2022 Excellence in Visual Digital Storytelling, Large Newsroom winner

Inside the Apocalyptic Worldview of ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight’

About the Project

Night after night, “Tucker Carlson Tonight” pushes extremist ideas and conspiracy theories into millions of households. Tucker Carlson has done this since the beginning of the show, but it has gotten darker, repeatedly echoing the language of white nationalists and other extremist groups.

This was proven by a group of Times journalists who spent nearly a year watching or reading transcripts of all 1,150 episodes of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” from the show’s inception in November 2016 through the end of 2021.

Mr. Carlson has been covered extensively by many news organizations as he filled a void on the right after President Donald Trump left office. The Times’s unprecedented reporting allowed it to publish a groundbreaking analysis of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” — the most watched show on prime time cable news — that revealed the patterns of the show’s discourse.

The project took readers on a journey into the worldview that Mr. Carlson paints for his more than three million nightly viewers. In show after show, the Times analysis found that Mr. Carlson often pits the “ruling class” (what he often refers to as “they”) against “you,” his viewers — the Fox News audience is mostly white and older. “They” threaten everything “you” believe in, he says.

The story was designed as a “tap story,” allowing readers to tap through slides at their own pace. Each slide features a video, a chart or a paragraph of contextual text. The text was written to bolster the visuals, which often speak for themselves. Sometimes, videos come to life from data points on a chart.

The video clips were grouped into the main themes of the show, and included the date on which the clip appeared. Many of these clips were also supplemented with a chart that shows in which specific shows Mr. Carlson highlighted an idea.

For example, during a well-known episode in April 2021, Mr. Carlson promoted a racist conspiracy theory that Democrats are forcing demographic change through immigration. The investigation revealed, however, that it was far from the first time that he had done so. In fact, he had amplified the replacement theory in more than 400 episodes since 2016.

The foundation of our piece is a comprehensive database created by the Times team of recurring themes in the show as well as detailed documentation of language used by Mr. Carlson. For each show, The Times categorized the concepts he pushed and recorded the amount of time he spent on each idea.

Every guest who appeared on the show was also counted, along with whether he or she agreed or disagreed with Mr. Tucker. The amount of time that Mr. Carlson spent speaking directly into the camera, uninterrupted, was also recorded.

The analysis also found that Mr. Carlson consistently framed news events to the show’s central worldview of “them” versus “you.” Over time, the show format also became more direct and potent, becoming an echo chamber for Mr. Carlson’s narrative.

Judges Comments

An excellent investigation and visually-driven presentation. It’s difficult to tell a story that amounts to death by a thousand cuts, but the use of Carlson’s own words and clips to demonstrate the overarching narratives of his yearslong project made this a stunning and propulsive entry.