On his Fox News show in August, Tucker Carlson concluded a segment with this advice: “If every Republican office-seeker, every Republican candidate in the United States focused on law and order and equality under the law, there would be a red wave” in the November midterm elections.
Since then, writes Matt Gertz, a senior fellow at Media Matters who tracks Fox News and other right-wing outlets, “Republican strategy appears to have fallen in line with Carlson’s suggestion.” GOP candidates are increasingly using the golden-oldie issue of crime to quite literally scare up votes, making sweeping claims about skyrocketing lawlessness that, outside of the Trump Organization, is not actually occurring.
Gertz cites a September 10 article in the Washington Post, which reported that “GOP officials have been mixing up their advertising spending, with a new focus on issues like crime,” with the word “crime” being used in 29 percent of ads in early September, a big increase from about 12 percent in July. During the same period, references to “gas prices” fell, from one in six to 1 percent.
A recent Politico/Harvard survey found that crime is tied with gas prices and inflation, all at around 60 percent, as the issues most commonly rated “extremely important” by people planning to vote Republican. Gertz says that, since Tucker’s declaration of the royal road to GOP electoral success, crime has followed previous Fox “fixations”—including immigration, “cancel culture,” and “wokeness”—in becoming an issue the network’s hosts focus on to “charge up their viewers and galvanize votes for the GOP.”
Of course, for years now, Carlson and others at Fox News have leapt at every opportunity to portray America under Joe Biden as a dystopia where not just presidents but common criminals break whatever laws they please without consequence, and where cities under Democratic rule are burning hotbeds of horrific crimes. The GOP midterm contenders are eating it up and spitting it out.
On his September 9 show, Carlson had on Blake Masters, the Republican looking to unseat Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly in Arizona, to discuss why Hispanic voters are purportedly flocking to the right. Masters, who recently burnished his anti-crime credentials by expressing admiration for the Unabomber (“He had a lot to say about the political left, about how they all have inferiority complexes and fundamentally hate anything like goodness, truth, beauty, justice”), offered this analysis:
Hispanic voters, like all commonsensical people, want law and order. They don’t want five million illegal aliens flooding here. But that’s what Joe Biden and Senator Mark Kelly have delivered—a wide open border, five million illegals. And so in our cities, you’ve got gang members attacking police, you’ve got car-jackings, armed robberies, home invasions. I mean, man, the choice that Arizona voters have in November could not be more clear: They can vote for me and get safe streets and a secure border, or, hey, if you really like the crime and chaos, and you want America to look more like El Salvador or Venezuela, Mark Kelly—he’s your guy.
“And he’ll patronize you too,” chimed in Carlson. “They’re masters at patronizing voters, particularly immigrant voters.” (Note: They are not the only Masters when it comes to this skill.)
As Carlson quizzed Masters, the Fox News banner at the bottom of the screen declared: “THE STABBINGS, BEHEADINGS AND KIDNAPPINGS WE NOW SEE IN BIDEN’S AMERICA RESEMBLE THIRD-WORLD VIOLENCE” and “SICK AND GRUESOME CRIMES NOW COMMON UNDER BIDEN.”
Subtlety is in short supply at Fox News.
Carlson, on his September 13 program, urged his audience to “imagine dystopia.” It’s easy if you try:
Dystopia is a world where the police will not protect you. They refuse. And at the same time, you are not allowed to protect yourself. So, who does that leave in charge? Who runs a world like that? Well, young men with guns. They’re in charge—the cruelest and most violent element of any society, the people with the least to lose, the shortest time horizons, the shallow reservoirs of impulse control. People like that have all the power.
You have no power and that means that everything you have is theirs.
Carlson told the story of a 30-year-old Chicago man named Ryan King, who was attacked by three men “in broad daylight.” One brandished a gun and demanded his wallet. King managed to elbow one of the men and run off. A few minutes later, Carlson says, “Chicago police spotted the gunman’s vehicle, but there was nothing they could do about it. Their supervisor ordered them not to pursue it, so the criminals just drove off and, of course, they committed more violent crimes.”
Carlson’s source for this last statement, a crime-focused news outlet called CWB Chicago, reported that a police supervisor “ordered units not to follow the car onto the expressway.” It also explained, as Carlson did not, that this was pursuant to the department policy meant to avoid high-speed chases of the sort that have caused numerous deaths and injuries (including the horrifying death of a mother of six) and forced the city to pay out millions of dollars to crash victims and their families. When Carlson asked King on air how he felt “as a person, as a citizen, as a taxpayer,” to hear that the cops were not allowed to “chase the criminals down,” King thoughtfully declined to comment, saying “I don’t know what the policies are for the Chicago Police Department. But what I do know is they’re doing the best that they can with the resources they have.”
Carlson, in his segment, went on to say there is “no mystery” why this explosion of crime, as evidenced by what happened to Ryan King, is occurring. He laid it out like a rug:
There are many threads, but George Soros is a big one. Soros paid for this to happen. Soros backed a prosecutor called Kim Foxx, who turns Chicago over to the most vicious people who live there. Not the decent, good people in all neighborhoods: the most vicious antisocial people, the ones who truly don’t care about others, who want to kill people for their shoes or their car. The worst people. And they run things now.
This is the tone and tenor of the Fox News/GOP messaging on crime: The streets are awash in blood, people are being beheaded and worse, and this is exactly what the Democrats have set out to accomplish. They want more crime because they love criminals, unlike the GOP, which has firmly planted its flag on the side of law and order—except for that dust-up last year at the Capitol.
Consider how Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson has framed the record of his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, on the issue of crime. On Sean Hannity’s September 14 Fox News show, Johnson explained that Barnes and Gov. Tony Evers had teamed up to release 15 percent of the state’s prison population, or 884 people, only 11 percent of whom were non-violent. That meant that 784 violent prisoners were released to prey on the Wisconsin public, including “270 criminals who either committed, mainly committed, or attempted murder” and “44 child rapists.”
Johnson said it was all part of “the Democrat plan . . . the radical left plan, I guess to reduce crime. It is insane. But that, of course, is what the left, left-wing politics is. It’s insane. It’s destructive to our country.” The Fox News banner read: “FROM CLIMATE ALARMISM TO WANTING TO CODDLE CRIMINALS, WISCONSIN’S MANDELA BARNES EMBRACES EXTREMISM.”
The numbers cited by Johnson were compiled by Wisconsin Right Now, a conservative news platform, based on parole data from 2019 through 2021. But the way things are set up in Wisconsin, the lieutenant governor has nothing to do with the parole commission, which is made up of a chair and three commissioners—two of whom were picked or recommended by state Republicans, including one person selected for the role by former governor Scott Walker. Because most violent criminals are eventually released, the numbers Johnson quoted to Hannity simply track the ordinary motions of the parole system.
The First Step Act, passed during the Trump administration with support from Republicans including Ron Johnson, was a more deliberate effort to reduce the nation’s world-leading prison population. With that program, too, it is possible to generate frightening numbers. In fact, Fox News did so, in Carlson’s breathless July 2019 report on how, of the 2,200 inmates released by that point under the act, 496 had committed weapons or explosives-related crimes, 239 were locked up for sex offenses including rape, 106 for armed robbery, and 59 for “aggravated assault or murder.”
Johnson’s support for this bill did not come up in his discussion with Hannity.
Gov. Evers, Barnes by his side, allocated $45 million in COVID-19 relief funds to violence prevention efforts and another $50 million to law enforcement. Barnes, in his campaign, has staked out such nonradical positions as touting prison education programs as a proven way to reduce recidivism and calling for greater investment in crime prevention. And he supports ending the use of cash bail as a condition of pretrial release so that, as he explains it, “dangerous criminals don’t get to buy their way out of jail.”
A new TV ad from the Republican Senate Leadership Fund frames it differently: “Mandela Barnes would eliminate cash bail, setting accused criminals free into the community before trial, even with shootings, robberies, carjackings, violent attacks on our police.”
This hammering away is working. The latest Marquette Poll shows that Johnson has eradicated Barnes’s lead, which poll director Charles Franklin chalks up to the boom in attack ads against Barnes, many of which portray him as soft on crime.
Curiously, U.S. crime rates are actually not surging out of control; overall crime is down significantly from the early 1990s. And while the nation did see a rise in violent crime beginning in 2020, when Donald Trump was president, other kinds of crime, including property theft, have fallen, according to a recent Brennan Center report. There are also some indications that the violent crime rate may be trending downwards this year amid pandemic pressures lifting and gun purchases declining.
“Despite politicized claims that this rise was the result of criminal justice reform in liberal-leaning jurisdictions, murders rose roughly equally in cities run by Republicans and cities run by Democrats [in 2020],” the report also found. “So-called ‘red’ states actually saw some of the highest murder rates of all.”
Somehow, this highly politicized issue is not entirely political. That’s probably not something you’ll hear on Fox News.