debate within the bounds of acceptable premises.'

(Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, 'Manufacturing Consent', Vintage, 1998/2004, p. 298)

That phrase, 'keeping debate within the bounds of acceptable premises', is crucial. Thus, for instance, a Fox News presenter who looked critically at the ownership and advertising behind that network would not last long; indeed, would likely never have been promoted into that trusted position in the first place.

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