This story was originally published by BuzzFeed News.
Katherine Abughazaleh, better known to her fans as Kat Abu, was glowing.
It was Monday afternoon, about five hours after Fox News made the shocking announcement that its flagship host, right-wing superstar Tucker Carlson, was leaving the network, and she was making no attempt to hide her glee as we talked over video chat. “I’ve been very joyful today,” she said. “I feel like everyone’s just having a fun day.”
For the past two years, Carlson and his show have been a huge part of her life. The Washington, DC–based Abughazaleh is a senior video producer for Media Matters for America, a not-for-profit media watchdog group, and her job requires her to tune into Fox News’s primetime hours every weekday.
Her Twitter bio used to read “I watch Tucker Carlson so you don’t have to.” At the time of our interview, it was “LMAO.”
Abughazaleh, 24, has parlayed her familiarity with Fox News into social media stardom across multiple platforms. Her weekly TikTok videos rounding up the cable news network’s wildest stories are eagerly anticipated. Since she started posting on the app in January, she’s gained nearly 130,000 followers and several of her videos have cracked 1 million views.
Abughazaleh has frequently targeted Carlson and his show. He was the subject of her first TikTok, which covered the host’s on-air attacks on then-aspiring Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy. In another TikTok, she broke down “10 Ridiculous Things That Made Tucker Carlson Throw a Tantrum.”
More recently, in a TikTok posted April 12, she skewered Carlson’s exclusive interview with Donald Trump — their first televised interaction since Carlson’s texts calling the former president a “demonic force” and a “destroyer” were made public as part of the now-settled Dominion Voting Systems defamation lawsuit.
“Trump saw an opportunity to put Tucker back in his place, and boy did he take it,” Abughazaleh says in the video. “It went on like this for an hour — Trump rambling about something for five minutes and then pausing so Tucker can respond like a trained animal.”
Although neither Carlson nor his team has ever responded to her publicly, Abughazaleh said that now-former Tucker Carlson Tonight producer Gregg Re knows of her and her work. “If an even semi-influential conservative person quote-tweets me with a really mean caption,” she said, “he will go through and like every reply that’s mean about me. If you scroll down his likes after I have a viral tweet, it’s literally just people calling me an ugly bitch. It’s fun.”
As news of Carlson’s departure began to spread — it turned out he had been fired, for reasons that are still not totally clear — strangers started sending Abughazaleh money, unsolicited, via Venmo, telling her to “Go get a drink.” “I’ve tried to send it back, and they reject it,” she said. As for what caused this generous outpouring? “I think people have just been having fun watching me have fun.”
Two weeks before Tucker Carlson got canned, I hung out with Abughazaleh and five of her Media Matters colleagues in their Navy Yard office overlooking the Anacostia River to watch them watch Fox News’s evening lineup. The space is massive, with open seating and large conference rooms — and very few employees. (Most of the team has worked from home since the pandemic began.)
Blonde, blue-eyed, and petite, Abughazaleh could easily pass for one of Fox News’s talking heads. Indeed, Abughazaleh has a pretty good idea of what it would take for her to become a darling of the right on one of the shows she monitors daily. “Rant about cancel culture on Twitter, make some ‘I stand with J.K. Rowling’ tweet, escalate it over and over,” she said. “Complain, rinse, and repeat.
“It’s so easy and there’s so much money in it, which is why so many people do it,” she continued. “All you have to do is whine and be a little racist. To be clear, I’d rather gouge out my eyeballs.”
Abughazaleh joked that she was born to be a “conservative sleeper agent.” She grew up in a “well-off” area of Dallas and attended private schools up until her sophomore year of high school. Her father is a Palestinian immigrant, and she’s a seventh-generation Texan on her mother’s side. Their conservative household regularly tuned into Fox News.
As a child, Abughazaleh also watched her maternal grandmother — a longtime member of the Texas Federation of Republican Women — work on multiple GOP campaigns and listened to her glowing descriptions of the party’s ideology. (Upon her grandmother’s death, Abughazaleh inherited the mink coat that she wore to President Nixon’s inauguration.)
Abughazaleh was a Republican up until her teens. She credits her progressive political awakening to a move to Tucson, Arizona, during those years. “At least half my high school was low-income or undocumented,” she says. “The bootstrap myth just shattered before my eyes.”
She attended George Washington University in Washington, DC, during Donald Trump’s years in office, majoring in international security in addition to studying journalism. Upon graduating in 2020, she said, “I wanted to work for an organization that aligned with a good mission, a mission that I believed in, and I didn’t want to work somewhere that would just be a job — I wanted to care about what I do.” The position at Media Matters was perfect for her.
Media Matters describes itself as a “progressive research and information center” dedicated to “comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the US media.” The group’s website archives footage from television shows and online broadcasts alike, which it uses to track false narratives or draw attention to how certain issues are being covered.
Part of Abughazaleh’s job is to pull TV clips of Fox News moments from her assigned shows and send the transcripts to her colleagues so that they can keep track of what’s being said on a wide range of topics on the cable news channel.
Unlike some of her colleagues, who utilize multiple desktop monitors, Abughazaleh does all of her work on a laptop. She flips from one tab to another with lightning speed, sending out emails, posting clips to Twitter, and firing off biting responses to people in her mentions.
On the evening I watched her at work, one of the first segments she grabbed was Carlson’s “wildly racist rant” about Tennessee state politician Justin Pearson. “You’re here for a fun night,” she said while exporting the clip from Carlson’s opening monologue. “Strong stuff — he’s having a normal one today.”
Media Matters employees are sometimes criticized for platforming problematic content by posting clips from Fox News. Abughazaleh sees it differently. “Fox is the most-watched cable news channel in the country,” Abughazaleh said. “They already had the platform. And just letting them get by scot-free does more damage than it helps.”
Given the fact that her videos align with her employer’s mission, one might assume that Abughazaleh’s viral content is something she makes for her job. It is not. Abughazaleh’s social media stardom is all her own doing. She writes her scripts, shoots, and edits her videos on her own time. (Abughazaleh, who describes herself as a “lifelong anime fan” told me that she taught herself how to edit videos as a kid so that she could create anime music videos.)
“It’s just for funsies,” she said with a laugh, when I asked about her content. “It’s my personal account, my personal views.” And indeed, she signs off most of her videos with “I watch conservatives for work but make fun of them for pleasure.”
Nobody is more surprised by her popularity than Abughazaleh herself. “It’s just weird,” she said. “I don’t really use TikTok as a consumer, and I was wowed at the response. I’ve since realized how far the app can reach. Even if you have no followers, you can get a million views with just a couple of hashtags and decent content.”
Abughazaleh theorizes that her increasing virality is a symptom of a larger Fox News problem: its failure to appeal to her generation. “They’re demonizing young people every single day,” she said. “Talking about how we Gen Z’s are out of touch. That’s not going to help you keep [young] viewers.”
In addition to her TikToks, Abughazaleh has been experimenting with longer content on YouTube, where she has more than 11,000 subscribers. After seeing countless ads for what she described as Mike Huckabee’s “Christian Nationalist homeschooling program” on Fox News, Abu signed up for it and so far has produced two videos about its right-wing propagandist material. Her most recent YouTube deep dive was about the online store Mammoth Nation, which is described as the “right-wing Amazon” and, according to Abughazaleh, is a “huge grift.”
Abughazaleh has also gone viral on Twitter (where she has more than 182,000 followers) on a number of occasions. In August 2022, she was roofied at a bar and tweeted about her experience in the hope that it might help other women. Her story got written up all over the internet, including BuzzFeed. In November, she secured an invite to the right-leaning dating app the Right Stuff. She tweeted screenshots from the app — which she described as “a cesspool of cringe conservative dudes who are desperate to get laid” — in a thread that was retweeted thousands of times.
Then, on Jan. 22, conservative commentator Phil Labonte tweeted a screenshot of Abughazaleh’s Tinder profile with the caption, “I haven’t even gotten the key to my apartment yet and tinder is already tryin to hook me up with the Media Matters Tucker Carlson explainer girl. 😂.” At the time, she was 23. Labonte was 47.
The next day, Abughazaleh publicly shared some of the abusive and explicit messages she received as a result of Labonte’s tweet, in an effort to demonstrate the harassment women deal with on the internet. “These people are pathetic and though it’s gross, it’s also pretty funny/sad (and a very regular thing),” she tweeted. “I just picked 50 replies at random after some (cis) male friends expressed shock at the replies. I figured this was a good visual aid.”
These vile messages were just a taste of what was to come as her online profile grew.
Abughazaleh said she’s amused by a certain type of harassment she gets on Twitter: When people offended by her work tweet her videos (some of which include profanity) and “snitch-tag” Media Matters’s Twitter account in the hope of getting her into trouble with her employers. “I love it,” she said. “Thanks for showing them what a great job I’m doing!”
This happened just last week, when a troll pulled a photo of Abughazaleh smoking from her public Instagram and posted it on Twitter, tagging Media Matters’s account. “oh my fucking god are you really tattling to my employer because I smoke,” she tweeted. “noooo don’t show everyone fun pictures from my public insta!!! how will I ever recover!!!”
The snitch-tagging is relatively harmless. Much of the abuse directed at her is sexist and sexually explicit in nature. “[Trolls] say I should be in the kitchen, but in a very weird race war type of way, like I should be chained in the kitchen and pregnant with two children on my hips,” she said. Abughazaleh’s been photoshopped into pornographic images (including pictures of her with Carlson) and regularly deals with crude responses to her videos.
“If I were a man, I would not get 10% of the comments that I get,” she said. “I can [film] a normal video wearing a sweater and there will be a litany of comments talking about my face, talking about my body, talking about my womb.”
Her womb? “All the time,” she said. “People will talk about how I should be breeding white babies and then I have to refer them to my [Palestinian] grandfather’s obituary again. Like, how many times do we have to go over this?”
Media Matters clearly recognizes — and cares about — the potential security threat posed by Abughazaleh’s harassers. While the organization declined to provide any specific information on the subject, during our first interview in the company’s office, publicist Laura Keiter interrupted Abughazaleh as she answered one of my questions to make sure I omitted a throwaway detail that could give a determined reader a clue to the location of Abughazaleh’s apartment.
The constant harassment can be difficult on her. “There are days where it’s just like, OK, I need to turn off my phone and block out everything, because I just don’t have the time or capacity for this right now,” Abughazaleh said. “But if you let it get to you, it only helps the people yelling at me about my pussy or my tits or whatever. It shows I’m doing something right if that’s the best they got.”
As a “fuck you” to her harassers, Abughazaleh has chosen to lean into her femininity in her videos, applying makeup (including a bold cat-eye) and styling her hair before she begins recording. “’It makes them even more mad,” she says. “They don’t like a woman telling them that everything they believe is bullshit.”
Despite the hate she gets, Abughazaleh said her extracurricular work is worth it. “I’ve gotten more rape threats than I’ve ever seen in my life,” she said. “But also, it’s been great seeing people say that my videos are helping them connect with their parents and get them off Fox News.” She added, “I see comments from people on TikTok saying, ‘I sent these to my mom, and now she’s decided to only watch Special Report With Bret Baier’” — by Fox News standards, a relatively benign newscast — “‘instead of Tucker Carlson Tonight.’ And that’s really great.”
It’s why she keeps going, spending so much of her free time making content to expose right-wing media narratives and misinformation to a wider (and younger) audience.
“It feels like I’m doing something — it’s so easy to feel powerless,” she said. “Being angry and passionate and wanting to push forward because you want to make things better for other people makes it worth it.”
Carlson’s departure — while exciting for Abughazaleh and the rest of the Media Matters team — ultimately won’t have much of an impact on their work. “If somehow all of this was solved, if there were no more bad actors and I was out of a job — that sounds great,” she said. “It sounds great not to have to worry about misinformation, but that’s obviously not going to happen.”
In Abughazaleh’s mind, Carlson has nowhere to go but down. She has always believed that it’s the 8 p.m. timeslot that’s powerful, not the person in the anchor seat. “Look at Bill O’Reilly,” she said, referring to the host Fox News forced out in 2017. “No one knows what he’s up to now, and he was even more powerful than Tucker.”
She’s looking forward to watching Fox News rotate hosts in the 8 p.m. hour while the network looks for Carlson’s replacement. “I think they’re going to be using their existing pool of talent to see who goes next, and I’m not sure what direction they’re going to take,” she said. Her rundown of possible hosts is the subject of her latest TikTok:
But whether it’s Jesse Watters or Sean Hannity or Brian Kilmeade or someone else who ultimately fills Carlson’s seat, you can rest assured that Abughazaleh will be watching them so you don’t have to.