On Dimples and Dog Whistles: Why Tucker Carlson Dehumanizes Michael Vick

Pundits, man your stations. It seems that the Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson yipped that Eagles quarterback Michael Vick should have been executed three years ago when convicted on dog-fighting charges.


Many are now getting hot and bothered expressing shock that Carlson would actually call for Vick's execution—a tad extreme even for Fox.


Frankly I was shocked that Carlson, humiliated so thoroughly by Jon Stewart the many years ago, still is on the air. The guy has been on more cancelled programs than Jennifer Love Hewitt.


In full, the paunchy, lipless, chinless, porcelain man-boy with the ubiquitous bow-tie said, "I'm a Christian, I've made mistakes myself, I believe fervently in second chances. But Michael Vick killed dogs, and he did in a heartless and cruel way. And I think, personally, he should've been executed for that."


I know it's hardly news for a Murdoch-owned right-wing shock jock to say something shocking. It's like receiving word of a celebrity sex tape. The thrill is gone. I am also well aware that in the current media set up, it's Carlson's job to say something utterly outrageous and the job of people like myself to respond. We make statements about Carlson's peculiar brand of blood-thirsty Christianity. Maybe we point out how easy it is for Carlson to call for the death of an African American athlete, always the low-hanging fruit for his race-baiting ilk.


We bat this particular ball back and forth like—as one writer once said to me—"two hookers working opposite sides of the street." The ensuing hot-house debate becomes an entertainment option for people soured on American Idol.


But there is actually a serious problem with this kind of 24 hour cable performance art when the subject is Michael Vick. It's that pesky entity pecking at the window of reality television known as "reality."


Dostoevsky said famously, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” By that standard, the United States exists in a barbaric state. Enter a prison—something I sincerely doubt Carlson has ever done—and you see the daily, dreary, reality for the 2.3 million people who live behind bars. In what's become the largest prison system on earth - take that China! - you see the herded poor stacked on top of one another. You see a world disproportionately black and brown with African American men six times as likely to go to prison as whites, with one in 9 black men between 20-34 living in a state of incarceration.


It's a country that through its addiction to privatized prisons and "tough on crime" legislation, has created what writer Michelle Alexander's calls "The New Jim Crow." In Alexander's book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness she details the way the prison system robs its present and past amd even future inhabitants of voting rights, citizenship, and any semblance of political power. She points that the United States now imprisons are higher percentage of black men than South Africa at the height of apartheid. As she writes, "Jarvious Cotton’s great-great-grandfather could not vote as a slave. His great-grandfather was beaten to death by the Klu Klux Klan for attempting to vote. His grandfather was prevented from voting by Klan intimidation; his father was barred by poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, Cotton cannot vote because he, like many black men in the United States, has been labeled a felon and is currently on parole."


Michael Vick, whether he likes it or not, is humanizing the struggle to find redemption after serving time in a maximum security prison. After all, if a star quarterback doing hours of community surface can't regain a foothold in society, who could? Tucker Carlson's efforts to dehumanize Vick and paint him as a disposable, killable individual, cuts in a way that transcends the idiocy of Murdoch's 50 state southern strategy of dimples and dog whistles. I'd love for Carlson to spend even a week in Leavenworth and then make an effort to rebuild his nerfy little life. Then we'd see how a man without callouses could be so callous. This is why Michael Vick's story matters, and really another example—as if more were needed—of how Fox News has become a cancerous boil on the political soul of this country.


[Dave Zirin is the author of “Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games we Love” (Scribner) and just made the new documentary “Not Just a Game.” Receive his column every week by emailing dave@edgeofsports.com. Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com.]

11 Reader Comments | Add a comment

Thank you ...

... for being the consistent voice of reason in a, at times, very hegemonic sports media world.

Matthew 25

Dostoevsky , of course, is merely echoing the "social justice" sentiments of Jesus. Sentiments despised by the Glen Beck's Christian right:

Matthew 25
42For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:

43I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

45Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

46And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

community surface?

i want to surface your mouth with the tip of my wang. penis.

Another great piece and some more on TC

Dave once again you seem to be a fresh breeze when it comes to white guys talking race and/or the media talking race. First off white guys love to talk race as though there is no privilege in being white. I think your writings recognize this truth well. Second, the media loves to find a black and a white guy so that they can fight over race without ever questioning the inherent power differentials within the american race debate.

Furthermore let's examine Mr. Carlson's views on democracy. He has a nice part in the ShowTime Doc (thus hard to get a clip) called Poliwood. In it he says that politics is not for the every day citizen and that it should be left to the elite to run the country. No joke he says this shit...

A Vicksing Hypothetical

Suppose you are a devout PETA enthusiast and your football-loving son for his birthday wants a Michael Vick Jersey. What do you do?

"...nerfy little life..." indeed! (re Tucker Carlson)

I've never been a fan of Michael Vick; mostly because IMO he was a selfish a-hole before all this stuff with the dogs; and still is a selfish a-hole after serving his time. He hasn't changed much in that regard.

That said, Tucker Carlson is a D-I-L-D-O.

Back in March 2004, Carlson did an article for Esquire magazine depicting mercenaries in Iraq, and at one point he posed among with them for a photo. Even with all the military paraphernalia, including an AK-47 in his hands, it was easy to spot the odd man out.

Seems to me. . .

. . .that Tucker Carlson is still hurting and whining over the fact that Jon Stewart brutally beat him down on CNN's Crossfire all these years ago. Didn't last much longer at CNN, and he's bounced around since then. And how long he'll last at Fox is anyone's guess. We, of course, shall see.

Nice job

Would have liked to have read, in addition to this great takedown of Sean Hannity's mini-me, what your take on Obama's insertion into this situation? I for one and proud of the president for sending that message. The prisons are a mess.

vick, shmick

my story of the year? the lost dogs by jim gorant.

carlson sucks, but vick deserves nothing but misery.

debt paid? to human society perhaps. but to the animal world, the dude remains morally bankrupt.

Great Plug

I can't say enough about Michelle Alexander's book. It clinically destroys every argument against racism in American politics, police and prisons in a way that is compassionate and unyielding. Thanks so much for posting about it here.

The New JIm Crow. Another thumbs up!

Most of us don't get it --but we need to! Our heads are full of a lot of stuff about our criminal justice system being fundamentally fair and no more racist in its operation than any other institution. Yet we now jail a quarter of all the world's prisoners and in some urban communities as many as eight in ten black males are either behind bars or on parole. Why?
Please take this opportunity to read Ms. Alexander's book as she details how today's mass incarceration is the "colorblind" version of the brutal system of racial control reaching us from the grave of slavery.

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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