Tucker Carlson accidentally helped raise $14,000 for abortion rights

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Hours after the fall of the Supreme Court Roe v. calf On Friday, Tucker Carlson took to the airwaves to rail against companies that would cover travel expenses for employees to have abortions. “They are against families,” the Fox News host said of the companies on Tucker Carlson Tonight.

But when Carlson made his comment, an image from his show was actually being used for an entirely different purpose: raising money for groups making abortions easier.

Anonymous online bidders in the digital space known as web3 bid thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency for an NFT consisting of a screen shot of Carlson on last year’s show advocating body autonomy for coronavirus vaccines. The NFT would sell for 12 eth — about $14,500 — with creator Jenny Holzer on Saturday, saying she will give the money she makes from the sale to groups like Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the in DC-based advocacy group will donate to PAI.

(An NFT, or non-fungible token, is a digital image uniquely embossed on its creator. Eth is the name for a popular cryptocurrency connected to the Ethereum blockchain on which many NFTs live.)

The move underscores web3’s free-roaming nature, which mixes wild cash injections with loose standards of creative ownership. It’s also one of the strangest acts of inadvertent philanthropy — activists outraged that the court has ousted Roe, who was raising money on the back of someone who vigorously challenged the 1973 ruling. Carlson called last week roe “the most embarrassing court decision of the last century” and a “universally accepted joke”.

However, in his May 11, 2021 program, Carlson spoke with Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) about Johnson’s decision not to receive a coronavirus vaccine. As Carlson Johnson agreed – “Of course; It’s your body, your choice, as we’ve been hearing for almost 50 years,” the Fox News host said – a chyron showing the message of body autonomy. “Making a conscious choice about your own body shouldn’t be controversial,” reads the text at the bottom of the screen.

A Planned Parenthood in Florida quickly noticed the parallels of the chyron to abortion law. These echoes also struck a chord with a DC-based communications strategist named Gillian Branstetter, who also noted some similarities to Holzer’s work. A skilled artist, Holzer is known for combining text and imagery to make political points. In the 1970s, she created the series Truisms, which made art from messages like “abuse of power comes as no surprise,” which she then broadcast in lights across Times Square.

Shortly thereafter, Branstetter took the picture of Carlson, Johnson and the Chyron and added the message, “This is like a Jenny Holzer installation or something, right?” and tweeted it to her tens of thousands of followers. Holzer then came up with the idea of ​​turning Branstetter’s tweet into an NFT and flipping after news of the court’s draft judgment roe broke down that spring and decided to sell it when the verdict came down.

“I admit that I have a lot of ignorance about NFTs in general, but I was happy to give permission for this work to help raise some much-needed funds for abortion access,” Branstetter said via a Twitter DM on Monday the Washington Post. Branstetter is a communications strategist at the ACLU, but emphasized that she carried out this action as a private individual, independently of her employer. Branstetter’s deal with Holzer sees her receiving 15 percent of any money the artist receives from the sale, and she says she will donate everything to the DC Abortion Fund.

In a phone interview, Branstetter said she remains baffled at how digital commentary could be so efficiently converted into meaningful fundraising.

“Don’t ask me to explain how my tweet turned into almost $15,000 for abortion rights,” she said.

Holzer did not immediately respond to a request for comment on The Post made through her studio. In a statement announcing the sale, she explained her reasons for the NFT. “Although the headline should be read as an anti-vaccine remark, the words could also be a pro-choice statement,” she wrote of the chyron.

A Fox News spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the station and Carlson.

Holzer put the NFT up for auction at around 12:30 p.m. on Friday, shortly after the decision was made Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization came down. She listed it at half an eth, or about $600. Within six hours, a quartet of bidders had raised the price to almost $13,000 before the bid was accepted around noon on Saturday.

The sale on the Foundation NFT website listed an anonymous cryptocurrency address as the buyer. The Post located a Twitter account who claimed last November that he owned the address; the Account, the tweeted about the Holzer auction on Friday, saying she’s part of a group called PleasrDAO, which bills itself as “a collective of DeFi leaders, early NFT collectors, and digital artists who have an impressive but benevolent reputation for the… Acquiring culturally significant pieces with a charitable twist.” (DeFi refers to decentralized finance, the term used for financial transactions in web3.)

Despite the sale, who actually owns the NFT is a complicated question, legal experts say. The NFT was created by Holzer from a screen capture by Branstetter, but the image shows Carlson appearing on a Fox-owned show.

“I think it would boil down to a fair use argument, and both Fox and the NFT creators could make arguments,” said Darren Heitner, a Florida-based intellectual property attorney with extensive experience in this new digital space. “But I would probably agree with the Fox side that this isn’t fair use because the NFT isn’t really transformative and it’s definitely a commercial use,” he said, citing two of the legal criteria that would prohibit the use.

He said an interesting question asked by NFTs, which are often resold, is whether Fox could theoretically obtain an injunction that would prevent the Carlson NFT from being sold again. “This is a really new area of ​​law and I don’t think we’ve worked out a lot of the details yet,” he said.

Meanwhile, NFT backers were less interested in delving into these details and more interested in getting their abortion rights message out.

“Physical autonomy and self-determination can be burdensome, but privacy and health are pillars of the reproductive women’s rights movement,” Holzer wrote on Instagram. “Social health is the goal. We must protect the rights of individuals that protect the health of society.”

Jeremy B. Merrill contributed to this report.