Network easily ranks among the greatest movies of all time, and that’s not just my opinion. The movie features an alcoholic news anchor named Howard Beale who declared he’d “run out of bullshit” and urged his audience to join him in becoming rightfully angry about the declining state of America under a corporate elite focused solely on profits. “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore,” Beale declared in one especially memorable line that entered the vernacular.
When Network was released in 1976, critics hailed the movie as a biting satire on television news. At the time, legendary anchors Walter Cronkite and John Chancellor were still on the air and FOX, CNN, and MSNBC had yet to launch. Television news was still overseen by credible journalists whose worldviews weren’t shaped watching Bugs Bunny, another famous Network reference about those who would gain control of the medium.
Reading the New York Times’ recent hit piece on FOX News host Tucker Carlson prompted me to watch Network again, as the Times’ depiction of Carlson seemed eerily reminiscent of the fictional Beale character I remembered. Re-watching Network gave me a further appreciation for the prescience of screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky, who correctly envisioned the tragic state of today’s television journalism nearly a half century ago.
Watch this scene and consider how amazingly current the references are:
Tucker Carlson, like Beale, is angry about what’s happening in America. The United States is “ruled by mercenaries who feel no long-term obligation to the people they rule,” Carlson has warned his viewers. “They literally don’t care about you and yet they are still in charge,” he’s also cautioned. Whereas Beale promised his viewers no bullshit, Carlson has declared his show “the sworn enemy of lying.”
Chayefsky also predicted the diminished influence of the New York Times. In Network, a patrician news executive expresses concern about how the Times will respond to Beale’s antics. The corporate suit overseeing the UBS network on which Beale appears doesn’t care one iota. “The New York Times doesn’t advertise with us,” said the executive, convincingly played by Robert Duvall.
“We’re not a respectable network,” the executive went on to explain. “We’re a whorehouse network, and we have to take whatever we can get.”
FOX News detractors will quickly argue that FOX is “a whorehouse network” but I could make a convincing case that CNN under Jeffrey Zucker was more so. A governor of a major state having a daily lovefest with his news show host brother in the middle of a pandemic, as disgraced New York Governor Andrew Cuomo did with his disgraced brother Chris, was the stuff of parody. So is having a network news correspondent literally sleeping with the White House spokesperson.
During the Trump years, CNN was ginning up its audience that Trump was a pawn of Putin’s and a threat to America’s Democracy. The Russian collusion conspiracy theory has been discredited, although I doubt that most CNN viewers know that, and for that matter, neither do readers of the Times and Washington Post, which were awarded Pulitzer Prizes for stories since proven false.
What isn’t in dispute is the diminished influence of the Times and the Post. People in positions of influence and power no longer respect or fear these publications. Carlson astutely didn’t give the Times an interview, an example that his senior executive producer and FOX’s PR person should have followed. For good measure, Carlson publicly mocked the Times’ hatchet job on him after it was published. I’m doubtful Carlson will lose any viewers because of the Times’ unflattering profile; it wouldn’t surprise me if he gains a few.
When the Post’s Taylor Lorenz gave Christina Pushaw, the press secretary for Florida governor Ron DeSantis, an hour to respond to a threatening message that Pushaw would be unfavorably mentioned in a damning story, Pushaw responded with a clown’s face.
Network was released in the same era the New York Times published the Pentagon Papers and the Post broke Watergate. I suspect that Chayefsky would be aghast at what’s become of these publications. In its failed attempt to take down Carlson, the Times showcased its own dishonesty and how it twists facts to support its narratives. I’ve previously written about Lorenz’s “brand” of TikTok journalism. (See here and here).
‘The Most Racist Show in Cable History’
The Times doesn’t trust its readers to reach their own conclusions, so it declares in the sixth paragraph that Carlson “has constructed what may be the most racist show in the history of cable news.” Racism was once defined as a prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people, but the Times has redefined the word to mean anyone who disagrees with its narratives and viewpoints. Nikole Hannah-Jones, the amateur historian who has become the public face of the Times, argued in her discredited “1619 Project” that slavery legacy continues to influence all U.S. institutions and that all white Americans are de facto racists.
As proof of Carlson’s racism, the Times cites his focus on immigration, particularly his concern that immigrants are taking jobs from Americans and depressing wages. “Decades of research have provided little support for the claim that immigrants depress wages by competing with native workers,” the Times said.
Really? Tell that to Rachel Rosenthal, a former Bloomberg Opinion editor who noted in a column last year headlined “The Stem Graduate System is Broken” that two-thirds of entry-level tech jobs go to foreigners living in the U.S. on temporary work visas. Interestingly, Rosenthal’s LinkedIn profile says she’s joined the New York Times.
Neil Munro, whose work the Times discredits in its Carlson profile, has published further fodder on immigrants depressing wages. Munro works at Breitbart so in the Times’ view he, too, is a racist, despite being an immigrant himself. Munro’s response to the Times’ disparagement of him can be found here; it includes some insight on Jia Lynn Yang, the Times’ national editor, who has previously argued that immigrants are the only “salvation” for America given “the sins” of its past. For those who lost family and friends fighting wars to protect Democracy and combat oppression, Yang apparently believes it was all for naught.
The White Supremacy Allegation
To smear Carlson as a white supremacist, the Times notes that at The Daily Caller, a publication he co-founded, an intern named Ashley Rae Goldenberg was photographed standing with a young white nationalist leader carrying a flag with a neon-Nazi emblem. Carlson reportedly declined to fire Goldenberg, arguing that she was only an intern and terminating her would only attract more attention.
As long as we are on the subject of Nazi sympathizers, the New York Times in 2018 hired an essayist named Quinn Norton who openly admitted her friendship with Andrew Auernheimer, a writer for the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer. Auernheimer has been linked to various antisemitic activities, and publicly called for the “slaughter” of Jewish children.
Although the Times promptly “unhired” Norton because of the public furor that quickly ensued, it’s understandable why the publication would be comfortable hiring someone who boasted of their friendships with rabid antisemites. When Bari Weiss, a Jewish reporter and an authority on antisemitism, resigned from the Times she publicly disclosed being subjected to “constant bullying,” including being smeared as a “liar,” a “bigot,” and, surprise, surprise, a “racist.”
As an aside, since leaving the Times and founding her own site, Weiss appears to have garnered a considerably higher profile, further underscoring the Times’ diminished influence and importance.
The Libel Suit Admission
The Times notes that in a 2020 lawsuit accusing Carlson of libel, FOX’s lawyers acknowledged that “spirited debate on talk-show programs does not lend itself well to statements of actual fact.” What the Times neglected to mention was that a judge dismissed a defamation suit against MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow using pretty much the same argument.
What the Times finds so damning about Carlson’s practices is pervasive on all the cable networks. Carlson attracts a bigger audience because he’s more in tune with mainstream America, possibly because he records his shows from a studio in rural Maine, rather than the media bubbles of New York and Washington.
Is Carlson’s Influence Exaggerated?
My goal isn’t to champion Carlson but rather note the one-sidedness of the Times’ attacks on him. I avoid watching all cable news shows, as I have a theory they shrink brain cells and reduces one’s capacity for intelligent thought. They certainly will sour one’s mood.
While Carlson attracts considerable attention from journalists, it’s far from certain he’s worthy of the attention and focus. Carlson averaged 3.8 million viewers in the first quarter. By comparison, ABC draws nearly nine million viewers to its nightly newscast, NBC’s nightly newscast draws 7.4 million viewers, and bottom-basement CBS attracts about five million viewers. The major networks are uniformly cheerleaders for the Democratic party, particularly Comcast’s NBC.
President Biden is proving to be America’s most disastrous and unpopular president. It’s hard to believe that Carlson has much, if anything, to do with Biden’s dismal poll results. More likely, Carlson’s popularity, like the fictional Beale in Network, stems from a knack for calling out bullshit and connecting with the rage of his viewers, who hate the legacy media as much as Carlson does.
What I admire is Carlson’s ability to ignore and withstand blistering 24/7 criticism and attacks. In an interview, Carlson shared his secret. “You should only care about the opinions of people who care about you,” he said.
I’m going to heed that advice.
Addendum: In addition to predicting the future of news, Network also envisioned the modern-day globalist CEO for whom sovereign borders no longer matter. Take a few minutes and watch this scene featuring the late Ned Beatty. I can easily imagine a CEO making this argument at Davos and receiving a standing ovation.
R.I.P. Paddy Chayefsky. Your brilliance was profound.
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