Fox's Carlson stunned by reaction to stories on South Africa

FILE - In this March 2, 2017, file photo, Tucker Carlson, host of "Tucker Carlson Tonight," poses for photos in a Fox News Channel studio in New York. Carlson says he's shocked his segments this week on a South African policy on land reform should be considered an appeal to white nationalists - let alone spark an international incident. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Fox News host Tucker Carlson said Friday he's shocked his segments this week on a South African land reform policy should be considered an appeal to white nationalists — let alone spark an international incident.

Carlson argued against a proposal that would allow the South African government to seize some white-owned agricultural land, part of an effort to address inequities left over from apartheid. Whites own more than 70 percent of such farmland despite being about 8 percent of the population.

Two hours after Carlson reported on it, a prominent viewer — Republican President Donald Trump — tweeted that he asked the secretary of state to look into the issue.

The South African government then lashed out at Trump, condemning his tweet as racially polarizing.

"The government of South Africa wishes to caution against alarmist, false, inaccurate and misinformed, as well as - in some cases - politically motivated statements that do not reflect the policies and intentions of the South African government," the government's statement said.

"This is not an appeal to a racial group," Carlson said in an interview on Friday. "This is an appeal to universal principles that protect all racial groups that are true regardless of people's color. We don't mete out justice based on what people look like."

Carlson has become an influential figure at Fox News Channel, his success in prime-time allowing the network to absorb the loss of Bill O'Reilly following sexual misconduct charges. The media veteran, who worked at CNN and MSNBC and started the conservative website The Daily Caller, was the second most-watched figure in cable news behind colleague Sean Hannity in July.

The South African segments, though, are a reminder that his popularity extends to some white nationalists, where figures like David Duke and the website The Daily Stormer have praised his work. He's aired repeated segments critical of immigration and multiculturalism, for instance.

One critic, Carlos Maza of the Vox website, said white nationalists applaud Carlson "not because they think he's one of them, but because as long as he's teaching audiences to view differences as dangerous, he's making their job easier."

More harshly, the Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple dubs his show "White Grievance Tonight."

Asked about the support of these groups, Carlson said, "Joseph Stalin loved his daughter. I love my daughters. Does that make me a Stalinist? That's such a stupid question I don't know what to say.

"I don't know anything about these groups," he said. "I've never had any contact with them or read any of their stuff. I have no idea what they think."

He said he doesn't believe anyone should be rewarded or punished based upon characteristics they can't control, and pointed out that his show Thursday had a segment critical of China for mistreating Muslims.

"It's an argument against tribalism," he said.

In his initial segment on Wednesday, Carlson falsely said that South African President Cyril Ramaphosa had "changed the country's constitution to make it possible to steal land from people because they are the wrong skin color." He also said that the government had begun seizing land from people without compensation. A night later, Carlson corrected those statements without admitting error. He noted that the proposed constitutional change was being debated in parliament. No land has yet been seized, although Carlson said the government was trying to confiscate two game farms.

Trump's tweet referred to "the large scale killing of farmers." That's been a story spread among some white nationalists, although South Africa officially attributes deaths among farmers to the country's high crime rate.

Carlson's two stories on the subject this week did not mention the killing of farmers. He said it was because of a dispute over some of the statistics involved.

In editorializing against Trump's tweet, The New York Times criticized Carlson's "grossly one-sided report."

Carlson said he had not spoken to the White House before the tweet, and hasn't since.

"It's confusing to me why it's considered controversial to say that it's wrong to mete out group punishment on the basis of ethnicity," Carlson said. "It doesn't matter who it's happening to. It's just wrong. I don't know why many of our journalists defend that. It says a lot about them and it's upsetting."

Earlier this week, Carlson got into a social media tussle with CNN's Andrew Kaczynski over a story about Darren Beattie, a Trump administration speechwriter who lost his job when CNN inquired about him speaking at a 2016 conference attended by some prominent white nationalists.

Carlson tweeted that CNN "hounded this guy out of a job" for giving a speech that had nothing to do with race. Kaczynski said Carlson's tweet was dishonest. The network asked the White House for comment on Beattie speaking at this conference, and never wrote about what he said in the speech.

Also this summer, Fox News' Laura Ingraham was criticized for saying on a segment about immigration on her show that there are massive demographic changes taking place in the United States "that none of us ever voted for and most of us don't like." She later disavowed the support of white nationalists for what she said.

Fox News Channel's prime-time audience is 91 percent white, according to the Nielsen company. It's 69 percent white at MSNBC and 57 percent at CNN.