From maternity flight suits to diversity policies to Ukraine aid, the military was a favorite punching bag for Tucker Carlson. Now that he’s off the air, some Pentagon officials are quietly cheering his departure.
Carlson’s criticism of Biden-era personnel policies appealed to many of the rank-and-file, which has a large bloc of conservative members. But at the upper levels of the Defense Department, news of Carlson’s firing from Fox News on Monday was met with delight and outright glee in some corners.
“We’re a better country without him bagging on our military every night in front of hundreds of thousands of people,” said one senior DoD official, who like others interviewed for this story was granted anonymity to discuss a politically sensitive topic.
“Good riddance,” said a second DoD official.
Asked to respond to the news that DoD officials are pleased by his departure from Fox, Carlson responded by text message: “Ha! I’m sure.” He declined to comment further.
The tension between the former cable host and Pentagon leadership isn’t new. Carlson drew the ire of top DoD officials early in the Biden administration for personal attacks on a number of military leaders, as well as ridiculing the armed forces’ efforts to increase diversity. A slew of conservative leaders quickly followed Carlson’s lead, giving rise to a small but vocal minority that to this day continues to hammer DoD officials, saying they’re focusing personnel policies at the expense of preparing for war. The Pentagon says only a small percentage of troops’ time is spent on diversity training.
Most memorably, Carlson’s remarks disparaging female service members in March 2021 prompted a rare rebuke from then-Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby.
After President Joe Biden announced new efforts to recruit and keep women in the service — including designing new body armor, updating requirements for hairstyles and the nominations of two female generals to become combatant commanders — at a White House ceremony, Carlson accused the commander in chief of making a “mockery” of the troops.
“So, we’ve got new hairstyles and maternity flight suits. Pregnant women are going to fight our wars. It’s a mockery of the U.S. military,” he said.
In response, Kirby took a rare swipe at the Fox News host.
“What we absolutely won’t do is take personnel advice from a talk show host or the Chinese military,” Kirby said during a briefing with reporters, adding that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin “shares the revulsion” of others who criticized Carlson’s remarks.
The comments yielded another rarity: The Pentagon’s in-house news service published an article focused entirely on the dust-up: “Press Secretary Smites Host That Dissed Diversity in U.S. Military.”
Kirby, who is now the top spokesperson for the National Security Council at the White House, declined to comment for this story.
The Fox News host targeted the Air Force in particular, calling Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, then-commander of Air Education and Training Command, a “doughy moron” for updating pilot tests to address systemic racism. He also mocked Maj. Gen. Ed Thomas, head of the Air Force’s recruiting office, for arguing that the service’s pilot force needs to become more diverse.
Carlson “made a mockery” of the free press and “repeatedly cherry-picked department policies and used them to destroy DoD as an institution,” said the first senior DoD official.
One general who clashed with Carlson on social media during the episode, Maj. Gen. Patrick Donahoe, had his retirement delayed for several months while the Army conducted a probe of the exchanges.
While several military leaders sent messages in support of women in the services without naming Carlson, Donahoe tweeted that the host “couldn’t be more wrong.” That prompted Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to send a letter to Austin accusing Donahoe and other military leaders of expressing partisan views.
Joe Gould contributed to this report.
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