In a USA Today opinion piece published Monday, columnist Steven Petrow calls on Fox News to fire host Tucker Carlson, after blaming the conservative news personality for an uncomfortable “run-in” with a stranger who ridiculed his unnecessary outdoor mask wearing.
The essay, titled “Fox News should fire Tucker Carlson before his bullying on masks gets someone killed,” begins by stating that Carlson is taking a deadly risk with his “dangerous rhetoric” that resembles former President Trump’s “inflammatory speech” before the January Capitol Hill riot.
“His dangerous rhetoric sounds like Trump’s inflammatory speech before the Jan. 6 insurrection,” he writes. “That turned deadly. Carlson is taking the same risk.”
Petrow writes that Fox News is “courting death and danger by giving Tucker Carlson a platform to incite strangers to confront and harass mask wearers,” before sharing a personal experience of his.
Despite there being no requirement in Florida to wear masks outdoors, Petrow, while visiting Miami, writes that he kept his on anyhow during an early morning walk.
“Coming from North Carolina, where masks were still required in public, I had mine on,” he writes. “I understood there’s no such requirement in Florida, where folks are free to wear — or not wear — a mask outdoors.”
Shortly thereafter, he claims, a stranger approached him and insulted him for wearing his mask outdoors.
“About 15 minutes into my walk, a stranger on a bicycle, coming from the opposite direction, slowed down as he approached,” he writes. “I thought maybe he knew me but instead he shouted: ‘You got a mask on? Yeah, I got a (expletive) mask. You want me to shove it down your throat?’”
During the incident, Petrow describes being both startled and frightened.
“Not only was I startled, but for a moment I was afraid of this person’s out-of-the-blue and incendiary rage,” he writes.
He then explains that he wore his mask mainly “to protect others,” despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) “revised guidance that allows us to forsake our masks outdoors.”
He also adds that continuing to wear masks outdoors can help protect people from “other viruses” such as the cold or flu, and that it’s hard or inconvenient to shed habits, even if they are recently formed.
Days later, after Carlson stated on his eponymous show that if strangers can demand that those without masks wear them outdoors, then those with masks can be asked politely to remove them as well, Petrow believed he found the culprit for his earlier interaction.
“Carlson used his primetime bully pulpit to urge his millions of viewers to confront strangers — like me — who choose to wear masks in public (and even to call 911 if they see kids wearing a mask),” he writes.
Petrow, who describes Carlson’s program as “regularly riddled with falsehoods,” then attacks Carlson for portraying mask wearing as a “sign of political obedience” and those who wear them outdoors as “zealots and neurotics.”
He also accuses Carlson of hypocrisy for having acknowledged — over a year ago — that masks work.
“Once upon a time, Carlson himself acknowledged that masks work,” Petrow writes. “‘Everyone knows that,’ [Carlson] said on air last spring. ‘Dozens of research papers have proved it.’”
Writing that Carlson is “dead wrong about his latest facts,” Petrow claims that the Fox News host is “continuing the politicization of masks as a blue state/red state issue” and “claiming they turn ‘citizens into drones,’” while “purposely” not calling for his viewers to “get vaccinated.”
“Does [Carlson] have a death wish — for the rest of us?” Petrow asks.
Claiming that Carlson is “firing up his base,” Petrow says that what truly worries him is that Carlson’s “dangerous rhetoric is inciting viewers,” such as the man who “accosted” him, giving them “additional license to challenge and confront” strangers.
He then claims that he was, in fact, “lucky” that he was not physically attacked like an older woman was last summer.
“In her statement to police, the woman said she was struck in the face with a closed fist and knocked to the ground,” he writes. “She also claimed the assailants told her, ‘Maybe you would not be so ugly if you would take that mask off!’ and ‘Democrats are baby rapists! Joe Biden is a baby rapist, too!’”
The August incident involved a 64-year-old woman in Little Rock, Arkansas, who recalled suggesting her alleged assailants put on a mask. When giving her statement to police, she claimed the incident happened so fast that she was unable to provide accurate details. She also denied medical attention multiple times.
As for Carlson’s “even more ridiculous suggestion that strangers call 911 or Child Protective Services if they see a kid wearing a mask,” Petrow offers the following advice:
“Mind your own business and think about turning off ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight,’ tonight and every night,” he writes.
“Fox News should fire him before his dangerous rhetoric turns deadly, exactly the way Trump’s did on Jan. 6.,” he concludes.
Carlson has been vocal about his opposition to mandatory mask wearing outdoors.
“The idea that people were being told, being forced to wear masks outside should shock us,” he said last Monday. “There was never any meaningful risk of mass transmission outdoors.”
The Fox News host himself alluded to the risks of speaking out against unnecessary mask wearing on the very show Petrow references.
“People need fresh air, especially children. Deprive them of fresh air and you hurt them. You knew that. We all knew that. It is obvious,” he said. “And perhaps because it is so obvious, anyone who says it out loud is at risk of being fired for saying it out loud.”
Follow Joshua Klein on Twitter @JoshuaKlein.