Ryan-Carlson exchange highlights questions, passion

Fox News host Tucker Carlson has a way of bringing out the worst — or best, depending on how you look at it — in people.

Carlson, the Fox News host of the nightly show that examines political issues of the day, is known for not only asking the hard questions that good journalists aren’t afraid to ask, but also riling up his guests by arguing with them and making matter-of-fact statements like, “That’s not true.”

When appearing on the show last week, U.S. Rep. Timothy J. Ryan, D-Howland, and Carlson got into such a heated exchange that Carlson ended the conversation by cutting off Ryan’s mic as he wagged his finger at Carlson.

Ryan came on the show Tuesday to talk about his decision to leave open his congressional guest seat during the State of the Union address to draw attention to the plight of Youngstown businessman Amer Adi, deported in recent days to Jordan. Ryan had been fighting unsuccessfully to head off the deportation and now was using the empty seat to generate publicity.

In a statement released prior to the State of the Union address, Ryan said Adi “no longer resides in the country he’s called home for 39 years because the Trump Administration decided to target upstanding individuals — Americans in every sense of the word — instead of violent criminals who actually pose a threat.”

While local media, including the Tribune Chronicle, have covered the deportation well, Ryan probably saw an appearance on Carlson’s show as an opportunity to draw national media attention.

Carlson, however, goaded Ryan with an apples-to-oranges comparison, instigating a heated exchange over why Ryan had chosen to use his open seat to honor a deported immigrant rather than those who have died from the opioid crisis.

“I have spent more time on the opiate epidemic in my career than you have ever, and I’m not taking a back seat to you or anyone else on the opiate epidemic,” Ryan shot back. “You tell your president and your party to fund the damn bills we try to put forth to make sure that these people can get treatment.”

The truth is, there are countless important topics that could have been the focus of Ryan’s stunt. Immigration is a hot topic right now, and Ryan saw this as an opportunity to put a face on it.

Many residents have questioned why Ryan has gone out of his way to aid and fight the deportation of an illegal immigrant — many using this page. That’s a logical question. Ryan’s justification is that he believes Adi was not a violent criminal who was deported before he had his day in court.

Likewise, Carlson’s demand for answers from his guests often are legitimate. As a journalist, I often watch Carlson’s interviews and marvel at the twists and turns of his line of questioning and demand for answers without letting his guests get off the hook when they don’t answer to his satisfaction. At times it can be quite entertaining.

But the debate that came with Carlson’s launch into the opioid crisis — albeit a serious issue, but unrelated to the message that Ryan had been attempting to send with the empty State of the Union seat — seems to me unfair and an obvious attempt to provoke the angry reaction he got from Ryan. If Carlson disagreed with Ryan’s immigration stance, then why not just demand that he explain it? Why muddy the discussion by bringing in the unrelated opioid issue?

Ryan responded with outrage at the goading, and while I have no doubt the reaction pleased Carlson, it also was refreshing to see Ryan respond with such great passion.

If nothing else, Ryan’s response demonstrated what I see as genuine passion and anger — qualities that we as Americans deserve to see in all our elected officials, whether we agree with their positions or not.