Book bans. The widening war in the Middle East. TikTok employees say they worked for bosses in Beijing. The Free Press’s first rodeo. And more.
Tucker Carlson interviews Munther Isaac. (@TCNetwork/X)

Tucker Carlson’s Turn. A Stabbing in Sydney. Plus. . .

Book bans. The widening war in the Middle East. TikTok employees say they worked for bosses in Beijing. The Free Press’s first rodeo. And more.

Today from The Free Press: A second stabbing shocks Australia. James Fishback reports the truth behind America’s record number of “banned” books. But first, our lead story: What happened to Tucker Carlson?

During the pandemic, Eli Lake became a fan of Tucker Carlson. Not because he agreed with everything the Fox host said—not by a long shot. But because he was a refreshingly straight-talking alternative to others in the media who told half-truths, if not outright lies, about topics like Covid lockdowns and crime. Then Fox fired him and, as Eli reports, Tucker gradually became untethered from reality. 

Now Tucker is persuading parts of the American right to abandon its justified contempt for foreign tyrants, terrorists, and cranks. Why?

Here’s Eli:

Tucker Carlson’s Turn

Tucker Carlson wasn’t always right. He has always had a conspiratorial side, indulging half-baked theories that the CIA murdered John F. Kennedy and the FBI may have set up the January 6 rioters. His foreign policy views are naive and nativist. Whenever Tucker talked about neoconservatives or Vladimir Putin, I tuned him out. But when the rest of cable news insisted the arson and looting of 2020 consisted of “mostly peaceful” protests, I was willing to overlook Tucker’s mistakes and focus on what he was getting right. 

Then, one year ago this month, Tucker was ousted by Fox. The ostensible reason stemmed from the civil lawsuits the network had to settle regarding Trump’s claims that the 2020 election was stolen. Tucker was better than other hosts on that allegation at the time, challenging the claims of Trump election lawyer Sidney Powell that millions of votes were deliberately not counted. He did this on-air when it mattered, in late 2020, though he later indulged his audience’s desire to believe the election was a sham.

But when I tuned in last June to watch Tucker’s new show on X, it became apparent that Fox had kept him tethered to reality. Without a strong editor or producer at the wheel, his skepticism has curdled into sophistry. And he is now platforming conspiracy theorists, allowing them to spout falsehoods while never challenging the veracity of their claims.


Ten Stories We’re Reading 

  1. Trump’s day in court commenced with jury selection and quibbles over whether he’ll be able to attend his son Barron’s high school graduation. And, if you missed it over the weekend, we recommend watching Trump’s profound, slightly stoned thoughts on the meaning of Gettysburg. Must be seen to be believed. (ABC)

  2. Though Iran’s attack on Israel left the country mostly undamaged, Israel shouldn’t just “take the win,” as Joe Biden advocated, argues Walter Russell Mead. “It would be political suicide for Mr. Netanyahu to take the president’s advice, and it would be national suicide for any Israeli prime minister to do so.” (WSJ

  3. Ukraine’s attacks on Russian oil refineries deepen tensions with the U.S. Washington believes the tactic will raise global energy prices and invite more aggressive Russian retaliation. (Washington Post)

  4. Sextortion scams are driving teen boys to suicide. “One word from a stranger on social media was all it took.” (Bloomberg)

  5. Gavin Newsom “fashioned himself as a kind of presidential super-surrogate,” writes Mark Leibovich in his dishy new profile of the California governor. “But being a super-surrogate requires performative humility. . . not something that comes naturally to Newsom.” (The Atlantic)

  6. Biden has been promising action on the border crisis for weeks—but there’s still no sign of his executive order. What explains the delay? (Axios)

  7. FBI agents are searching the ship that crashed into Baltimore’s Key Bridge, suggesting a criminal probe into the collapse has now begun. (NPR)

  8. Anti-Israel protesters blocked the road to Chicago’s O’Hare airport and Seattle’s airport on Monday, forcing travelers to drag their suitcases along the highway to catch their flights. Protesters also blocked the Golden Gate Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge. (ABC)

  9. We were promised flying cars. . . and maybe we’re actually going to get them. (New Yorker)

  10. Chinese runner He Jie clinched victory in the Beijing Half Marathon Sunday after three African runners appeared to slow down right before the finish line. (CNN

LISTEN: Michael Oren on what comes next in the Middle East 

On the latest episode of Honestly, Michael Moynihan spoke to the historian and former Israeli ambassador Michael Oren about the fallout from Iran’s unprecedented attack on Israel, including how Israel might respond. 

Listen here: 

On our radar. . . 

A terrorist attack shocks Australia: On Monday night in Sydney, an Orthodox Christian bishop was giving a service at a suburban church when a man in a hoodie approached the altar, wielding a knife. The man stabbed the cleric as parishioners screamed, fleeing for cover. A video of the attack, caught by the church’s livestream, is horrifying to watch. Four people were wounded, including Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel of Christ the Good Shepherd Church, reportedly known as the “TikTok Bishop” for his active social media presence. A 15-year-old teenager, who has not been identified, is now in custody. The Australian police have described the event as a “terrorist incident.” In another video, according to Reuters, the suspect was being pinned to the ground by others, as he says in Arabic: “If they didn’t insult my prophet, I wouldn’t have come here. If he didn’t involve himself in my religion, I would not have come here.” 

The church attack comes just two days after another knifeman rampaged through a Sydney mall, killing six people, including a woman who handed off her 9-month-old baby before she succumbed to her injuries. (The baby was also stabbed and remains in the hospital.) The assailant, who was shot dead, was identified as Joel Cauchi, a 40-year-old teacher turned male escort. In this case, it had nothing to do with Islamism. According to his father, Cauchi was a “very sick boy” and that “He wanted a girlfriend and he’s got no social skills.” Police said the attack was “related to the mental health issues of the individual involved.” 

Georgio Racheh, 28, who knows people in the bishop’s flock and lives close to the mall where the murder spree happened, told The Wall Street Journal the two attacks next to each other were upsetting. “At the end of the day, we are all Australian, and we’ve come to Australia for a reason: to embrace the Australian culture and to enjoy Australia for what it is,” Racheh said. “People need to put their differences aside and realize there is more to life than holding grudges.”

→ TikTokers say their bosses were in Beijing: Ex-TikTok employees say the social media platform worked closely with its China-based parent company despite claims of independence. One data scientist even says he was assigned a U.S.-based manager on paper but reported to a Beijing-based ByteDance executive. Evan Turner alleges that TikTok concealed the involvement of the parent company while he worked there and that there was a “stealth chain of command” that contradicted assurances made by TikTok executives to U.S. lawmakers and regulators. Excellent scoop from Fortune; read the whole thing.

And ICYMI, watch our debate on banning TikTok between Walter Kirn and Geoffrey Cain.

When a Book Ban Isn’t a Book Ban 

A new report claims record numbers of books are being censored. James Fishback says that there’s more to the story. 

Last week the American Library Association (ALA) published its annual list of the “Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2023,” claiming there is more censorship than ever on library shelves. 

According to the ALA report, 4,240 titles were “targeted for bans” in schools and libraries last year, a record high and up 65 percent from the previous year.

But to reach these alarming findings, the ALA has distorted the facts. The ALA paints a picture of widespread censorship using a broad and misleading definition of “targeted” books. “Targeting” a book can mean any of the following:

  1. “Moving a book in the. . . young adults section to the adult section.” 

In other words, ensuring that students are exposed to books that are age appropriate.

  1. “Placing restrictions like parental consent rules on the book.” 

Simply put, this means offering a parental opt-in, ensuring that parents have a say when their children want to check out a book that isn’t age appropriate.

3. “Taking the book out of the library altogether.”

This means removing a book that is deemed inappropriate from a taxpayer-funded library.

To frame all of this as a kind of censorship, or a ban, is dishonest. 

And what is it that these parents are objecting to? The ALA’s own press release states that Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe—number 1 on its list—is “banned” because of “LGBTQIA+ content,” but parents and school board members tell me their concerns have nothing to do with the book’s “queer” author or characters and everything to do with its explicit sexual content, including the graphic sketches of oral sex found on page 167, something the ALA doesn’t acknowledge or address.

This is plainly inappropriate for children. The book’s stated reading age is “18 years and up” on Amazon, and 15 at Barnes and Noble.  

According to the ALA, This Book is Gay—number 3 on the list—is also being targeted because of its “LGBTQIA+ content,” yet their list neglects to tell the full story: in addition to a chapter entitled “The Ins and Outs of Gay Sex,” the book explains how to upload photos to adult sex apps (pg. 156).

Again, is this really appropriate for children? Schools rightly restrict access to websites that feature this kind of content. Why should books be any different? Such steps should be uncontroversial, but instead the ALA wants to use them as evidence of anti-LGBTQ censorship sweeping across America. 

Doing so isn’t just misleading; it’s a smear against parents who are rightly concerned about inappropriate content their children are exposed to at school. 

And finally. . . which liberal policies are popular at the rodeo? Ben Kawaller investigates. 

Watch more of Ben’s visit to Arlington, Texas, and his first rodeo here

Oliver Wiseman is a writer and editor for The Free Press. Follow him on X @ollywiseman.

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