Tucker Carlson appearance at UNC journalism school prompts outcry

Tucker Carlson, host of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on Fox News, will speak at UNC on April 12.
Tucker Carlson, host of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on Fox News, will speak at UNC on April 12. AP

Fox News TV commentator Tucker Carlson will be the featured speaker in a distinguished lecture series at the UNC School of Media and Journalism in April – a choice that has drawn scorn on social media.

Alumni and others bombarded the school’s Twitter account with reaction to the announcement that the conservative Carlson, who hosts the primetime show “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on Fox News, would deliver the Roy H. Park Lecture on April 12.

“With so many journalists doing admirable work to discover and disseminate truth, you select an unabashed propagandist?” tweeted alumna Anna Hester. “This J-School alum is disappointed and ashamed. You can do better @UNCMJschool

“This makes me want to turn my diploma around to face the wall,” Leslie Cohig Gura chimed in.

Tracy Wade tweeted, “Shameful and embarrassing. @TuckerCarlson is not even ALMOST a journalist.”

The criticism comes at a time when ideological balance and free speech are hotly debated topics on U.S. campuses, including the passage of a campus free speech law by the state legislature and a new policy by the UNC Board of Governors. The policy calls for public universities to punish those who substantially disrupt campus speakers.

Since 1999, the journalism school has invited a media professional to give a free lecture at the school funded by the Triad Foundation of Ithaca, N.Y. It has “the goal of enriching the educational experience of undergraduate and graduate journalism students, and presenting speakers of interest to the campus and beyond,” the school’s website said.

The annual lecture has been dominated in recent years by speakers from politically conservative organizations and perspectives, including four Fox News representatives since 2012. The past six speakers have been: Chris Wallace, Fox News anchor; Brit Hume, senior political analyst at Fox News; Peggy Noonan, columnist for the Wall Street Journal; Dana Perino, Fox News host and former press secretary to President George W. Bush; Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute; and Roger Ailes, the late former CEO of Fox News who left the network after allegations of sexual harassment.

In announcing Carlson for the event, the school said: “Carlson burst on the broadcast scene with a reputation as conservatism’s bright young wit.” The school quoted Democratic commentator James Carville calling Carlson “one of the world’s great contrarians.”

Carlson previously hosted “The Spin Room” and “Crossfire” on CNN and “Tucker” on MSNBC. He has also been a columnist and recently signed a deal with Simon & Schuster to write two books. He has been a newspaper and magazine columnist and founded The Daily Caller, a conservative website, in 2010.

Critics contend Carlson has become a favorite of white nationalist groups, praised, for example, by a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

The outcry this week prompted UNC journalism faculty member John Robinson to write a blog post titled, “Tucker Carlson will speak at UNC-Chapel Hill, and everything will be all right.”

He writes that Carlson’s appearance is intellectually valuable and has something to teach to students about fact-checking, truth and bias.

Robinson, who calls himself a liberal, said Carlson wouldn’t have been his pick, writing that the pundit says “what I consider offensive, ugly and wrong-headed things. Often. (When the Daily Stormer praises you, you’ve got to be doing something wrong.)”

But, Robinson added: “Despite what Fox News commentators would like you to believe, students in the Journalism School aren’t snowflakes. They can handle ideas across the spectrum, and they need to know how to question them all.”

The lecture, at 11 a.m. at the Carolina Inn on April 12, is free and open to the public, but registration is required.

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559, @janestancill